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The “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” (JASTA), which will almost certainly be promulgated, will represent the latest in a series of milestones for a long-running class action lawsuit filed by the “9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism”.
The suit had its first big break in 2014 when a New York federal court ruled that the Saudi government was not allowed to claim sovereign immunity, and was thus liable to be sued for damages if the link to 9/11 could be proven.
Since then, its progress has become something of a bellwether for the US’s overall stance on Saudi Arabia, and of a decades-old alliance that would now appear to be unravelling.
The alliance has been underpinned for decades by Saudi Arabia’s role as the world’s “swing” oil producer and thus its centrality to the Western powers’ dominance over world energy supplies. It has also rested on the ability of the kingdom to recycle a portion of its “petrodollars” every year into expensive Western arms imports and, more broadly, into a variety of assets in the US and Western Europe.
Often glossed over, the alliance was also key to the US winning the Cold War, especially in Central Asia and the Middle East. Riyadh’s financial and ideological backing of hardline Islamist movements provided Washington with a useful reactionary and religiously conservative counterweight to more progressive and largely secular nationalist movements, popular liberation fronts, and new regimes such as the People’s Democratic Party in Afghanistan – all of which threatened to nationalise resources and end Western monopolies, and some of which had little choice but to seek the Soviet Union’s protection.
With more than 2,800 killed on 11 September 2001, including 11 unborn babies, the first serious test of the US-Saudi alliance had begun, especially after it emerged that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers had been Saudi citizens and that a secret Saudi-bound flight had been given special permission to fly out of the US on 13 September.
But with the Saudi petrodollar still vital to the health of the US economy, and rumours of over $100bn of US Department of Treasury bonds by then having been purchased by Riyadh, it was imperative that the strategic relationship remained intact.
Fast-forward to today, however, and it is no coincidence that this 15-year-old narrative on 9/11 has now finally begun to come unstuck.
Most obviously, in the wake of the 2014 US shale oil revolution, which saw US companies briefly overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s largest oil producers, Riyadh has clearly lost its coveted “swing producer” role.
How JASTA will feed into this new dynamic remains to be seen, as the class action lawsuit may still take years to come to fruition.
Nonetheless, in the meantime, it seems that every extra piece of evidence that is assembled by the 9/11 lawyers and is reported on in the media will serve to lower Saudi Arabia’s reputation even further amongst the American public, and perhaps eventually bring it down to the sort of level last experienced by Gaddafi’s Libya or Ahmadinejad’s Iran.
Furthermore, it is also entirely possible that long before the lawsuit is concluded, a consensus will have emerged in the US that important elements of the Saudi state were indeed involved in 9/11.
Recent revelations, including the release of about 85 percent of the content of 29 pages (known erroneously as the “28 pages”) that were originally redacted from the joint congressional inquiry into 9/11, have provided additional, but unconfirmed circumstantial evidence about a Saudi role. But there also now exists a considerable body of recently declassified documents, leaked materials, interrogation transcripts, and court subpoenaed files that point to a much more substantial connection and the clear existence of Saudi 9/11 financiers and the operation of a Saudi cell in the US that provided logistical assistance for the hijackers.
The new evidence paints a clear picture of a network of key Saudi businessmen and ruling family members known as the “Golden Chain”, which had played a role in financing the 1980s Afghan jihad but had then been reinvigorated in the mid-1990s following Osama bin Laden’s blackmail-like fatwa criticising the Islamic credentials of the Saudi king.
Known to Western intelligence agencies, the network’s members included three princes, one of whom was on the secret flight out of the US on the 13 September 2001, and all three of whom were soon after named by a heavily waterboarded al-Qaeda prisoner. Dying within a week of each other in June 2002, the men’s deaths were ascribed to a “heart attack” (at age 43), a car accident of which no convincing records exist, and a “thirst incident” that took place during a desert hiking trip with no witnesses.