Declassified 9/11 Docs: Is Biden Seeking to Poke MBS & Justify Efforts to Revive Iran Nuclear Deal?
The newly-declassified documents do not support the assumption made by the 9/11 victims' families that the Saudi Arabian government could be complicit in the terror attack on American soil, say observers discussing the release of the first batch of previously-classified files.
The FBI released the first document related to the agency's investigation, named Operation Encore, into Saudi nationals' role in the 9/11 terrorist attack. The 16-page file was published in response to Joe Biden's executive order stipulating a massive declassification of the government's 9/11 papers within the next six months.
Several years ago, families of the 9/11 victims filed a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia, alleging that the country's government could be aware of or involved in the attack, something that Riyadh resolutely denies. The lawsuit became possible after the US Congress passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) in 2016, allowing American citizens to sue governments for terror attacks. The newly-declassified document has not provided any evidence that senior Saudi officials were in any way complicit in the 9/11 tragedy.
Biden's executive order declassification review of documents related to the 9/11 attacks is more than just a fulfilment of his election promise, according to Dr. Yu Ouyang, assistant professor of Political Science at Purdue University Northwest.
"Families of 9/11 survivors and victims had been lobbying the federal government for years on releasing documents on what the government knows about that day and the events leading up to it," Dr. Ouyang says. "This is an attempt to give those families some closure."
Moreover, in early August the six Democratic US Senators from the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut announced the introduction of the bipartisan "September 11th Transparency Act of 2021", recalls Dr. Harvey Schantz, professor of political science at State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
"Majority Leader Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, a crucial senator for passing Biden’s domestic agenda, stated that 'the American people and the 9/11 families…must get those answers and they must get them now'," the professor notes.
Joe Biden and Mohammed bin Salman
Speculations about Riyadh's alleged role in the attacks have long stemmed from the fact that 15 of 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals, as well as Osama bin Laden, who claimed responsibility for 9/11 in 2004. However, bin Laden was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1991 due to anti-government activities. Soon after that, the Saudi government revoked his citizenship; bin Laden's family disowned him as well.
"The fact… is that, as the Saudi government has said, 'No evidence has ever emerged to indicate that the Saudi government or its officials had previous knowledge of the terrorist attack or were in any way involved in its planning or execution... Any allegation that Saudi Arabia is complicit in the September 11 attacks is categorically false.' Nothing in the report contradicts this simple truth, and it has never made the slightest sense that the Saudi regime would in any way assist the 9/11 hijackers," says Dr. Nicholas Waddy, associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred.
The academic believes that the Biden administration's decision to release the 9/11 documents and revisit the Saudi nationals' participation in the heinous attack could be an attempt to tarnish the Kingdom's image for Riyadh's "cozying up to Trump" and "to justify, in a backhanded way, their own policy of detente with Iran, the Saudis' nemesis."
Earlier, Biden's White House pointed the finger of suspicion at Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
, suggesting that the latter could be involved in the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. On 26 February, Washington released an intelligence report "linking" the crown prince with the incident
but providing no proof to back the allegations.
The crown prince lamented that the killing happened "under his watch" and said that therefore he bears responsibility for the tragedy. He made it clear that he had not been aware of the crime. The Saudi authorities launched an investigation into the Khashoggi killing, and found and prosecuted eight culprits behind it. Khashoggi's son Salah later said that the Saudi judiciary had been fair to his family and that "justice has been achieved".
Meanwhile, Mohammed bin Salman has long been known for his sympathy to former President Donald Trump which triggered assumptions that the new administration is seeking to "sideline" the powerful Saudi crown prince, as the Guardian remarked
in February 2021. For instance, while Trump used to communicate directly with the crown prince, the Biden administration announced that it would "recalibrate" the US relations with Riyadh, and considered King Salman – not Prince Mohammed – to be the president's counterpart. Some experts cited by the Guardian even went so far as to suggest that Washington "was trying to exert pressure on the king to change the line of succession and demote Prince Mohammed".
Still, Joe Biden's decision to declassify the documents related to 9/11 investigations was welcomed by Riyadh as an opportunity to dot the i's and cross the t's with regard to the terror attack. Just days before the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia called upon the US government to release all investigation files to end "baseless" speculations casting a shadow on Riyadh. The kingdom emphasised that any allegation that Saudi Arabia is complicit in the September 11 attacks "is categorically false."
"The Kingdom has always advocated for transparency surrounding the September 11 tragedy," said the statement, adding that "no evidence has ever emerged to indicate that the Saudi government or its officials had previous knowledge of the terrorist attack or were in any way involved in its planning or execution".