Due to recent testimony provided by an imprisoned terrorist, the question of the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 attacks back in the year 2001—and by implication, the complicity of the Bush administration in the attacks—has emerged as an important subject of public discussion once more. This sample politics essay is to discuss Bush’s possible knowledge of Saudi Arabian involvement in 9/11 in greater depth.
- The testimony that has given new life to this discussion
- Pages of governmental reports that remain classified and may contain important information
- Speculations surrounding the question from different sides
- A critical reflection on the evidence and conclusion
9/11 and Saudi Arabia’s Involvement: The new testimony
To start with, then, it is worth turning attention to the new testimony regarding Saudi Arabian involvement that has recently emerged. The testimony was provided by Zacarias Moussaoui, a member of al Qaeda who was played an important role in organizing 9/11 but who was detained before the attacks themselves and is currently serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison.
In this testimony, Moussaoui “described prominent members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family as major donors to the terrorist network in the late 1990s and claimed that he discussed a plan to shoot down Air Force One with a Stinger missile with a staff member at the Saudi Embassy in Washington” (Shane, paragraph 1).
And further: “Mr. Moussaoui describes meeting in Saudi Arabia with Salman, then a prince, and other Saudi royals while delivering them letters from Osama bin Laden” (paragraph 7).
This is especially salient given that Salman is now the king of Saudi Arabia, following the recent death of his brother Abdullah.
Saudi Arabia denies claims of involvement
Naturally, Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied the new allegations it was involved in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and two other areas, going so far as to suggest that Moussaoui is deranged and not to be taken seriously. However, according to Shane, the testimony provided by Moussaoui is largely coherent and does not seem to resemble the ravings of a madman. One must essentially accept either that Moussaoui either completely fabricated a coherent and plausible story for unknown purposes of his own, or that there is in fact at least some basic truth in the claims made during the testimony.
In a certain sense, both of these possibilities seem equally implausible, even though they are the only two possibilities there are. On the one hand, the coherence of Moussaoui’s story makes it difficult to believe that it is entirely fictional; if it is, then Moussaoui clearly has an impressive talent for narrative invention. It may be inappropriate to dismiss the story as nothing other than the product of madness.
On the other hand, however, As Hubbard and Shane have pointed out, there are historical and political reasons why it makes little sense that Saudi Arabia would have supported Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to the extent and as recently as Moussaoui’s testimony alleges. Among other things:
“By 1994, when Osama bin Laden was stripped of his Saudi citizenship and banned from the kingdom, the Qaeda founder was writing nonstop against the Saudi regime with the idea of toppling it” (paragraph 5).
That is, by the mid-90s, Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda were openly declared enemies of each other. In this context, it would seem to make little sense that Saudi Arabia would continue actively financing an organization with the stated purpose of destroying Saudi Arabia. The two parties surely did have closer relations at some point in the recent past; but then, to be fair, the United States also had indirect relations with Al Qaeda, insofar as the former was responsible for funding Islamic militants in the 80s. So, one cannot infer from some relationship between Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda in the past that the relationship meaningfully continued up until the turn of the millennium, and especially that Saudi Arabia was in a direct way responsible for funding the events of 9/11.
The Government Investigation and Classified Reports: The missing pages
The reason that Moussaoui’s testimony has been taken so seriously is surely based not only on the testimony itself but also on the fact that an aura of suspicion still hangs over the events of 9/11: many Americans suspect that the government knew things it is still unwilling to share; therefore, when someone claims to have answers, he almost necessarily becomes a magnet for attention. One of the main causes for ongoing suspicion in the present case consists of 28 pages of reports related to the 9/11 terrorism investigations that continue to remain classified to this day.
According to Wright, one congressman who read this document:
“Said that the evidence of Saudi government support for the 9/11 hijacking is ‘very disturbing,’ and that ‘the real question is whether it was sanctioned at the royal family level or beneath that and whether these leads were followed through'” (paragraph 2).
This has resulted in a rare bipartisan call recently emerging from Congress for President Obama to declassify the 28 pages of the relevant report.
According to the perspective that the classified pages contain important evidence regarding Saudi Arabian involvement in 9/11, the officials of the U.S. government are suspected of:
“Trying to hide the double game that Saudi Arabia has long played with Washington, as both a close ally and petri dish for the world’s most toxic brand of Islamic extremism” (paragraph 2).
The idea is that if Americans were to find out about what is contained in the pages regarding the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 attacks, they would be outraged, and this would force the federal government to revise its foreign policy regarding Saudi Arabia.
Interestingly, however, high officials in Saudi Arabia itself have also called for the declassification of the pages, on the grounds that Saudi Arabia does not have anything to hide and that the opportunity for Americans to project their own imaginations onto blank pages is actually more detrimental to Saudi Arabian interests that whatever evidence may or may not be contained in the 28 pages. This can be taken to imply either that Saudi Arabia is calling Moussaoui’s bluff, or that the members of the government calling for declassification are genuinely unaware of the relationship that other members of the nation may have had with the 9/11 attacks.
Speculations and conspiracies
It is not clear as of yet whether there is a real connection between Moussaoui’s testimony and the information contained in the classified 28 pages. However, there is surely a good fit between the gap in knowledge on the one hand and the new narrative that has emerged on the other; and insofar as any story is perhaps better than no story at all for people still trying to understand 9/11, this good fit would be (so to speak) too good to pass up. Bush may have declared a War on Terrorism, but critics believe this was a distraction to his prior knowledge. For example, the title of an article written by Ridgeway for CounterPunch clearly expresses the idea that the Bush administration did in fact know more about 9/11 (either before or after the attacks, or both) than it was willing to share with the American public.
