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Twenty-One Questions for Would-Be Presidents

By       Message Veena Trehan     Permalink
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Friday brought news that highlighted how our long-time counterterrorism strategies have created alliances and outcomes destroying world order and peace. First came the release of the 29 pages from a joint congressional inquiry on Saudi Arabian involvement in 9-11. Completed in December 2002, it preceded the Iraq War by less than three months. It became available to the public with some redactions on Friday: even as other competing news included the upcoming Republican Convention, Congress' seven-week recess, and an attempted Turkish coup. Hillary Clinton redirected attention away from foreign policy also by saying she will introduce an amendment to overturn Citizens United. But though neither party wants to examine the report and the Turkish situation, critical questions (numbered below) should be asked of all aspiring presidents to avoid continuing our record of foreign-policy disasters.

SAUDI SUPPORT FOR 9-11

The 29 pages are a fascinating read that seem to provide incontrovertible evidence of significant ties. They tie Saudi government officers (and others at high levels of government) to the 9-11 hijackers, who had minimal English skills and exposure to the US. It calls the gap in US intelligence coverage "unacceptable." The oil-rich kingdom's support for terrorism was ignored, it says, because the Saudi Arabia was considered America's "ally."

The report ties the highest levels of the Saudi government to major money laundering and financing, and government representatives to ground help for driver's licenses, housing, and flight-school access. The US has responded by quoting the September 11 Commission Report published a year and half later, saying they found no evidence the "Saudi government as an institution, or senior Saudi officials individually funded" Al Qaeda -- an opening so big one could fly an airliner through it. Even so, that commission was under extreme pressure that they say prevented them from fully investigating the Saudi role. Additionally, Staff Director Philip Zelikow fired an investigator into the Saudi role. Finally, the US faced major obstruction by the Saudis, as cited in the Inquiry report.

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1. Is Saudi Arabia or has it been a State Sponsor of Terrorism? 2. Should we not have a line-by-line rebuttal of each link made within the report?

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Drifting - M.A.J photography
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THE IRAQ WAR AND RESULTING GLOBAL CHAOS

3. Would publishing this information on Saudi Arabia -- from whom 15 of the 19 hijackers originated -- have stopped the Iraq invasion?

This is a critical -- if unanswerable -- question. The American-championed and -led invasion -- with a smattering of outside help -- has led to millions of deaths, destabilized the Middle East, led to millions of refugees across Europe and the Middle East, contributed to the rise of European right-wing parties across Europe, to major terror attacks, and to Britain's vote to exit the European Union. That's heavy lifting for one unjustified invasion, especially one in which "Mission Accomplished" was declared by President George W. Bush after just two months.

A quick review: Almost 1000 false statements -- notably claiming Iraq had links to al Qaeda or was trying to get "weapons of mass destruction" -- were made by President George W. Bush and seven other top administration officials to sell the Iraq War in the two years following 9-11. Those deceptive actions led to 72 percent of Americans supporting the war, and redirected blame from the nation most responsible (and most highlighted in the congressional inquiry).

The costs have been enormous. An estimated 100,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in the first 18 months of the Iraq invasion due to airstrikes. The Iraqi death toll was estimated as 650,000 in October 2006, with an almost 4 million of the 25 million citizens becoming either internally displaced or refugees. The US equivalent -- scaled for population -- would be 8 million Americans dying and 30 million fleeing their homes. Syria was destabilized by the flow of extremists and arms provided by the United States: an estimated $25 billion was spent arming and training the Iraqi security forces and army, with hundreds of thousands of rifles and pistols unaccounted for, as well as Humvees, pickup trucks, tanks and other equipment. Reportedly then arms were smuggled to Syrian rebels through Libya in a CIA operation to arm Syrian rebels, with subsequent arming of extremist groups al Nusra and al Qaeda becoming "unavoidable." Syria has been massively devastated (the visuals are shattering), along with Iraq and other nations. About 10 million Syrians alone have been displaced, with half fleeing their country in what has driven the largest refugee crisis since World War II. The world has failed to come anywhere close to full funding of their humanitarian needs and providing for their resettlement. The refugee crisis has overwhelmed neighboring and accessible nations, promoting the rise of the right-wing across Europe and contributing to Brexit.

4. How could a hankering for access to oil and hegemonic power have led to such chaos and suffering? (This is not fully rhetorical as we've never come to terms with it.) 5. How will we investigate our role and provide accountability, which even recently released British Chilcot Report falls short of, although it does far more than mimic our focus on "intelligence failures?"

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ACCOUNTABILITY AND ARMS FOR THE SAUDIS

Of course, a recent move toward accountability has taken a crazy course as the US and Saudi governments seek to protect the poor Saudis from the families of 9-11 victims(!). Recently a bill passed the US Senate unanimously (unheard of for something so substantive) to make it easier for families of the 9-11 victims to sue the Saudi government. Yet President Obama is threatening to veto it and working with Republican House leaders to prevent its passage. The Saudis, in turn, are threatening to dump US assets, should it pass. If the Saudis have no involvement, as both nations claim, then why these extraordinary measures?

Or for would-be presidents: 6. Is the threat of selling off US treasuries terrorism? 7. What is your position on the bill? 8. Will you press for a vote on it, and when and how?

This comes also after the largest-ever US arms deal with Saudi Arabia, even as the Saudis export Wahhabism abroad, spending far more than the Russians ever did. The leading Democratic nominee once recognized this: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote "donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide." She went on: "More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups."

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Veena Trehan is a DC-based journalist and activist. She has written for NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg News, and local papers.

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