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“Will the 9/11 Case Finally Go to Trial?”: Andrew Cockburn on New Evidence Linking Saudis to Attacks

StorySeptember 13, 2017
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As the nation marks the 16th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, questions still swirl about the role of Saudi Arabia in the attacks. The 9/11 attack was carried out by 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were from Saudi Arabia. Sixteen years after the attacks, 9/11 families and survivors are continuing their efforts to take Saudi Arabia to trial. Just this week, the New York Post reported new evidence presented in the case alleging the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., funded a “dry run” of 9/11 two years before the attacks. The families’ lawyers say the new allegations offer “a pattern of both financial and operational support” by the Saudi government. We speak with Andrew Cockburn, whose latest piece is headlined “Crime and Punishment: Will the 9/11 case finally go to trial?”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As the nation marks the 16th anniversary this week of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, questions still swirl about the role of Saudi Arabia. The 9/11 attacks were carried out by 19 hijackers. Fifteen of them were from Saudi Arabia. Sixteen years later, 9/11 families and survivors are continuing their efforts to take Saudi Arabia to trial. Just this week, the New York Post reported new evidence presented in the case alleging the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., paid for two Saudi nationals who were living in the U.S. undercover to fly from Phoenix to Washington, D.C., quote, “in a dry run for the 9/11 attacks,” unquote. The families’ lawyers say the new allegations offer, quote, “a pattern of both financial and operational support” by the Saudi government.

We go now to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Andrew Cockburn. His latest piece in Harper’s is headlined “Crime and Punishment: Will the 9/11 case finally go to trial?”

Welcome, Andrew. Can you please lay out that case?

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, the case, it’s a consolidation of various lawsuits that were brought in almost immediately after the attacks. And it alleges that the hijackers received material support and backing, and both financial and organizational, from agents of the Saudi government, acting in their capacity as agents of the Saudi government, and therefore, that the Saudi government is itself liable for the attacks on 9/11.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about who the plaintiffs are.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, they’re a whole bunch of people, 6,500, roughly, in all. They are the, first of all, bereaved families, widows, parents, children, orphaned or not orphaned, but bereaved families, whose husbands, sons, mothers were killed in the attacks. Also includes survivors, people who were—you know, who were in the attacks but managed to at least escape with their lives, even if they were injured. And it also includes insurance companies, who had to pay out millions and billions of dollars in claims, but are now seeking to get some of that money back from the people they allege actually caused the attacks.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew, last year, I interviewed former Senator Bob Graham, the former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, co-chair of the joint congressional inquiry into the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This is what he said.

BOB GRAHAM: Immediately after 9/11, the government began to look for suspects who had helped these hijackers, and they focused on Iraq. They even had a concocted story that a representative of Saddam Hussein had met with al-Qaeda operatives in Prague, in the Czech Republic. That turned out to be false. My feeling is that what happened is they wanted to go to war with Iraq, had wanted to, particularly people like Cheney and Rumsfeld, and it was embarrassing to find out that the information that was becoming available seemed to more point to Saudi Arabia as having been the country that aided the 9/11, rather than Iraq. And so, the response to that is, let’s suppress the information about Saudi Arabia’s involvement, so that we don’t confuse the people in the Congress as we push hard to get authorization for war in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the former U.S. Senator Bob Graham. Talk more about what he’s saying, Andrew Cockburn.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, that’s right. I mean, in a way, there’s one thing that the Bush administration and Senator Graham agreed on, which was that the—for the hijacking, for the 9/11 operation to succeed, they had to have had the support of—the structured support of a nation-state, I mean, the elaborate—in terms of money, in terms of contacts, in terms of—you know, these were a bunch of, basically, sort of hicks, who—most of them, who arrived in this country, didn’t speak English, didn’t know people. And they were all taken care of and found places to live and given money and, you know, steered to flying lessons. You know, it was a very sophisticated or well-organized operation. And that had to have been—in Graham’s view, and, it seems, in mine, too, had to have been done by a state. Now, the Bush administration tried to say it was Iraq. In fact, they so wanted it to be Iraq, or wanted people to believe it was Iraq, that prisoners—interrogators at Guantánamo were under instructions to torture detainees in Guantánamo into admitting, falsely, this link between Iraq and the 9/11 hijackings.

