The 9/11 hijackers had support from Saudi government employees, said a former Republican official who investigated the attacks -- and he wants the Obama administration to release evidence to prove it.
John Lehman, an investment banker and Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, said his fellow 9/11 commission members had helped to obscure Saudi links to the 2001 terrorist attacks, reported The Guardian.
“There was an awful lot of participation by Saudi individuals in supporting the hijackers, and some of those people worked in the Saudi government,” Lehman told the newspaper. “Our report should never have been read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia.”
Lehman and other commission members have called for the release of 28 classified pages of the final report, which officially implicates Saudi Arabia as the primary source of al Qaeda funding but stops short of accusing the government of funding the terrorist organization.
The 9/11 commission chairman, New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, a Republican, and vice-chairman, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat, praised Saudi Arabia as "an ally" against terrorism -- but Lehman complained the commission had implicated only one Saudi official -- a former diplomat posted in Los Angeles.
“They may not have been indicted, but they were certainly implicated,” Lehman said. “There was an awful lot of circumstantial evidence.”
He said no evidence suggested involvement in the plot by the Saudi royal family or the country’s senior civilian leadership, but Lehman said commissioners focused on links between the hijackers and the Saudi ministry of Islamic affairs.
Lehman said the infamous 28-page document would demonstrate those links -- and he said they should be made public immediately, although he said the names of some Saudi suspects should be redacted because they were later cleared of wrongdoing.
Other commission members have called for those documents, which have been reviewed by some lawmakers, to be released -- even if doing so damaged the commission's legacy, the newspaper reported.
“I think we were tough on the Saudis, but obviously not tough enough,” said one commissioner, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid offending his former colleagues. “I know some members of the staff felt we went much too easy on the Saudis. I didn’t really know the extent of it until after the report came out.”
Commission members clashed with executive director Philip Zelikow, a historian who later worked as a senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, over the final report's presentation of material implicating the Saudis.
Two investigators who examined Saudi involvement were furious that their material was edited out entirely or relegated to footnotes, and Zelikow fired one staffer who clashed with him over the Saudi investigation after she obtained the 28-page report outside of official channels, reported The Guardian.
Obama said last month, after returning from an official visit to Saudi Arabia, that his administration would soon decide whether to release the 28-page excerpt.
Zelikow told NBC last month that releasing the classified excerpt would "only make the red herring grow redder" and provide nothing that wasn't already in the final report.
Lehman and at least some of his colleagues disagree.
“Contrary to the argument advocated by the Kingdom, the 9/11 commission did not exonerate Saudi Arabia of culpability for the events of 11 September 2001 or the financing of al-Qaida," Lehman said in an affidavit he filed last month to press for the document's release.