Saudi Blackmail Stands in the Way of 9-11 Families Right to Know
Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK upacks Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia and what we know about the redacted 28 pages of the Congressional 9-11 Report
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
On Wednesday, President Obama landed in Saudi Arabia for meetings with King Salman. His visit comes at a time when Congress is trying to pass a bill that would release 28 pages of Congressional inquiry citing evidence that Saudi officials living in the U.S. played a role in the 9/11 attacks. These are known as the 28 redacted pages from the 9/11 report. Saudi Arabia has threatened to sell off $750 billion in Treasury securities and other U.S.-based assets, as well as warned of diplomatic fallout if the bill passes. In the meantime, an open letter from Amnesty International has called on Obama to not overlook human rights during his visit to the Gulf. Saudi-American arms deals have given Saudi Arabia the ability to engage in military exploits in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, to just name a few.
Joining us now to talk about all of these recent developments is Medea Benjamin. Medea is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK, and Human Rights Organization Global Exchange. She’s the author of the book Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control. Medea, good to have you with us.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Thank you, Sharmini. Good to be on.
PERIES: So, Medea, what do you think would be the impact of releasing these 28 pages on Saudi Arabia?
BENJAMIN: I think that after 15 years the American people would get a better understanding about the role of the Saudi government and high officials in Saudi Arabia connection to the 9/11 attacks. It’s really quite shocking that the American people have been waiting for 15 years to get this information, particularly shocking when you think about the widows, the 9/11 family members, who have been going to court, who have been lobbying the administration and Congress year after year after year just for the right to know what our own government has found out and put into, and a 9/11 report that was completed in 2002, but we still don’t have access to that information. It’s pretty shocking.
PERIES: Do we have any sense of what’s in that 28 pages?
BENJAMIN: We have heard different things from different people who’ve had the chance to read it. There are congresspeople who have had to go into a secure location with no staff, with no notebook, read through it and they come out saying that it will make your head spin. There are others saying that it still doesn’t have conclusive evidence, but does give much more of a path than we have had so far.
I think what we will find out is that the Saudi government did have connections with some of the hijackers. Let’s remember that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. What might not be clear is how much the Saudi government knew that the funding that they were giving to some of these hijackers was going to be used for these purposes. So we’re not sure how much the circle will be closed, except there are people like the Senator Bob Graham who was the head of the commission that wrote the 9/11 report, saying that this was important evidence, that it does show connection that the Saudi government has, and that this is absolutely essential for the American people to know.
PERIES: And Sen. Bob Graham in an interview with Paul Jay on the Real News Network speaks further about this particular point you’re trying to make, Medea. So if anyone wants to watch that, that will be on our site as well.
Now, the other point is that President Obama has arrived in Saudi Arabia, and of course he’s talking about this trip as if it is to talk about the relationship with Iran, and regional issues, but that might be on the agenda. But at least that’s how it’s being portrayed to us. But tensions between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. are unusually high. Give us a sense of what that tension might be about, and what is the real purpose of this trip?
BENJAMIN: Well, first let me say in relationship to the other question, the fact that the Saudis are blackmailing the U.S. by saying they’re going to withdraw hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. treasuries is something that the U.S. government cannot allow to trump the right of the U.S. citizens to get this information or to be able to sue the Saudi government on behalf of the 9/11 families. The Saudis have tried to blackmail the U.S. for decades now. First it was access to Saudi oil. Now it has also, the fact that the Saudis are the number one purchasers of U.S. weapons, which translates in the United States into jobs. So whether it’s one thing or the other, the Saudis have always tried to use these as a way to pressure the United States to keep up this relationship with such a repressive government.
