Leads pointing to Saudi Arabia “were either not followed up or were purposefully dead-ended because it didn’t fit the narrative”
By Brian P. McGlinchey
In a Wednesday hearing at Guantanamo Bay, attorneys representing five men accused of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks argued in support of a motion requesting that Army Colonel James Pohl compel the government to share an unredacted version of the final chapter of the report of a 2002 congressional intelligence inquiry.
The 28-page chapter details a wide variety of connections between Saudi government officials, suspected Saudi intelligence assets and the 9/11 hijackers, and were completely classified by the George W. Bush administration. Though they were declassified in July 2016, the public version has 97 redactions adding up to roughly three pages of content, and the defense attorneys want to know what’s still hidden from view.
Pohl is presiding over the trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al Shibh, Ammar al Baluchi and Mustafa Ahmad al Hawsawi. Following the 1963 Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors have a duty to disclose evidence that could be helpful to the defense of an accused.
Hidden Information Could Aid the Defense
Defense attorneys argued that information in the 28 pages—if it points to other, uncharged guilty parties and the involvement of Saudi Arabia as a state sponsor of the attacks—could be useful to them not only in the guilt/innocence phase of the trial, but also in sentencing, if their clients are found guilty.
“The government is alleging that Mr. bin Attash, and all five of the codefendants, had such critical roles in the al Qaeda organization that they are responsible and should be held accountable for the attacks on 9/11 and should be put to death. Now, if that information, these leads, these individuals, this memoranda provides information that identifies other individuals more responsible than Mr. Bin’Attash…then that is material and helpful to Mr. Bin’Attash’s defense,” said Edwin Perry, an attorney for bin Attash, according to a transcript of the proceedings.
Attorney Alka Pradhan, representing al Baluchi, said the 28 pages could help her make the case that the military commission at Guantanamo Bay—which exists to try individuals for unlawful conduct associated with war—lacks jurisdiction over her client.
“The information that we have requested, we believe will support Mr. al Baluchi’s defense that prior to October 7 (when U.S. forces began operations in Afghanistan), and certainly prior to September 11, the executive did not consider the United States to be at war with al Qaeda,” she told Judge Pohl.
Perry noted that the 28 pages point to still more documents that could be useful to the defense. As an example, he drew the judge’s attention to page 419 of the congressional report, which refers to allegations in a CIA memorandum of “financial connections between the September 11 hijackers, Saudi government officials, and members of the Saudi royal family.”
Casting Doubt on Government’s 9/11 Narrative
Prosecuting attorney Edward Ryan sought to persuade Judge Pohl that the 28 pages were preliminary in nature and rendered obsolete by subsequent investigations, most notably the 9/11 Commission. “They want us to jump backward three steps and give over unredacted portions of 28 pages of a legislative document that, by the legislative committee’s own admission, was incomplete and preliminary,” said Ryan.
He quoted House intelligence committee chair Devin Nunes as saying the 28 pages “(do) not put forward vetted conclusions, but rather unverified leads that were later investigated, fully investigated, by the intelligence community.”
That claim is starkly contradicted by 9/11 Commission member and former senator Bob Kerrey, who, in a statement provided for the 9/11 civil suit against Saudi Arabia, said, “Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued.”
On Wednesday, defense attorney Perry said the leads described in the 28 pages “were either not followed up or were purposefully dead-ended because it didn’t fit the (government’s) narrative.”
That notion is consistent with the observations of Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell in the Bush White House. In an August 2016 interview with 28Pages.org, he said, “They wanted to go to war with Iraq. Anything that supported al Qaeda connections with Baghdad, therefore, was good. Saudi Arabia just confused things, so keep that out of (public discussion).”
In language echoing content at 28Pages.org, the written defense motion notes that the July 2016 release of the redacted 28 pages “confirmed that at the very same time the U.S. government was manufacturing bogus links between Iraq and 9/11, it was suppressing 28 pages of bona fide investigative leads pointing to (Saudi Arabia).”
The motion also cites an April 28, 2016 article published by 28Pages.org that refutes the widely embraced but deeply flawed notion that the 9/11 Commission thoroughly pursued links to Saudi Arabia.
Prosecutors Delegated Review of the 28 Pages
The prosecuting attorneys told Judge Pohl that, rather than themselves reviewing the 28 pages for information that could be pertinent to the defense, they asked an unidentified FBI agent to review them on their behalf. Ryan said they asked the agent to make sure the prosecution hadn’t missed anything “earth-shattering,” and “his report to us was that we had not.”
“This is not something that they can delegate, your honor,” said Perry for the defense. “They can’t just go to an FBI case agent and say ‘tell me what you think,’ and if the FBI case agent says ‘I don’t think there is anything there,’ that’s the end of the story,” said Perry.
As reported extensively by, among others, Dan Christensen at FloridaBulldog.org, the FBI has a poor record of facilitating 9/11 transparency. Former Senate intelligence committee chairman Bob Graham has said the government’s secrecy about its investigation of Saudi links to 9/11 constitutes a pattern of “aggressive deception.”
Similarly, Perry told Judge Pohl, “The prosecution and the government writ large…has a narrative that these 19 hijackers are part of a stateless…terrorist organization that orchestrated largely, without any assistance by any state, attacks on 9/11. Any information that would go against that narrative obviously is not something that they are terribly interested in.”