No smoking gun: The 28-pages conspiracy is over

After over a decade of legal pressure, the White House moved to declassify the remaining 28 pages of the 9/11 Report. These pages were released amid the turmoil of Turkey’s aborted coup, the ISIS-linked attack in Nice, and the unveiling of Trump’s Veep pick

The pages detail a number of non-investigated leads that the Commission examined in the process of investigating the planning and execution of the 9/11 attacks. At the time of the release of the report, President Bush made the conclusion that these pages released at that time could harm the relations between the US and Saudi Arabia, a key counterterrorism partner. The Commission also concluded that these potential leads weren’t covered under the purview of the Commission’s mandate.

A conspiratorial mystique

While such a move was prudent at the time, it created a conspiratorial mystique that these missing pages legitimated the simplified myth that Saudi Arabia is a duplicitous and dangerous ally that Washington to its own detriment has kept close. It also created the sense that Washington wasn’t being fully truthful to the countless families who lost loved ones in the worst terrorist attack on US soil.

In the fourteen year-long legal and public fight by members of Congress and families of the 9/11 families, the refusal to declassify these pages was seen as a potential “smoking gun” for Saudi Arabia’s role in the attacks considering the number of hijackers holding Saudi passports and Osama Bin Laden’s long personal history.

The legislation passed by the Senate (which President Obama threatened to veto) is perceived to have opened the possibility of 9/11 victims’ families to sue Saudi Arabia. The declassification led some to believe taht it enables the possibility that these pages could give strong evidence for such future lawsuits.

Hopefully, the release will give a sense of closure after a painful decade long-struggle to make sense of this horrible terrorist attack

Andrew Bowen

There’s no “there” there

For its part, the White House noted on Friday, the FBI and the US intelligence community thoroughly and exhaustively investigated these leads. President Obama’s administration concluded that there was no evidence to substantiate any link between the Saudi government and the 9/11 plot. Their investigations also found many of the leads noted in the pages to be spurious.

While the pages noted how low-level Saudi government officials and other Saudis may have had contact with the hijackers and provided degrees of support for various reasons, there was no evidence to credibly show that the Saudi government aided and abetted al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks or condoned or tolerated such attacks. In other words, the road to 9/11 didn’t run through Riyadh.

A partner not an opponent

In the wake of the release of these pages, the focus shouldn’t be on whether or not the leads weren’t investigated thoroughly enough, but how the US and Saudi Arabia can deepen their counter-terrorism cooperation to prevent another such attack. Hopefully, the release will give a sense of closure after a painful decade long-struggle to make sense of this horrible terrorist attack.

Both Washington and Riyadh face a deepening challenge posed not only by al-Qaeda and its affiliates, but also ISIS at home and abroad. The terrorist attacks this month across Saudi Arabia, in Iraq, Turkey, Bangladesh, and France illustrate the global challenge that extremist groups pose. The collapse of Syria and Yemen and the fragmentation of Iraq have given ground for these groups to exploit this anarchy and attract a global following.

While efforts have been made to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation (notably Riyadh’s anti-ISIS coalition), more work needs to be done. More actions need to be taken to address Syria’s grinding civil war, Yemen’s collapse, and Iraq’s fragmentation. It would be a mistake to pass the buck to a new administration. More efforts also need to be taken at home to effectively address the threat this extremism poses.

At a time of critical challenges, it would be a mistake to allow these 28 pages to strain a strong partnership between the US and Saudi Arabia at a time of growing global challenges.

The time is ripe for cooperation not divisiveness that unfortunately the current US presidential campaign trail only feeds.
Andrew J. Bowen, Ph.D. is a columnist for Al Arabiya English and frequent commentator on US national security policy and the Middle East.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47
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