The title reads: “How the Bush Administration Covered Up the Saudi Connection to 9/11”.
The evidence presented in the article itself would seem to be conjectural, based on apparent connections between some of the 9/11 hijackers and the Saudi Arabian government (most of which is already a matter of public record). However, for people looking for answers, the conclusion, even if somewhat hasty, is irresistible.
Moreover, the direction of one’s speculations in this regard will surely be influenced by how one has felt about the Bush administration. For example, many people, after seeing Bush receive news about the 9/11 attacks for the first time while reading a book to schoolchildren, were essentially shocked by the lack of shock in his reaction and took this to imply that he must have known about the 9/11 attacks ahead of time. On the other hand, Nyhan has presented an argument regarding why this is an untenable conclusion:
“If you work for a public official and need him or her to immediately drop everything and come with you for an emergency briefing, no matter what the assembled media might report, then you would just tell the official that” (paragraph 5).
In other words, although it would be easy to draw a conspiratorial conclusion from Bush’s reaction (or lack thereof), the simpler explanation may be that Bush was simply not told very much of anything when the news of an event was first conveyed to him, other than that he should leave what he doing within a few minutes and participate in a briefing. Similarly, it would be very easy to draw the conclusion that the 28 classified pages contain exactly the information needed to implicate Saudi Arabia regarding the 9/11 attacks. The truth, however, may well be either more simple or more complex than that. And since this happened before whistleblowers, such as Snowden, took on the government, the classified papers possibly will remain secret for years to come.
Reflection and conclusion
The new testimony by Moussaoui is surely troubling, as is the U.S. government’s ongoing refusal for over a decade to declassify the relevant 28 pages of the reports emerging from the 9/11 investigations. The coincidence of these two factors would seem to enhance the plausibility of the content of Moussaoui’s testimony. On the other hand, however, one must also bear in mind that it is historically and politically implausible to believe that the upper echelons of the Saudi Arabian government were in fact engaged in providing ongoing funding and support for Al Qaeda, up to the point of essentially backing the 9/11 attacks.
The gravity of this charge, as well as circumstantial factors that make it difficult to identify meaningful Saudi Arabian motives, means that it is necessary to exercise caution and not to jump to the immediate conclusion that would seem to present itself in light of Moussaoui’s testimony. Moreover, the fact that Saudi Arabia itself is calling for the declassification of the 28 pages would clearly seem to imply a basic good faith on the part of that nation: if the evidence is truly as bad as some suspect, then it is unclear why Saudi Arabia would insist on such a thing.
The conclusion reached by FactCheck.org is that “we can’t say for sure” whether Moussaoui or the Saudi Arabian government is being more honest in this situation: In part because a 2002 joint House-Senate report contains a 28-page section on al Qaeda’s ‘specific sources of foreign support’ that remains classified” (para. 2).
In this context, perhaps the most important recommendation that can be made is that the U.S. government should declassify the relevant pages. This is because insofar as the pages remain classified, it will be very difficult to refrain from suspecting the worst: one could reasonably ask why the pages must remain classified if there is truly nothing to hide.
The pages may reveal that Moussaoui was telling the truth; or, it may reveal that there is no further evidence the testimony itself for suspecting deep Saudi Arabian involvement in 9/11. As long as the pages remain confidential, however, both the Bush administration and the Saudi Arabian government will likely be found by the popular imagination of Americans to be guilty almost by default.
FactCheck.org. “Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks.” FactCheck.org. 6 Feb. 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/saudi-arabia-and-the-911-terrorist-attacks/.
Hubbard, Ben, and Scott Shane. “Pre-9/11 Ties Haunt Saudis as New Accusations Surface.” New York Times. 4 Feb. 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/05/world/middleeast/pre-9-11-ties-haunt-saudis-as-new-accusations-surface.html.
Nyhan, Adam. “Why Did President Bush React Calmly When Told about the Sept. 11 Attacks?” Slate. 18 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Feb. 2015. http://www.slate.com/blogs/quora/2014/12/18/why_did_president_bush_react_so_calmly_when_told_about_the_sept_11_terrorist.html
Ridgeway, James. “How the Bush Administration Covered Up the Saudi Connection to 9/11.” Alternet. 16 Sep. 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. http://www.alternet.org/how-bush-administration-covered-saudi-connection-91.
Shane, Scott. “Moussaoui Calls Saudi Princes Patrons of Al Qaeda.” New York Times. 3 Feb. 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/04/us/zacarias-moussaoui-calls-saudi-princes-patrons-of-al-qaeda.html?hpaction=clickpgtype=Homepagemodule=first-column-regionregion=top-news WT.nav=top-news_r=1.
Stein, Jeff. “The Saudi Role in Sept. 11 and the Hidden 9/11 Report Pages.” Newsweek. 7 Jan. 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/saudi-arabia-911-george-w-bush-barack-obama-prince-bandar-bin-sultan-bob-297170.
Wright, Lawrence. “The Twenty-Eight Pages.” New Yorker. 9 Sep. 2014. Web. 18 Sep. 2015. http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/twenty-eight-page.