AMY GOODMAN: So, why was Iraq the focus after—I mean, if you polled most people in the United States, they would not know that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Why was it in the interest, do you believe, of the state to do this?

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, first of all, the relationship with Saudi Arabia is so sacrosanct in the eyes of the—if you want to call it, the sort of ruling apparatus in this country. And it runs very, very deep. You know, there’s all sorts of aspects to it—most vividly, obviously, the huge financial benefits that flow at least to the U.S. defense industry, the U.S. military-industrial complex, in terms of arms contracts, consultancy contracts for retired general officers. You know, there’s just a very close sort of symbiotic relationship between the two. The whole relationship of the oil companies to Saudi Arabia, you know, things that you wouldn’t think of. For example, every American—I’ve been informed that every time an American military flight flies over Saudi Arabia, which they really have to do to get to the big bases in the Gulf, they have to ask permission from the Saudis, which the Saudis, just to jerk our chain, occasionally refuse. There were subsidies on the price of oil for a long time. There was allegedly support in the worldwide network of mosques. So, you know, this was the idea that we would—even though they had just attacked us, that we would sort of suddenly turn on the Saudis, I think, just couldn’t—didn’t compute.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you—

ANDREW COCKBURN: Go on.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Michael Jacobson, who he was and what he uncovered, Andrew?

ANDREW COCKBURN: He’s absolutely key. Let me say, Jacobson was an investigator on the Senate, the intelligence—the joint inquiry by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which was chaired by Bob Graham, that was set up right after the attacks. Jacobson was an investigator in that. And really early on, he noticed an odd discrepancy, an odd mention in FBI files here in Washington, that seemed to say—that said that one of the hijackers had been in contact with an FBI informant. And he thought, “This is quite interesting.” And he wanted—he put in to go to San Diego. This is a hijacker, sorry, I should say, who had been living in San Diego. He pushed to go to San Diego to look into the files in the local FBI office. Interestingly, the then-head of the FBI, Mr. Mueller, Robert Mueller, now investigating the Trump—allegations about Donald Trump, pushed—moved heaven and earth to stop Jacobson going to San Diego. Nevertheless, the committee insisted he do so. And he went there and found most of what we know about the Saudi connection.

He found that in the files they had—there was plenty of information about a Saudi agent, Mr. al-Bayoumi, who everyone in the FBI, certainly, out there believed was a Saudi agent, who had been in close contact with the hijackers, who had found them a place to live in San Diego, had opened a bank account for them, had helped them—well, introduced them to people who helped them get flying lessons, helped them to get driver’s licenses—had basically been their case officer, it seemed. This was all turned up in—I mean, I could go on. You know, there’s other people. There were checks that went from the Saudi Embassy in Washington that went, more or less—I mean, indirectly, but in a pretty straightforward procedure—to the hijacker, or to Mr. Bayoumi, for looking after the hijackers. Mr. Bayoumi himself worked for a company owned by the Saudi Ministry of Defense, but never showed up to work.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew, we just have 20 seconds, but the subtitle of your piece, “Will the 9/11 case finally go to trial?” Will it?

ANDREW COCKBURN: Yes. I mean, despite the best efforts of the U.S. government and court system. It’s moving remorselessly toward that. We’ve had the complaint. We’ve had the motion to dismiss, that will be answered. Looks like sometime next year we’ll actually get an actual trial going. And the Saudis, I might say, are freaked out about this. They’re making every effort to derail this thing, to try and get the law changed so that they can’t be sued.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but we will continue to follow it. Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor for Harper’s magazine. We’ll link to your piece, “Crime and Punishment.”

And that does it for today’s broadcast. My co-host Juan González’s continuing speaking tour, you can check our website at Democracy Now! He’ll be in Tempe on Thursday, and Austin, as well.

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