Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled media have launched an intense rash of news articles against the United States and the new federal law that allows Americans to sue Riyadh over the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Some columns are particularly harsh coming from a U.S. ally, expressing anti-Semitic ideas and images and accusing the U.S. of a history of atrocities.
Saudi writers have revived conspiracy theories that the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were carried about by the U.S. government or Israel and the Jews. They accuse Washington of creating terrorism as an excuse to kill people and advocate pulling away from the close security arrangement with the U.S.
The articles call for the creation of a “superfund” that would bankroll reprisal lawsuits from Saudi Arabia and other countries against the United States.
“These are all government-controlled,” said Steven Stalinsky, who directs the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which compiled the report on the Saudi press barrage. “They will never write anything critical of the Saudi government, royal family. If they have a disagreement with any of the papers, they will fire the editor or writer.”
The Obama administration has sought to preserve close ties with the oil-rich kingdom, approving huge arms sales and providing support for Riyadh’s sometimes erratic air war against Shiite rebels in neighboring Yemen, where the U.S. is fighting al Qaeda militants operating in the country. President Obama, a strong defender of Islam, was photographed bowing when he met Saudi King Abdullah in 2009.
Overall, both Democratic and Republican administrations have viewed the Persian Gulf nation, for all the bilateral tensions, as a key check against violent Salafi jihadi groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State. But events on Capitol Hill last month badly shook the relationship.
The House and Senate passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act by wide margins on Sept. 28. Mr. Obama vetoed the measure, citing the principle of sovereign immunity as well as the fear of the kinds of reprisals that the Saudi press is now encouraging. But Congress, saying they were acting in support of the families of 9/11 victims seeking justice, overrode the veto. It was the first Obama veto in eight years that was not sustained by lawmakers.
The law does not target Saudi Arabia specifically but does allow legal suits against any country that has proved to abet terrorist attacks on Americans. It states that a U.S. national “may file a civil action against a foreign state for physical injury, death or damage as a result of an act of international terrorism committed by a designated terrorist organization.”
Al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks, and 15 of the 19 terrorists involved were Saudis.
In the 15 years since the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people, survivors and some national security figures have expressed suspicion that high-ranking Saudis, even the royal family, supported the plotters or at least were aware of their plans.
Saudi Arabia is home to strict Wahhabi Sunni ideology. The Saudis have acknowledged that wealthy donors funded Islamic terrorists but say they embarked on a long campaign to stem the flow and to preach against extremism.
But the 9/11 survivors’ suspicions were augmented by a recently declassified FBI report to a congressional panel investigating the attack in the immediate aftermath. The report documents contacts and financial ties between Saudi officials and the Saudi plotters when they prepared for the strike in California and Florida.
The blue-ribbon commission that conducted a lengthier investigation said it followed the report’s leads but could not substantiate that any Saudi official supported the attack or had prior knowledge.
Even as Saudi Arabia denies those charges, there emerged fresh assertions that the royal family supports terrorism. This time, the source was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.
Out of the State Department in 2014, Mrs. Clinton sent an email to her now-campaign chairman, John Podesta, saying Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf neighbor Qatar helped finance the Islamic State terrorist group. This is an apparent reference to the two countries’ funding arms for virtually any group opposed to their archrival, Syrian President Bashar Assad, including al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
The MEMRI report reproduces a political cartoon in the daily Al-Watan. It shows an American flag-decorated arm sleeve as a hand lights the fuse on a bomb in the shape of Earth.
“The Saudi press published dozens of articles condemning the law, warning about Saudi reactions to it and its political and economic ramifications for Saudi-U.S. relations, and presenting various Saudi options to counter it,” MEMRI said.
They included “establishing a Gulf lobby in the U.S.; aiding in the filing of lawsuits against the U.S. around the world; ending Saudi-U.S. security coordination; ending the setting of oil prices in dollars; establishing an independent Saudi weapons industry, similar to the Iranian nuclear program, as a means of pressuring the U.S.; and more.”
The official newspaper Al-Riyadh said in an editorial, “According to all opinions, including the U.S. administration’s, this law sets a dangerous precedent that exposes the interests of the U.S. and its citizens to danger, as its implementation will not stop at the U.S. borders without infiltrating into other countries as well.”
Al-Riyadh also said in an especially harsh indictment of U.S. history that citizens in Vietnam, South Korea, South American and the Middle East will join forces to sue for military interventions in their countries. Several top columnists joined in the condemnation of the new law and the U.S.
In the same newspaper, journalist Abdalla Al-Nasser wrote, “The U.S., which purports to respect human rights, international law and U.N. resolutions, is the first to violate and ignore them. The U.S., with its mentality of arming itself, works to establish its global empire, and to this end uses all methods of violent takeover of the peoples of the earth, particularly in the Middle East.”
“The U.S. [first] creates terrorism and then exterminates peoples in the name of the struggle against it. These forms of abuse, violent takeover, deception, and crime are elements of the American identity.”
Columnist Adel Al-Harbi wrote, “The U.S. killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese when it deliberately incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Don’t their families have the right to sue the murderers? Doesn’t Vietnam have the right to sue those responsible for killing over 1 million Vietnamese over a period of 13 years?”
Columnist Hassan Al-Zahirir wrote in the daily Al-Medina that there is evidence that Iran and Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and four “Jewish crime syndicates” carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.
He repeated the discredited story that “this assumption is supported by the [fact] that 700 Jews did not show up for work at the [World] Trade Center [on the day of the attack], and they wouldn’t have escaped certain death had they not been warned in advance.”
A cartoon in Al-Riyadh showed a figure representing the U.S. looking through binoculars from behind Star of David glasses, as a sinister-looking Jewish man stands behind him.