Veterans told they’re shielding the U.S. military—in reality, they’re only protecting the Saudi monarchy
By Brian P. McGlinchey
Using misinformation and a big budget, Saudi Arabia is recruiting well-meaning U.S. military veterans into its campaign to eviscerate a recently-passed law allowing 9/11 families to sue the monarchy for its alleged role in facilitating the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Continue reading →
As the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks draws closer, family members of those lost in the attacks are making an emotional appeal to Congress to clear the way for their lawsuit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its alleged financial and logistical support of the hijackers.
In an effort led by the September 11th Advocates—five women who lost loved ones in the attacks—surviving family members and other concerned members of the public are posting videos to a Facebook page and a YouTube channel in which they urge the House of Representatives to promptly pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) when they return from summer recess on Tuesday, September 6.
Adjusting Sovereign Immunity Laws
The bill, which would modify U.S. sovereign immunity law to allow suits against foreign government sponsors of terrorism, passed the Senate by unanimous voice vote. Now, the September 11th Advocates are pressing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to schedule a vote on the measure before the 15th anniversary of the attacks.
“We believe that 15 years is long enough and it would honor our loved ones if they would pass JASTA and allow us to proceed with our path to justice and holding the Saudis accountable for their alleged role,” the group’s Kristen Breitweiser tells 28Pages.org. Breitweiser’s husband, Ron, was killed at the World Trade Center. She and fellow September 11th Advocates Patty Casazza, Monica Gabrielle, Mindy Kleinberg and Lorie Van Auken have been leading advocates for 9/11 transparency.
Though the measure passed the Senate unanimously, Breitweiser says JASTA faces formidable opposition down the stretch. Saudi Arabia has warned Congress and the White House that it may be compelled to divest upwards of a $750 billion dollars in U.S. assets if the measure passes, and President Obama has expressed reluctance to sign the bill if it advances to his desk.
“The reality is that the Saudis throw a lot of money around Washington, D.C. and they have a lot of influence. The Saudis have the president and the State Department on their side. I think that’s un-American, I think it’s unpatriotic, I think it’s disgusting, frankly. I don’t know how President Obama will be able to commemorate the 9/11 attacks, by giving a speech or laying a wreath or what have you, when he stabbed the 9/11 families in the back by supporting the Saudis over the 9/11 families,” says Breitweiser.
Civil Suit Could Bring New Evidence to Light
In July, Congress released 28 long-classified pages from a 2002 congressional inquiry into 9/11. The pages—which contained 97 redactions—revealed substantial new clues pointing toward Saudi connections to the hijackers. The Obama administration downplayed those clues, claiming that the 9/11 Commission thoroughly investigated them and found no Saudi government sponsorship of the attacks.
Breitweiser doesn’t buy it. “You’ve got plenty of information out there that the 9/11 Commission did not do a full investigation of the Saudis. Several 9/11 Commissioners themselves acknowledge that. Whether you want to talk about the budget, whether you want to talk about the way (9/11 Commission executive director) Philip Zelikow set it up, it was not a full investigation. That’s one of the reasons why we’re fighting for JASTA, because at least in a court system we’ll have discovery and more than anything we want the American public to see the evidence and see the information and be fully engaged and educated on the issue.”
First, though, they have to persuade the House and Obama to enact JASTA. The video project reinforces that family members and friends of those killed in the attacks are victims of a crime who deserve their day in court. “We wanted to make sure that every 9/11 family member would have their voice heard by every member of Congress, because we think 15 years is long enough and justice delayed is justice denied. We don’t have thousands of dollars to plunk down to sit next to Speaker Ryan at a campaign dinner, but we do have iPhones,” says Breitweiser.
Nearly 15 years after the shocking loss of her husband, her patience is running thin: “I’m really aggravated that my husband and 3,000 people were brutally murdered and my government has no interest in holding anyone accountable for it…I want to know that my husband’s life was not lost in vain.”
Three Ways You Can Help 9/11 Families Get Their Day in Court
Call Speaker of the House Paul Ryan at 202 225-0600 and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy at 202 225-0400. Urge them to schedule a vote on the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (HR 3815 S2040) before the 9/11 anniversary. Learn more ways to help at PassJASTA.org (which is not affiliated with 28Pages.org).
Post your own short video to the 9/11 Families’ Accountability Video Project. In under a minute, state your name and why you think it’s important to hold Saudi Arabia responsible for its alleged role in the attacks.
Spread awareness on social media. Share the video project’s Facebook page and share this article, too.
As an intelligence community declassification review of 28 pages on foreign government links to the 9/11 hijackers enters its third year, the former senator who put the Pentagon Papers into the public record under the protection of the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause is urging members of Congress to use the same tactic to finally reveal what’s in the 28 pages.
Mike Gravel, who represented Alaska in the Senate from 1969 to 1981, has shared the idea with Senator Ron Wyden and staffers for Senators Rand Paul and Kirsten Gillibrand. (Last year, Paul and Wyden introduced Senate Bill 1471, which would direct the president to release the pages; Gillibrand is the bill’s only other cosponsor.)
