When President Barack Obama arrives Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, it will be during one of the roughest patches in America’s complicated relationship with its oil-rich ally.
He shouldn’t be a rude guest, but the president should stand up for Americans – and the truth.
That means making clear that he will support releasing 28 classified pages of the congressional report on 9/11 that reportedly show possible links between Saudi officials and some hijackers.
It also means taking a second look at a bipartisan bill that would allow families of terror victims to sue the Saudi government and other countries. To stop the bill, the kingdom has threatened to sell off $750 billion in Treasury notes and other U.S. assets, which could scare the markets and hurt our economy.
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That’s not exactly how a friend responds, but in the Middle East, the kingdom is what passes for an ally.
The Obama administration wants the Saudi regime to do more in the fight against the Islamic State, but Sunni Saudi leaders are not happy with the nuclear deal with Iran, its bitter Shiite rival.
Saudi Arabia is a huge customer for U.S. weapons, but Obama shouldn’t approve more arms sales without firm assurances that Saudi forces will stop killing civilians in the Yemen civil war.
But the most sensitive issue is the Saudi role in the rise of jihad. While the royal family parties in European capitals, rich Saudis bankroll clerics whose extremist teachings encourage terrorist attacks against the West.
That’s the backdrop to the 9/11 report and lawsuit bill.
Of the 838-page congressional report, 28 pages remain classified for supposed national security reasons, locked away in a secure room in the Capitol. The introduction to that chapter says there is information “suggesting specific sources of foreign support.”
While the kingdom denies any official link to 9/11, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens and it has been widely reported that two of them received help with housing and language lessons in San Diego. Former Sen. Bob Graham, co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report, piqued more interest by saying on “60 Minutes” this month that it’s “implausible” that the hijackers “could’ve carried out such a complicated task without some support from within the United States.”
Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco also is calling for the 28 pages to be declassified. The national intelligence director is reviewing the decision, though time is running out for Obama to keep his pledge to victims’ families to release the report.
The contents of the secret pages could be key evidence for 9/11 families who want to sue the Saudi government, but they also need the law changed to lift the legal immunity it has.
Obama is threatening to veto the current draft of the legislation, in part because other countries could retaliate with similar laws. That might allow foreign citizens to sue, for instance, over drone strikes that the president has made a key part of his fight against terror. Both Democrats running to succeed him, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, support the bill, however.
Any lawsuits would be as much about uncovering the entire truth about 9/11 as about compensating for pain and suffering. A true friendship should be based on honesty, however uncomfortable it might be.