In the wake of revelations that there were 28 pages from the official 9/11 Commission Report that were deemed classified and “too sensitive for release,” some members of Congress have sponsored multiple bills to make it possible for citizens of the U.S. and their families to sue foreign governments for aiding terrorism on U.S. soil.
An immediate impact of the bill would be to let families that lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged involvement in the attacks (15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals, and it’s said that a portion of the funding for the hijackers may have come from Saudi Arabia).
The most recent bill has widespread support among Congressional Democrats, including New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. But surprisingly, there are some objectors among GOP House and Senate members, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, who co-sponsored the latest version of the legislation, making its passage uncertain.
Graham recently announced he had placed a hold on the bill as he argued that changes to its language would effectively allow foreign governments to sue the United States for acts that they deemed terror-related, throwing into doubt ongoing or future military operations.
The issues raised by the bill have gotten so contentious that the Saudi government has threatened to sell $750 billion worth of Treasury securities and miscellaneous investment assets in the United States in order to prevent their possible seizure in the case of a lawsuit brought by 9/11 victims’ families.
This has upset diplomatic relations between the two countries just as President Obama has touched down in Riyadh for meetings with Saudi King Salman. For his part, Obama has threatened to veto the bill, but the combined support for it might be enough to override a veto. Obama has announced that he will make a decision on whether to declassify the missing 28 pages in the next 60 days.
Of course, all of this is not comforting to many of the 9/11 victims’ families who have tried to pursue Saudi Arabia in court thus far without success. It’s said that the classified pages explicitly place blame on the shoulders of high-ranking Saudi officials who may have used diplomatic contacts in the U.S. to steer funds to the 9/11 hijackers.
Politically, it’s a hard sell to convince the families that the investments of the Saudi royal government are worth more than the lives of their lost loved ones, which is how the story appears to be playing out in the media so far. Senator Graham has tried to claim that the language in the bill as it exists now would create a liability for the U.S. if a rogue service member or contractor caused terrorism on foreign soil, and he says this is the basis of his objection.
However, there are possibly deeper issues at stake. Something to consider is that recently, the U.S., via President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry has begun to “pivot” to Saudi Arabia’s regional enemy, Iran, in negotiating a peace deal that grants that country relief from economic sanctions in exchange for the halting of progress on the possible development of nuclear weapons.
Indeed, the recent deal that was signed has allowed foreign investment to flow into Iran and alarmed Saudi Arabia and other regional powers that fear Iran’s influence in the region. Currently, Iran supports Hezbollah in Lebanon, Bashar Assad in Syria and the Ansar Allah movement in Yemen, not to mention supporting Shia militias in Iraq.
Certainly, one of the reasons for Obama’s trip to the Kingdom has been to assuage King Salman regarding the Iran deal and its implications. A sign of how upset the Saudis are with the American president is that King Salman did not meet Obama personally at the airport, and the latter’s arrival was ignored by state media even as the arrival of regional dignitaries was covered on live television.
Some analysts have said that Obama’s trip to the country may actually do more harm than good. They claim it may serve as a reminder of the recent diplomatic pivot and play up the fact that Obama has pointedly denounced the Kingdom for recently executing supposed terrorists, including Mohammed Baqir Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia cleric who was accused of inciting rebellion in the country.
In Iran recently, the Saudi embassy was attacked and burned by protesters who decried Nimr al-Nimr’s execution. Although Obama has gone from criticizing the Saudis at the beginning of his term to selling increasingly sophisticated weaponry to them recently, the line is clearly drawn at nuclear weapons.
However, if relations between the U.S. and the Kingdom continue to get frostier and the latter is rattled enough by Iran’s recent missile and space launches, the Kingdom may decide to seek nuclear weapons themselves sooner rather than later, a move that has long been predicted by regional observers. In fact, some analysts say that a Saudi order for such weapons (from Pakistan) was placed and possibly even paid for long ago.
Hence, it’s a dangerous game that the Congress is playing, even as it may not realize the full implications of its actions yet vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia.
It’s worth noting that both presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (as well as Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz) have stated their support for the bill, although Clinton has sidestepped the question of whether she believes the 28 classified pages should be released.
Stating support for a bill that she doesn’t believe has a chance of passage may be politically wise for Clinton, but her wavering on the release of the 28 pages may be partly due to the fact that both she and her husband Bill have their own strong ties to the Saudi government, just as the Bush family had (and continues to have).
The brother of Hillary Clinton’s current campaign manager, John Podesta, is currently employed as a lobbyist for the Saudi government to the tune of $140,000 per month through his firm The Podesta Group (be sure to read Wednesday’s letter to find out more about this). Clinton’s closest aide and inseparable campaign companion Huma Abedin (who practically started working for Clinton immediately after college, with very little political experience) was raised in Saudi Arabia.
While Clinton was in the White House with her husband as president, she started a tradition of hosting an annual Muslim Ramadan dinner that was attended by prominent members of the American Muslim community.
Despite the fact that Clinton claims to be a champion of women’s rights, the Clinton Foundation lists Saudi Arabia, a country that the State Department has faulted for sex discrimination and human rights abuses, as a major donor. Other major donors include the governments of Qatar and Kuwait, as well as wealthy Saudi businessmen Mohammed H. Al-Amoudi and Nasser Al-Rashid, the latter of whom has close connections to the Saudi royal family.
Even today, one of Bill Clinton’s good friends is Saudi Prince Turki bin Feisal, the head of the Saudi Arabian government intelligence service; they attended Georgetown University together. Another friend of the Clintons (and the Bushes) in the early 2000s was Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. and another head of the Saudi intelligence service.
Prince Bandar’s wife Princess Haifa is the youngest daughter of the late Saudi King Faisal. Advisors to Prince Bandar admit that money has been traced from Princess Haifa to Saudis Osama Bassnan and Omar al Bayoumi, who in turn provided financial assistance to two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Republican lobbyist Grover Norquist, a board member of the National Rifle Association and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, has come under fire for co-founding a group called the Islamic Institute, which helped organize events such as Bush’s notorious “Religion of Peace” speech given at a Washington, D.C. mosque in the wake of 9/11. One of the donors to the Islamic Institute was Abdurahmann Alamoudi, who is currently in prison for funding terrorism.
It can be argued that both Norquist and Huma Abedin could be Saudi tools to some extent; the mainstream media has mostly declined to cover this possibility, despite some prodding. If this scenario sounds to you like the plot of a Hollywood movie, you would be correct; it once was. The little-remembered 1986 thriller “Power,” directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Richard Gere and Gene Hackman concerned Saudi influence in Washington, D.C. Its storyline revolved around a businessman running for office and the political lobbyist assigned to help him win his campaign. Given current events, it might be worth queueing up on Netflix to see how it all plays out.