Analysis: Impact of 9/11 victims' families lawsuit against Saudi Arabia

Published: April 24, 2016


Fifteen years down the road, families of 9/11 victims continue to demand justice. They are suing Saudi Arabia for allegedly providing material support to al Qaeda to carry out the terrorist attack. Democratic front-runners for the White House, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have backed the legal action although Clinton, being a lawyer, must be well aware that the case will be tossed out on grounds of admissibility.

Meanwhile, Congress is actively pursuing the matter on their behalf by attempting to enact legislation. Obama has already made his opposition to the affair public after Saudi Arabia threatened to sell off its US assets worth $750 billion in Treasury securities, not to mention billions more invested by its citizens there. Riyadh’s threat is being read as an admission of its role in 9/11, be it financing or planning.

Strained US-Saudi Arabia relations

The controversy is all about a 28-page section of the Joint Congressional Inquiry Report into the 9/11 attacks that was sealed permanently on orders of the Bush administration. The chapter dwelled on the possibility of Saudi government’s possible links to the tragic events.

Saudi Arabia threatens to sell off US assets if held responsible for 9/11

Nowadays, former Senator Bob Graham is leading the campaign to unfreeze the ‘potentially damning’ evidence despite later probes and official leaks terming the section’s content as speculative and superficial. Barring the banned part, the Joint Congressional Inquiry and later formed 9/11 Commission concluded that Saudi Arabia was neither aware nor were behind the terrorist acts on American soil. Since then, it has remained a close and shut case. Democrats are enthusiastic about the lawsuit almost the same way they were for a nuclear deal and eventual thaw with Iran. Republicans are more cautious in taking a position on the issue yet.

This Tuesday, the Saudis hosted President Obama. While every Gulf leader was warmly welcomed at the airport and televised live on the state television, an exception was made for Obama. A low level official received him and the Saudi TV was too busy to cover it.

Obama’s just-concluded summit with the Gulf rulers ended as expected. There were woes of longstanding friendship. There too was statement to fight Daesh together. The GCC countries have no immediate plans to cancel arms’ deals with the US in the short run.

Kuwait and Qatar alone are awaiting bureaucratic approval for fighter jets worth about $7billion. Saudi Arabia has so far bought US military hardware worth $95 billion. Make no mistake in assuming that the military deal can help bridge the ideological gap between the Arabian Peninsula and America.

An arms sales package is likely to follow, as some of the most militarised and militarily incompetent states in the world will want to add to their arsenal. Yet no talk of historical alliances and arms sales can bridge the clash of perspectives between the two sides.

Challenging sovereign decisions

The Gulf nations are least likely to have a consensus approach to their relations with the US with Oman and Qatar pursuing independent policies. However, they won’t drift too far from the Saudi position. The GCC states want to do business with the incumbent US leader, be it a Democrat or a Republican.

Not in Saudi interest to destabilise global economy over 9/11 bill: White House

Amid regional turbulence in the Middle East, the US has been distancing itself from the region after easing strains with Iran. America is already self-sufficient in managing its appetite for Gulf petrochemicals.

For the GCC, the inconvenient reality remains delicate and fraught relations with Washington that it used to count on for decades. Already, Obama’s ‘free rider’ is taking matters in its own hand by jointly crushing rebels in Yemen and stitching together an alliance against terror.

If the 9/11 victims’ families manage to legislate or sue Saudi Arabia, the relations are only going to worsen. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Pakistan can overlook the draft legislation in the US legislature. Though the Saudis are the current and obvious target for now, it may have implications for Pakistan. At the heart of the matter is suing a state if its citizen is involved in an act of terror on foreign soil. Does that ring alarm bells?

It may seem absurd to punish a state for the free will of its citizen; the desperate search is on to ingeniously create a legal space for it. Besides the September 11 victims’ families, the Israeli, Indian and Armenian lobbies will gain strategic mileage if the cleverly crafted legislation gets to see the light of day. Sanity may prevail at the White House and it can repel the danger of torpedoing US foreign relations.

Naveed Ahmad is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa. He is based in Doha and Istanbul. He tweets @naveed360

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (8)

  • Parvez
    Apr 24, 2016 - 2:32PM

    Can an individual of one country sue another country ? Recommend

  • scotchpak
    Apr 24, 2016 - 2:53PM

    any foolish country that leaves money in america must know that they will need a battalion of lawyers to protect it. In the end the money belongs to them, CIA AND FBI AND THE MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX.Recommend

  • mirestan
    Apr 24, 2016 - 3:08PM

    Sound advice for Saudi’s. Pakistan is the safest country to Keep 750 Billions. Pakistanis a Muslim country, Minster of finance can be a Saudi prince. your money will be safe. Interest is harm in Islam . Please do not worry Goverment of Pakistan can take care of this clause. This is not a joke. a very sincere advise. Sharif brothers and Zerdari & co will not come near that money. Please let us know so we can deal with Shrief brothers and Zerdari &co.Recommend

  • Indian
    Apr 24, 2016 - 3:36PM

    Pakistanis should also sue U,S. Government for the relentless Drones bombs/ missiles they have suffered in the last decade as a major ‘non-NATO’ partner…Recommend

  • curious2
    Apr 24, 2016 - 10:23PM


    Pakistanis should also sue U,S.
    Government for the relentless Drones
    bombs/ missiles they have suffered in
    the last decade as a major ‘non-NATO’

    Akin to India – lawsuit against the USA has little substance if you have zero ability to collect. Lawsuit by USA citizens tends to carry weight because USA court judgement applies to USA financial institutions which dominate World economy. Recommend

  • Muhammad Hussain
    Apr 25, 2016 - 3:16AM

    Why they are suing now. It’s a big game which US is playing now. It’s time up now for KSA. Big show and destruction has begun.Recommend

  • Tp
    Apr 25, 2016 - 6:08AM

    The days of living off the fat of the land are over. The Arabs have to do something they are not used to – work for a living.Recommend

  • Aleem
    Apr 26, 2016 - 10:42PM

    The 28 pages have nothing incriminating in them as per many insiders. They have innuendo and that is it. It has things like “one or two of the bombers were provided housing and some allowances by officials at the Saudi embassy/consulates”. Anyone who has done any work or studied with Saudi students/visitors in the US would know that the Saudi government pays stipends and also covers the housing charges for the students in the US. So this connection is rather weak but the US media will try to put a twist around it. Saudis had no interest in supporting an attack against the US where they are one of the largest investors. It would be a case of ‘Aa bail mujhay maar’/own goal in some ways.Recommend

More in Pakistan