Washington, DC – The former chairman of the US Senate’s Intelligence Committee called for more pressure on Congress to disclose Saudi Arabian ties with 9/11 hijackers in a speech this week that marked growing criticism of the kingdom, the White House, and official US investigators. As the 15th anniversary of the terror attacks approaches, former Sen. Bob Graham of Florida urged his audience at the Washington, DC-based National Press Club Aug. 31 to persuade the US House of Representatives to enable 9/11 victim families to sue Saudi entities suspected of complicity.
“These almost 3,000 American victims and their families deserve justice,” said Graham, co-chair of a congressional joint Senate-House inquiry on 9/11. “They deserve the right, in a court of law, to present the evidence they have gathered, which is voluminous, that will link the kingdom and other entities of Saudi Arabia to the 19 hijackers.”
Graham’s speech attacking the White House, the State Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shows the increasing prominence of US critics of the Saudi kingdom and its U.S. government defenders.
Graham, a Harvard-trained veteran of 18 years in the senate and eight years as Florida’s governor, attacked in his usual low-key manner the FBI’s investigation of the attacks. He called it secretive and at times as “incorrect.”
During a question period, Graham explained why the bureau resists disclosure.
“One, it is not doing it on its own,” Graham responded. “The pattern of behavior from the FBI, CIA, State Department, Justice Department, Treasury Department has all been consistent. I think the message has gone out from the White House that we do not want any information relative to Saudi Arabia to be released.” The reasons, he said, include the longstanding US alliance with the Saudi royal family.
Meanwhile, a statement by the Saudi embassy in Washington “expresses once again its strong disappointment at Senator Bob Graham’s continued advocacy of the idea that the government of Saudi Arabia bore responsibility for the attacks of September 11, 2001.”
The dispute this week recalls the rushed and secretive circumstances of the post-attack investigations. The congressional joint inquiry that Graham co-chaired was required by the Bush White House to finish its report in 2002 and keep confidential a special section, known as “the 28 pages,” that described who helped fund the 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi citizens.
Other official investigators, including a different 9/11 Commission finishing its report in 2004, have denied any official Saudi role and have largely enjoyed official acceptance of their work despite lingering criticisms from victim family members and others who have largely been confined to obscure venues.
Congressional leaders, for example, have typically assigned small rooms on Capitol Hill to Graham, current elected representatives and 9/11 family members who use press conferences to advocate for more disclosure.
Many in government and the media have also refrained from scrutinizing, much less criticizing, official inquiries whose evidentiary findings have been kept secret under claims of privacy, patriotism or national security.
But critics have persisted. And in April, the CBS network broadcast a segment on the high-rated “60 Minutes” show about suspicions from Graham and others that the suppressed “28 pages” showed Saudi support for at least some of the hijackers.
In May, the Senate unanimously passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). The legislation would enable terrorism victims to overcome court rulings backed by the Executive Branch that Saudi defendants receive sovereign immunity from disclosure and liability. The House Judiciary Committee has not scheduled action on the bill.
The Obama administration and congressional leaders released a redacted version of the “28 pages” July 15. As expected, the document convinced critics that entities connected to the Saudis were involved in supporting at least three of the 19 hijackers. Graham called for much more disclosure regarding the other 16 hijackers, including thousands of pages of FBI records that the bureau is withholding from reporters’ Freedom of Information Act litigation.
“Why are you doing this?” he quoted the FBI’s deputy director as asking him in 2011. “Get a life.” Instead, he urged his press club and broadcast audiences to get involved in the fight.
Club President Thomas Burr introduced Graham, who was questioned by several reporters representing international organizations. These factors reflected both the increasing prominence of such 9/11 research advocacy and the global importance of 2001attacks that prompted a series of still-continuing wars in the Middle East and related tensions between Western nations and the Muslim world.
Graham challenged his audience to learn and do more.To that end, he distributed complimentary copies of his latest book, co-authored with Chris Hand, “America, the Owner’s Manual: You Can Fight City Hall – and Win.”
US government failure to disclose Saudi training of terrorists undermines national security, Graham warned. He praised journalists who have exposed details about the hijackers, and he warned others against complacency.
“We are developing,” he said, “a democracy of spectators who think their role is to sit in the stands and watch the game of democracy, not be a direct participant.”
“I believe our democracy is in trouble,” Graham continued. But he predicted that US lawmakers, if put to a vote, would not want the taint of covering-up the facts behind such a pivotal world event as the 9/11 terror.