Congress held a hearing on relations with the Saudis
Obama is considering whether to disclose the classified pages
A former member of the 9/11 Commission called Tuesday for the public release of 28 classified pages pertaining to the attacks.
“I am strongly in favor of declassifying this information as quickly as possible,” Tim Roemer told a House committee. “The 9/11 families deserve it, the American people deserve it, and justice deserves it. We have the right to transparency and sunlight – not the darkness.”
The hearing, titled “The U.S.-Saudi Arabia Counterterrorism Relationship,” comes amid increasing scrutiny in Washington about Saudi Arabia’s possible role in the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and a push in Congress to allow victims of terrorism to sue foreign governments linked to terror attacks on U.S. soil.
That has fueled calls for the release of 28 classified pages on the report into the attacks. The pages indicate that a network of Saudis, some in official positions, supported al Qaeda operatives in the run up to the attacks, according to some of those who have seen the documents and are pushing for their release, including former Navy Secretary John Lehman and former Senator Bob Graham.
At Tuesday’s hearing, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticized the Saudi Arabian government for funding the spread of Wahabi Islam, a fundamentalist interpretation of the ancient religion that “teaches that apostates should be persecuted and in some cases killed,” said Texas Rep. Ted Poe, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on terrorism.
Poe noted that some analysts say that followers of Wahabi Islam might be more disposed to feel sympathetic to terrorist groups. And he echoed Roemer’s call.
“I have read the 28 missing pages and I think the public should have access and be able to see those 28 pages,” he said.
Democratic lawmaker Rep. Brad Sherman of California called for a tougher line with the Kingdom, saying Saudi Arabia’s leaders “can’t say they don’t support terrorism, all they do is fund by many millions of dollars a year, those who plant the seed.”
His Republican colleague from California, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, was more blunt. “The Saudis and the Saudi Royal family have been right up to their eye balls in terrorist activity and supporting the terrorist activity of radical Islamic forces in the Middle East. It’s up to us to call the truth.”
Roemer pushed back on Saudi royal involvement in the attacks. “In the 9/11 report, we did not discover high-level” Saudi involvement in the plot, Roemer said, but the commission wrote that Saudi Arabia “continued to be a problematic ally.”
Karen Elliott House, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, told lawmakers the Saudi royal family’s legitimacy rests on their support for Wahabi Islam. “It is fundamentally what gives the royal family their legitimacy,” House said.
The push to release the 28 pages has set off a counter-campaign from representatives of the Saudi government who have lobbied members of Congress and the media to stress the country’s support for counterterrorism. The tussle comes after years of deepening tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia over perceptions in the Kingdom that America isn’t as committed to its traditional Middle East allies and anger about the nuclear deal with its regional arch-rival Iran.
Lehman, a former commission member, has told CNN that the 28 pages show that employees at the Saudi embassy, Saudi charities and a Saudi government-funded mosque in California supported some of the 15 Saudis who, along with four others, staged the Sept. 11 attacks.
Lehman, who served as secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, is among the ex-members of the commission who say the 28 pages should be released. The 9/11 Commission began its own investigation after the congressional panel had finished its probe into intelligence failures related to the attacks.
While Lehman has said there’s “no smoking gun” that shows the support was from the Saudi government, as opposed to individuals, Lehman says the evidence of Saudi involvement was never sufficiently investigated and that the commission wasn’t given time to do so.
He’s backed by some other commission members who have also called for release of the 28 pages. CIA director John Brennan has said the documents should remain classified, while Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has said they should be released.
“We know from other senior U.S. officials that the charges made in the 28 pages do not stand up to scrutiny and so, yes, release the 28 pages,” al-Jubeir said in Geneva this month.
President Barack Obama is expected to make a decision on whether to release the documents in June. The administration has made clear that Obama will veto the legislation moving through Congress that would enable victims of terror or their families to sue governments with connections to an attack.
The bill, called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism bill, is now before the House Judiciary Committee where it has support from the chairman as well as from Poe, who chaired Tuesday’s hearing.
A former co-chairman of the 2002 congressional inquiry into the attacks told CNN May 18 that the review process on whether to release the 28 pages is in its final stage.
Graham, who has led to push to make the documents publicly available, said that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is just about finished his review and would be “handing it off to an inter-agency group” that includes intelligence, law enforcement and defense agencies.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Tim Roemer’s position on the 9/11 commission.