The men who led the official investigation into the September 11 attacks are fighting back against charges their commission did not delve deep enough into Saudi Arabia’s involvement.
More than a decade after the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States filed its report, a new push has erupted in Washington to force the administration to released the so-called “28 pages.”
These pages on purported Saudi involvement were withheld by the George W. Bush administration from a report by a special joint congressional committee that pre-dated the commission.
The commission co-chairmen, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, put out a lengthy statement on Friday. They said their investigators worked off leads in those 28-pages, but could find no evidence that the Riyadh Islamic government was involved in the al Qaeda attack by 19 hijackers, 15 of them Saudi nationals.
“We believe it important the public understand what the commission did with regard to the 28 pages,” the two said in their statement.
They portrayed the secret passages, not as confirmed, smoking-gun findings, but “raw, unvetted material that came to the FBI.”
“That material was then written up in FBI files as possible leads for further investigation,” the statement read. “The 28 pages were a summary of some of those reports and leads, as of the end of 2002. Before completing its work, the congressional panel never had a chance to check out any of these leads. The 28 pages, therefore, are comparable to preliminary law enforcement notes, which are generally covered by grand jury secrecy rules. Those rules exist to avoid implicating people in serious crimes without the benefit of follow-up investigation to determine if such suspicions are substantiated.”
The former chairmen said the joint intelligence panel named names in the 28 pages, meaning releasing the raw pages would implicate people in “the worst mass murder ever carried out in the United States.”
Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton said their staff “investigated over the course of 18 months all the leads contained in the 28 pages, and many more.”
There is much speculation on two of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who arrived in Los Angeles in January 2000 and proceeded to make contacts with other Saudi nationals, some connected to a mosque known for extremist preaching.
“We still do not know what these two men did during their first two weeks in Los Angeles, or who may have helped them,” the former chairmen said.
One of their connections was with Fahah al Thumairy, a employee of a Saudi ministry and an imam at the mosque. He left the U.S. after the attack and was denied reentry.
The commission interviewed him in Saudi Arabia and found no evidence he was involved in the plot. The former chairmen said he was the only person of interest in the entire 28 pages.
They pointed out that they did not spare criticism of the Islamic kingdom in Riyadh, which promotes a harsh form of Islam and enforces it with religious police.
“For years, the Saudi government tolerated and in some cases fanned the diffusion of an especially vitriolic extremist form of Islam, funding schools and mosques across the globe that spread it,” the Kean-Hamilton statement said. “Wealthy Saudis contributed to Islamic charities, some of which had links to terrorism. That policy has had tragic consequences for Saudi Arabia itself. Extremists made the Saudi kingdom one of their top targets. This is one of the reasons why Saudi Arabia has been an ally of the United States in combatting terrorism; many Saudi public servants have died in their battles with al Qaeda operatives.”
Newer evidence has emerged that a Florida couple aided two other hijackers, then abruptly left the United States.
One of those pushing for more disclosure and investigation is former Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat. He co-led the congressional inquiry that wrote the 28 pages.
Mr. Graham stated in an affidavit: “I am convinced that there was direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia.”
Hazmi and Mihdhar were tasked by plot leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to learn English and enroll in flight school for what al Qaeda called the “Planes Operation.”
The two joined three other terrorists in boarding American Airlines Flight 77 at Dulles Airport on September 11, 2001, and flying the airliner into the Pentagon, killing all 64 on the plane and 125 in the Pentagon.