Formerly classified, 28 pages of a probe into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are a mystery no longer. Their release 14 years after Congress made the rest of its report public was supposed to end suspicions of an official Saudi role in the horror. It did not.
Nearly 15 years has passed since terrorists weaponized four jetliners full of passengers. Two plowed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers. One hit the Pentagon. And another (headed to an unclear destination) crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals. The locked-up 28 pages addressed possible ties between the Saudi royal family and government and some of the terrorists.
President George W. Bush withheld that section, arguing that its disclosure could jeopardize U.S. intelligence sources. Others say he wanted to protect U.S.-Saudi relations for a number of reasons, one being the Bush family’s close ties to the royal family.
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The declassified pages dealt with part of a massive FBI investigation into the catastrophe of 9/11. They included reports that two of the hijackers had been in contact with suspected Saudi intelligence officials in San Diego. There was evidence of communications between an al-Qaida operative and a diplomat in the Saudi Embassy in Washington. That kind of thing.
Unsettling but no “smoking gun.” Much of the information, we are told, was preliminary and unvetted.
“We need to put an end to conspiracy theories and idle speculation that do nothing to shed light on the 9/11 attacks,” Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a joint statement with Sen. Dianne Feinstein after the 28 pages’ release.
Not so fast, responded some prominent doubters. One is former Sen. Bob Graham, who headed that same committee in 2002. “I think the linkages are so multiple and strong and reinforcing,” he recently told Yahoo News, that it’s hard not to believe that a “support network came from Saudi Arabia.”
The gun that most definitely smokes is Saudi financing of extremist Wahhabi Muslims now terrorizing and destabilizing large parts of the globe. Their hate-filled theology inspires both al-Qaida and its rival, the Islamic State.
“Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a 2009 cable, according to WikiLeaks. To this day, the money continues to flow into Europe, Africa and Asia.
Kosovo is a startling example. Its population had long adhered to a moderate version of Islam and viewed Americans as liberators from their Serbian foes. Then Saudi money flooded the country with mosques and radical clerics. What was a relatively easygoing European society started turning intolerant and fundamentalist.
Wahhabism authorizes the killing of Muslims who do not adhere to its strict code, never mind others. Radicalized Kosovars now intimidate and attack journalists, politicians and even old-line Muslim clerics. Many of its young are abandoning their home to fight for the Islamic State.
What once sounded outlandish – the idea that Saudi officialdom had anything to do with the Sept. 11 outrage – now seems within the realm. And that has fueled bills in Congress to let survivors of the 9/11 tragedy sue the Saudi government and others.
The Obama administration opposes such suits as a bad precedent. Its argument is a strong one, even as we understand the desire to wrest some reparation for the 9/11 tragedy.
There will never be a time to stop asking how almost 3,000 people came to be murdered on U.S. soil in a matter of hours. The declassified 28 pages may clear up some suspicions, but others remain. The questions are not going away.