American political commentators and former government officials have accused the Obama Administration of a thinly veiled attempt to manipulate the American public discussion, at a time of growing disenchantment with the Iranian nuclear deal, by training the media’s attention on an alleged Saudi government operational role in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Edward A. Turzanski, a prominent former intelligence officer and present co-chair of the Center for the Study of Terrorism at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Asharq Al-Awsat “The Administration has exhibited a pattern of conduct in which it will use whatever lever it can in order to bolster relations with Iran. … There’s a broader context to show that the Administration suppresses certain pieces of information at certain times in order to build political capital for whatever purpose it has, and promulgates other pieces of information at other times to advance the same purpose. And there may be a predisposition in certain quarters of the media, first of all, not to be critical of this president; and second, to protect him in those cases where a significant policy initiative of his is at risk.”
Claims along these lines were most recently sparked on April 10, when Democratic Senator Bob Graham — a supporter of the Iran nuclear deal who also played a major role in the first U.S. Government investigation into 9/11 after the perpetration of the attacks — appeared on the national television news program 60 Minutes. Graham revived discussions of the infamous “28 pages,” a still-classified portion of a report by a congressional panel investigating intelligence failures related to the 9/11 attacks. Graham suggested in the course of the interview, as have other public officials and media figures before and since, that the pages contain evidence of an operational link between the Government of Saudi Arabia and the most devastating terrorist attack ever perpetrated on American soil.
In a political culture generally skeptical of “conspiracy theories,” Lee Smith, a columnist at the right-leaning Weekly Standard, described the program as part of a broader information campaign to “make the Saudis look bad.” He assessed the effort as aiming to build support for President Obama’s policies of recalibrating traditional American alliances in the Middle East in favor of a new partnership with Iran.
Also in April, a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a judgment of $2 billion on behalf of victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism, including the 1983 Marine Corps Barracks bombing in Lebanon, which killed 241 American servicemen. According to the ruling, the plaintiffs in the case are entitled to collect the monies from Iranian Central Bank funds that were frozen by the United States. Public attention to the ruling was modest, however, compared to a renewed focus on legislation in Congress — called the “Justice Against Supporters of Terrorism Act” — which would make it considerably easier for the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for damages in American courts.
On April 22, a significant statement was issued by two respected former leaders of the “9/11 Commission:” former Governor Tom Kean and former Representative Lee Hamilton. The statement seeks to dispel what it describes as misconceptions which had arisen in recent weeks as a result of the intense media discussion about the “28 pages.” Among other points, it reiterates that the 9/11 Commission found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” Al-Qaeda, insisting that nothing in the 28-page document, should it be released, would prove otherwise.
Hamilton and Kean noted in their statement that the voluminous 9/11 Commission Report dwells extensively on Saudi Arabia, home to most of the 9/11 hijackers. But they also acknowledge that the Kingdom itself has become a prime target of the jihadist groups; that “Saudi Arabia has been an ally of the United States in combatting terrorism;” and that “many Saudi public servants have died in their battles with Al-Qaeda operatives.”