President Barack Obama is facing increased pressure due to a renewed effort to make a secret Congressional report public that may describe links between Saudi Arabia and the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Over the past week, families of 9/11 victims have criticized President Obama because of reports stating that his administration is lobbying Congress to block a bill that would allow terror victims to sue foreign governments connected to attacks on American soil. The criticism comes as Obama prepares to travel to Riyadh for the fourth time in his presidency.
Saudi Arabia has threatened to sell some $750 billion in US assets if the bill passes, fearing it could leave the country vulnerable in US courts, the New York Times reported. Many relatives of 9/11 victims believe Riyadh played a role in the attacks, particularly since 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
Officially, the 9/11 Commission Report “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.” However, a previous Congressional report, which the Commission followed up on, features 28 pages that more closely detail the hijackers’ sources of money and funding, and those documents have been kept classified for more than a decade.
Families of 9/11 victims have tried to sue Saudi Arabia in court over the country’s possible role in the attacks before, but US law grants foreign governments protection in domestic courts. Last year, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit claiming that the country had provided material support to the terrorists, ruling that Riyadh had sovereign immunity. Saudi attorneys argued in court that there was no evidence directly linking the country to 9/11.
“If someone you loved was murdered and the person was just able to go away Scott free, would you be okay with that? I don’t think anybody would,” Loria Van Auken said to CBS News. Van Auken’s husband Kenneth worked in the North Tower of the World Trade Center and died in the attacks.
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Another 9/11 widow, Mindy Kleinberg, told the New York Times “it’s stunning to think that our government would back the Saudis over its own citizens.”
Now, the families of 9/11 victims are trying once again to have the classified pages of the Congressional report released to the public as part of a lawsuit against the Saudi Arabian government. The documents may also contain details on a support network for the hijackers that featured the involvement of the Saudis.
“There are a lot of rocks out there that have been purposefully tamped down, that if were they turned over, would give us a more expansive view of the Saudi role,” Bob Graham, former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said to CBS.
“The Saudis know what they did. We know what they did,” Graham said.
Graham has also been pushing the president to release the 28 pages, and he told Fox News last week that Obama will make a decision on the matter within the next two months.
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Pressure on Obama is also growing from current members of his own party. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) said the president should declassify the documents even before he travels to Saudi Arabia this Tuesday.
“If the president is going to meet with the Saudi Arabian leadership and the royal family, they think it would be appropriate that this document be released before the president makes that trip, so that they can talk about whatever issues are in that document,” she said to 60 Minutes.
In addition to seeing whether Obama will release the pages, Americans are also waiting to see how the president will react to Riyadh’s threat of financial retaliation. The Obama administration has argued that stripping sovereign immunity from nations over terror attacks on the US would endanger Americans and spark similar legislation against the US.
Relations between the US and Riyadh have already been strained by the Iranian nuclear deal and unflattering comments made by Obama in an article that appeared in The Atlantic, in which he criticized the Saudis as “free riders.” Since news of Saudi Arabia’s financial threat came to light, however, the president has been urged by many Americans to take a tougher stance.
“If the President allows himself to get pushed around this way in front of the world, then he earns every bit of the anger being directed at him by the extended family of September 11,” wrote Mike Lupica in a New York Daily News editorial.
“This is about turning his back on the dead of Sept. 11 and their survivors, and letting his country down at the same time. He is like all the others who held his office before him, more desperate than ever in the late rounds to be remembered as a great President. Be one now.”