A Powerful Option Seldom Used
Found in Article 1, Section 6 of the U.S. Constitution, the Speech or Debate Clause shields senators and representatives from criminal prosecution for their remarks during official congressional business:
“Senators and Representatives…shall in all cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their attendance at the Session of their Respective Houses, and in going to and from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”
In 1971, Gravel used the clause to single-handedly declassify 4,100 pages from the Pentagon Papers, a classified history of the Vietnam War. After securing a leaked copy of the report, he convened a meeting of a Senate subcommittee he chaired, read from them for an hour and then entered all of them into the congressional record.
In Gravel v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the Speech or Debate Clause protected both Gravel and his aide who assisted him from prosecution for the disclosure.
“What the Pentagon Papers proved in my case, which was the landmark of it, was that any member of Congress could release anything—secret, top secret, confidential—anything that they felt was in the best interest of the people to know. Period. That’s a judgment they have the power to make under the constitution,” said Gravel.
Though Gravel blazed a broad declassification trail 45 years ago, it hasn’t been used since. Now, he’d like to see the path used to bypass the executive branch’s classification of the 28 pages.
“We are three separate divisions. That’s the strength of our country. You have the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. The legislative has no obligation to honor the classification of the executive. That’s what the Speech or Debate Clause is all about,” said Gravel.
Easier Said Than Done?
“I think it’s a hypothetical scenario and not a very likely one,” said Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “There’s a reason we call it a Pentagon Papers scenario—because it really hasn’t happened deliberately since then.”
The first hurdle to a Gravel-style release of the pages is a physical one: The pages are kept in a secure facility beneath the U.S. Capitol. Members of Congress can only read them with the permission of their intelligence committee, and then do so under close observation, after first shedding their pens, papers and cell phones.
“The problem is that no one can take notes, so how are you going to get the 28 pages—are you going to put them in your pocket and walk out? I doubt it,” said Rep. Walter Jones, who introduced House Resolution 14, which urges the president to release the pages.
As an alternative to a cloak-and-dagger acquisition of the pages, a legislator could summarize them in a speech.
The idea of recapping 28 pages of text that are filled with dates, dollar amounts, account numbers and a variety of Arabic names struck Jones as daunting. “It would take someone with a better memory than mine,” he said with a soft chuckle.
Last month, the September 11th Advocates, a group of activist 9/11 widows, suggested an ambitious way of overcoming the limits of human memory: They challenged each member of Congress to read the 28 pages, memorize a few sentences each and then individually read them into the record in a mass act of rebellion against undue executive branch secrecy.
As much as we are determined to read every word of the 28 pages, however, it would seem that a single conscientious member of Congress could do a great deal for the cause of transparency without the need for heavy-duty memorization.
Judging from the remarks of those who’ve read them, the 28 pages contain specific “headline” revelations that could be summarized without quoting minute details like account numbers or dollar amounts—all that’s needed is an elaboration on these comments already made in public:
Former Sen. Bob Graham: “The 28 pages point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier” of 9/11.
Rep. Rick Nolan: “The information presents a clear and startling picture of who financed the attacks.”
While the Speech or Debate Clause shields members from prosecution, they may face other consequences.
“It would protect them from legal liability. It would not protect them from internal sanctions by their own colleagues. They wouldn’t be arrested, but they might be censured,” said Aftergood.
Gravel thinks otherwise: He has been circulating a detailed analysis written by attorney Mick Harrison that concludes— given the specific facts surrounding the 28 pages—that censure wouldn’t be a possibility.
A different consequence does seem likely: “They would lose access to classified information in the future,” predicted Aftergood.
Though Gravel said he was able to view classified information after he exposed the Pentagon Papers, the more recent experience of Florida Congressman Alan Grayson lends credibility to Aftergood’s prediction.
Grayson made a speech from the House floor in which he cited Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA mass surveillance. Despite the fact that these revelations had been already published in a newspaper, Grayson says the intelligence committee chair at the time, Mike Rogers, characterized his action as a disclosure of classified information, and the House intelligence committee then denied Grayson’s request to read the 28 pages.
For Gravel, however, there’s too much at stake for the pages not to be released: “Members of Congress, under the Constitution, have a right and—believe me—an obligation, because if you don’t inform the people, they have no role in influencing government policy because they’re left in ignorance.”
There’s no shortage of news in the drive to declassify 28 pages on foreign government links to the 9/11 hijackers. Of foremost concern, uncertainty continues to swirl around precisely what will happen at the end of the intelligence community’s declassification review of the 28 pages. Meanwhile, lobbyists for Saudi Arabia unveiled some some new marketing material, a House hearing examined Saudi Arabia’s position in the fight against terrorism, and Rand Paul is trying to tie 28 pages declassification to a major piece of legislation.
Declassification Process In Need of Its Own Transparency
When former Senator Bob Graham—along with Rep. Walter Jones and Rep. Stephen Lynch—met with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last week, Graham was surprised when Clapper suggested that the final move would be left to the Congress.
Graham told Carl Hulse of the New York Times, “No one has ever questioned that this is a decision that rests at the White House. The idea of adding another elongated, contentious step to the process is befuddling.”
