|Why Saudi Arabia is
By Hooman Peimani
week after the release of a 900-page United States
congressional report regarding the September 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks, President George W Bush rejected on
Wednesday a request from Saudi Arabia to declassify part
of it that allegedly links the Saudi government to the
terrorist act. The refusal has outraged that government,
because it stands publicly accused of terrorism while
the evidence for the claim remains unavailable, and
therefore, unverifiable. Apart from Riyadh being unable
to clear its name, the refusal sets a precedent for
unsubstantiated accusations to be leveled against the
Saudi government, possibly to serve certain political
purposes under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
The current conflict between the Saudi
government and its US counterpart began last week when
the US Congress released the congressional report with a
chapter on Saudi Arabia. It raised suspicions about
possible links between some individuals working for the
Saudi government and some of the Saudi nationals
involved in al-Qaeda's terrorism on September 11.
However, the report's 28-page chapter on alleged Saudi
government financing of the terrorists was not made
public, although the allegations were. What angered the
Saudis was the report's heavy accusation of their
government's complicity in the terrorist attacks without
providing any verifiable proof and, thus, without giving
them a chance to respond to the accusations.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal
visited Washington on Wednesday to ask officially for
the chapter's declassification as requested in a
submitted letter of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, the de
facto ruler of Saudi Arabia while filling for his ill
brother, King Fahd. The Saudis made the request on the
ground of their need to respond to the accusations and
thereby clear their name. Reportedly, the Bush
administration announced its decision not to declassify
the chapter before the arranged meeting between the
Saudi official and the US president.
down the request on the ground that it would undermine
an investigation into the terrorist attacks. "It makes
no sense to declassify when we've got an ongoing
investigation," he said, adding, "That could jeopardize
that investigation." Bush also implicitly rejected the
chapter's declassification indefinitely by questioning
the wisdom of doing so as long as the open-ended "war on
terror" continued. Thus, "it made no sense to declassify
during the war on terror, because it would help the
enemy if they knew our sources and methods".
Certain senators, including pro-administration
Republicans who are privy to the content of the entire
congressional report, including its classified chapter,
have rejected the validity of the president's reasoning.
For example, Republican Senator Richard Shelby has been
quoted as saying that "90-95 percent of [the classified
chapter] would not compromise, in my judgment, anything
in national security".
Leaving no opportunity
for the Saudis to defend themselves against the public
charge of being accomplices to the al-Qaeda terrorists,
Bush's refusal provoked a furious reply from the Saudi
foreign minister after meeting with the president.
Seeking to avoid escalation of the conflict, he
diplomatically expressed his understanding of the
president's reasoning. However, he also conveyed his
government's anger at the refusal and at the way the US
government treated its long-term Persian Gulf ally.
Accordingly, "It is an outrage to any sense of fairness
that 28 blank pages are now considered substantial
evidence to proclaim the guilt of a country that has
been a true friend and partner to the United States for
over 60 years." Furthermore, he complained that these
days "everyone is having a field day casting aspersions
about Saudi Arabia".
Rejecting his government's
involvement in the terrorist attacks, he stated the
latter's willingness to cooperate with any US
investigation. For that matter, he announced that
government's agreement to let agents of the US Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) interview a Saudi national, Omar
al-Bayoumi, whose name had been released as a potential
link between al-Qaeda and the Saudi government. US
security officials have not asked for his extradition,
nor have they laid any charge against him. As reported,
the FBI only wants to interview al-Bayoumi, a Saudi
"civil aviation authority worker" who resides in Jiddah.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, British
authorities reportedly detained and interviewed him
while he was in Britain but released him without
pressing any charge.
While expressing his
country's full cooperation with any US investigation,
Prince Saud stressed that the Saudis had "nothing to
hide". He also added, "We do not seek, nor do we need,
to be shielded." Perhaps that statement aimed to reject
speculation on the part of some US politicians, such as
Senator Bob Graham, who attributed Bush's refusal to an
effort to protect the Saudi government. Graham, a
Democratic candidate for the 2004 presidential
elections, reacted to the refusal by implicitly
identifying the Saudi government as an accessory to the
terrorist attacks and accusing Bush of covering that up.
"The White House has again today decided it is more
important to deny the people of America the opportunity
to know what happened before and after [September] 11 in
terms of involvement of foreign governments than it is
to open the record for all to see," asserted the
In an interview on the same day, Prince
Saud al-Faisal rejected any complicity of his government
in the al-Qaeda attacks and reminded the US that his
country had also been targeted by al-Qaeda. He also
referred to its counter-al-Qaeda efforts since September
2001. "We have questioned thousands," said the Saudi
foreign minister, "we have arrested 500 and we have
stopped attacks before they occurred in Saudi Arabia."
He then signified that his government's
counter-terrorist cooperation with the US now seemed to
be forgotten, stressing that "we have provided
information that stopped attacks before they occurred in
the United States also".
background, the US congressional report seems to be
adding insult to Saudi Arabia's injury. Since September
11 that country has been a target of Washington hawks'
proposals for regime change as part of a plan to reshape
the entire Middle East. Regardless of his intention,
Bush's refusal to declassify the mentioned chapter will
only create grounds for future leveling of unverifiable
charges against Saudi Arabia, which could prepare US
public opinion for a future regime change under the
pretext of fighting terrorism. Within this context, the
refusal could serve as a first step toward "dealing"
with an old US ally, which the hawks consider as a
strategically important state with uncertain future
stability. Saudi Arabia's refusal to let the United
States use its bases in a major way in their war on Iraq
has probably qualified it as an "emerging rogue state"
that Washington can afford to alienate now that it has
access to oil-rich Iraq.
Peimani works as an independent consultant with
international organizations in Geneva and does research
in International Relations.
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