When the president is in Saudi Arabia right now, the Saudis are particularly concerned about the recent agreement around nuclear issues that was concluded with Iran, and think that this means the beginning of a closer relationship between the United States and Iran. And of course, the Saudis are concerned about Iranian influence in the rest of the region, that they want to shore up their alliance with the United States. They do this in several ways. One is to push for even higher tech weapons, or more weapons, to get from the United States assurances from the United States they will not be supporting the Iranians and other moves. The Saudis want the U.S. to get more involved in Syria. Their objective is more to overthrow the Assad government than it is to fight the Islamic State, and they have been pushing for greater U.S. involvement.
But I think it is the Iran-Saudi division that in some ways translates into a Sunni-Shia division that will be one of the central issues discussed, and the Saudi and other Gulf states trying to shore up the U.S. alliance.
PERIES: Now, in terms of the redacted pages in Congress, we keep going back to that, but there were some reports that the Obama administration was actually trying to block that bill from passing. Do we know any more about that?
BENJAMIN: Well, the Obama administration says that it will veto the bill that is to allow 9/11 victims to be able to sue foreign governments in U.S. courts. It is another example of how shameful it is that the U.S. administration is allowing the Saudis to blackmail them. While there is a lot of talk of the differences between the Obama administration and the Saudi regime, and certainly in the interview that President Obama did in the Atlantic he made some very pointed criticisms of Saudi Arabia, everything from it being a misogynist country, the way it treats its women, the human rights abuses internally in Saudi Arabia, and his call for Saudi Arabia to, quote, share the region with its neighbors, i.e. Iran, and also calling the Gulf states free riders when it came to not paying for their own security and depending on the United States for that, all of this has supposedly angered the Saudi royalty.
I think it’s important to understand, though, that the Obama administration has been very good to the Saudis. If you look at the amount of weapons that the U.S. has allowed to be sold to the Saudis under the Obama regime, it’s many, many times more than happened under the Bush regime. If you look at the terrible, disastrous war that the Saudis are waging in Yemen, the Obama administration has worked hand in glove with the Saudis, not only providing weapons, but also giving all kinds of assistance, including logistical data to the Saudis, who are then able to carry out the bombings and selling weapons that have been internationally banned, like cluster munitions, to the Saudis to be used in Yemen. So there are all kinds of ways in which, unfortunate ways, in which the Obama administration has been working with the Saudis and complicit in war crimes in Yemen, and complicit in stirring up these sectarian divisions that engulf the region.
PERIES: Now, in the past one could say that the Saudis had all the cards in their hand, and they could flex their muscles as they pleased. But with the plummeting oil prices and their revenues, paying for some of these arms deals and so on has now amounted to actually having to borrow money. And not only for the arms deal, but it’s now reaching out to international institutions for borrowing money. Are they going to be able to carry out the threats that they are putting forth?
BENJAMIN: Well, first we should understand that the U.S. is no longer very dependent on the Saudis for oil. Only 13 percent of the U.S. oil comes from Saudi Arabia, and could be very easily replaced with oil coming from other places. The other is the issue of do we need Saudi intelligence. That’s something that’s often put forward with very few examples, concrete examples, that we have. You might remember when there was a bomb that was put into ink cartridges, that the Saudis then called up the president and told him, gave him the tracking number of the ink cartridges to stop those bombs. Who knows if it was the Saudis themselves that actually placed them and then told the U.S. as an example of this great cooperation.
Certainly the U.S. and the Saudi intelligence work quite closely together on issues related to Syria and to Iran. But I think that given that Saudi is responsible for much of the extremism that exists throughout the Middle East, we don’t really need their intelligence. We would do better to not have their cooperation as allies. That would probably make us way less of a target for any terrorist attacks than the close alliance that the U.S. has with the Saudis right now. So I think the Saudi alliance is a liability for the United States. It’s not only morally wrong because of the reprehensible human rights and the spreading of extremism, but it’s also bad for our national security, and it’s about time that this administration and the ones to come recognize that if ever this relationship were beneficial, it certainly is no longer the case.
PERIES: Medea Benjamin, I thank you so much for joining us and for that very insightful report.
BENJAMIN: Thank you for having me on. Bye bye.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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