When Dan Christensen of FloridaBulldog.org first broke the story of Clapper’s confusing comments, some observers interpreted that as possibly referring to a vote of the House or Senate intelligence committees. However, Graham says Clapper hinted at a scenario far more worrisome to transparency advocates. Wrote Hulse:
Mr. Graham said Mr. Clapper had compared the approach to the handling of a Senate report on C.I.A. torture of terror detainees. That document was reviewed by the Obama administration, which redacted parts of it over security concerns, and the Senate ultimately released an executive summary. But that was a messy process that took months of bitter fighting to resolve.
Responding to the Times story yesterday, the September 11th Advocates—a group of activist 9/11 widows—issued a two-page statement expressing alarm over the idea that the 28 pages could follow the same path as the torture report. In addition to expressing concern over the likelihood for delays, the group is also concerned about the idea that the final product would be a synopsis of the pages rather than full declassification: “Executive summaries are not meant to reveal facts or the truth— they are used to hide the facts and the truth. Thus, we find Clapper’s suggestion unacceptable.”
Reached yesterday by 28Pages.org, Rep. Jones seemed hopeful for a more straightforward White House recommendation to declassify the material, promptly followed by in a simple vote from the intelligence committees or the full House and Senate. “If President Obama says, ‘I recommend that we declassify the 28 pages,’ I don’t think it would take 10 minutes for the House and Senate to do it. There’s just too much American interest in this,” he said.
The September 11th Advocates claimed that the continued classification of the 28 pages violates the executive order that governs classification. Specifically, they noted that Executive Order 13526 forbids the use of classification to prevent embarrassment to a person, organization or agency, or to delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of national security—flawed rationales that have been alluded to by CIA Director John Brennan and the two chairmen of the 9/11 Commission.
A spokesperson for Clapper declined both a New York Times and 28Pages.org request to clarify his remarks to Graham: It looks like it will be up to the White House to provide the American people with a clear understanding of the declassification end-game.
Saudi Lobby on the Offensive
Last week, Politico revealed that Saudi lobbyists were distributing a slick, 104-page white paper extolling the kingdom’s dedication to countering terrorism. Yesterday, The Hill’s Julian Hattem reported that the lobbyists’ collateral package had grown to include a 38-page prebuttal of the 28 pages, and that Saudi lobbyists are characterizing proponents of 28 pages declassification as “delving into conspiracy theories.”
That term is rarely used in serious discussions of the 28 pages, however it was central to a highly Saudi-friendly paper on the topic published last week by the Center for Strategic and International Studies—and then scathingly critiqued by 28Pages.org. CSIS accepts money from Saudi Arabia and a who’s who of defense companies that call the kingdom a customer.
House Hearing on Saudi Arabia and Counterterrorism
Yesterday, Texas Congressman Ted Poe chaired a hearing of a House foreign affairs subcommittee that focused on Saudi Arabia and counter-terrorism. (Archived video here.) A few highlights:
As The Intercept’s Alex Emmons reported, when the panel of witnesses was asked by California congressman and House Resolution 14 cosponsor Dana Rohrabacher if they believed “the royal family of Saudi Arabia did not know and was unaware that there was a terrorist plot being implemented that would result in an historic attack in the United States,” only two of the four raised their hands. One of the doubters was 9/11 Commission member Tim Roemer, who declared it too difficult a question to answer with a show of hands—perhaps owing to the vast size of the royal family.
Rohrabacher said, “We are intentionally ignoring who’s financing (terrorism). It’s clear to all of us…that the Saudis and the Saudi royal family have been right up to their eyeballs in terrorist activity and supporting the terrorist activity of radical Islamic forces in the Middle East.”
The panelists were uniform in their support of releasing the 28 pages. Roemer said, “The 9/11 families deserve it, the American people deserve it, and justice deserves it. We have a right to transparency and sunlight.”
Poe said he has read the 28 pages and supports their release, but is notably absent from the list of cosponsors of HRes 14.
Georgetown University’s Dan Byman said the biggest beneficiary of Saudi intervention in Yemen has been Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Rep. Brad Sherman said Saudi Arabia can’t claim to oppose terrorism while supporting extremism: “It’s time for Saudi Arabia to come clean.”
Rand Paul Working to Catch-Up with House Allies
Senator Paul, who last year introduced a bill with Sen. Ron Wyden that would direct the president to declassify the 28 pages, yesterday introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would do the same thing.
While a House resolution aimed at achieving the release of the pages has been steadily accumulating cosponsors—reaching 62 this morning—the Senate bill has inexplicably languished, even after 60 Minutes thrust the issue into nationwide headlines last month and a number of senators advocated their declassification.
New York’s Kristin Gillibrand was an original cosponsor of the Senate bill; in stark contrast to what House declassification leaders Walter Jones, Stephen Lynch and Thomas Massie have accomplished, Paul and Wyden have yet to persuade even one additional senator to officially sign on to a cause that has wide public support.
This is the second time Paul has pursued a 28 pages amendment to the NDAA. Last year’s amendment was not taken up for a vote.
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