New York Times, USA Today Urge Release of 28 Pages on 9/11

The movement to declassify 28 pages said to link Saudi Arabia to the 9/11 hijackers received two powerful endorsements today, as the editorial boards of the New York Times and USA Today each urged the president to release the pages to the public.

NYT TThe editorial voices of the nation’s second and third-largest newspapers join a rising bipartisan chorus that has recently added House intelligence committee chair Devin Nunes, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

In an editorial titled, “Unfinished Business from 9/11,” the Times noted that President Obama tasked the intelligence community with reviewing the material for declassification in 2014. “The process is still dragging on. The 28 pages should be released immediately,” said the Times. 

The Times, like many others in media and the Saudi Arabian government itself, put too much emphasis on the 9/11 Commission report’s statement that the investigation found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials” funded the hijackers. In the highly influential 60 Minutes segment that aired April 10, former 9/11 commissioner John Lehman pointedly said the statement was “not an exoneration.”

The Times also used its editorial to declare “valid” Obama’s reservations about the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would clear a path for 9/11 victims and families to sue Saudi Arabia. Obama and other opponents claim that weakening U.S. sovereign immunity laws may inspire other countries to do that same, exposing not only the U.S. government, but also American businesses and individuals to widened litigation.

An op-ed piece penned this week by the 9/11 plaintiffs’ attorneys counters that the White House position is based on “troubling mischaracterizations of current law and JASTA itself.” Attorney Sean Carter elaborated on those mischaracterizations in a radio interview with Michael Smerconish.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 2.29.55 PMThe USA Today editorial, “U.S. Saudi Ties Full of Knots,” begins by acknowledging lingering questions about an alleged Saudi government role in the attacks: “There has long been more innuendo than fact, thanks in part to the continuing classification of the notorious ’28 pages.'”

Noting the controversy about the significance of the 28 pages, USA Today quoted 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow as saying the 28 pages were largely comprised of “preliminary, unvetted reports.” However, there are many reasons why Zelikow may not be an unbiased voice on the issue.

Similar to the Times’ stance on JASTA, USA Today said, “Congress might be getting ahead of itself with the bill to strip Saudi Arabia of its sovereign immunity against lawsuits over terrorism ties,” but concludes that it’s “better to start by declassifying the infamous 28 pages and begin to publicly sort out what the Saudi role in 9/11 really was. Proof of Saudi government complicity would be a powerful argument for letting lawsuits proceed.”

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter Exclusive: A Buried Envelope and Buried Questions: Your First Look Inside Declassified Document 17

9/11 Bill Prompts Saudi Threat to Sell Off U.S. Treasury Debt

Saudi Arabia has warned the Obama administration and federal legislators that it will sell off U.S. Treasury debt worth $750 billion if Congress passes a law clearing the way for 9/11 victims to sue the kingdom for its alleged role in aiding the hijackers. according to a story in today’s New York Times.

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 2.36.10 PMAppearing on Michael Smerconish’s CNN program Saturday morning, former Senator Bob Graham, a leading advocate of declassifying 28 pages that allegedly implicate Saudi Arabia in the attacks, said, “I’m outraged but not surprised.”

According to the Times report, the kingdom’s caution was personally delivered last month by Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, who reportedly told legislators that, if the bill passes, Saudi Arabia would sell up to $750 billion in Treasury debt before it could be potentially frozen by U.S. courts.

Threat Sparked by Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act

Though presented as a necessity for Saudi Arabia’s own financial protection, Saudi Arabia’s cautionary statement is a de facto economic threat against the United States. A sell-off may prompt an increase in U.S. Treasury interest rates, raising borrowing costs for the American government, businesses and consumers.

The Saudi warning was triggered by the legislative progress of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). Last fall, Saudi Arabia was dropped from a lawsuit filed by 9/11 families, victims and insurers after a federal judge said the plaintiffs had failed to meet the high jurisdictional hurdles that FSIA imposes for claims against foreign governments.

NYT TAccording to the New York Times report, the Obama administration has aggressively lobbied lawmakers against passing JASTA, telling them it could trigger moves by other countries to undermine immunity enjoyed by the U.S. government and American businesses and individuals abroad.

September 11 widow Terry Strada, who has spent years lobbying for JASTA, told Smerconish, “I’m shocked with what’s going on here. Do the Saudis really have that much influence on our government? Are they really calling the shots in Washington, D.C.?”

Graham: Saudis Operate with “Sense of Impunity”

Graham said that failing to hold Saudi Arabia to account for its “complicity in the murder of 3,000 Americans” gave the kingdom “a sense of impunity that they can do anything they wanted to with no sanction, and now that impunity has expanded to their trying to lobby the highest levels of the White House and the Congress” to prevent a courtroom determination of Saudi Arabia’s guilt.

“I believe that there is material in the 28 pages and the volume of other documents that would indicate that there was a connection at the highest levels between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the 19 hijackers. I believe that the plot would not have occurred but for the support and protection that the hijackers were receiving primarily from Saudi Arabia,” said Graham.

Graham’s reference to the “highest levels” of the Saudi government is reminiscent of a statement former Navy secretary and 9/11 Commission member John Lehman made to 60 Minutes on Sunday. Asked if the 28 classified pages names names, he replied, “Yes. The average intelligent watcher of 60 Minutes would recognize them instantly.”

Smerconish asked Graham about the kingdom’s 2003 request to the Bush administration to release the 28 pages. “I think what the Saudis had was an understanding with the United States that whatever the Saudis indicated they wanted was a sham,” said Graham, adding that Saudi Arabia likely relied on a quiet commitment by the U.S. government to keep the pages classified, freeing the kingdom to make the request solely for public consumption.

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