On April 20, 2016, President Barack Obama met with King Salman and other Saudi Arabian officials in the capital of Riyadh. Behind the scenes, there's growing tension between the two countries over a new action Congress may take. It's a bipartisan bill to allow victims of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks to sue foreign nations that are found culpable.
The possible alleged role of prominent Saudis in supporting the 9/11 hijackers is a sensitive topic Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson first highlighted last September in our report: 28 pages.
Terry Strada of New Jersey supports the bill, which has broad support among both parties in Congress. It would allow U.S. victims of 9/11 to hold the Saudi government responsible for any role it allegedly had in the terrorist attacks.
Strada lost her husband Tom, a bond broker, in the World Trade Center.
Terry Strada: The people that are responsible need to be held accountable or they continue to act with impunity. That's the problem. So let's just get it out in the light. Let's shed the light on what and who finances terrorism and deal with it in the public. Hiding behind closed doors, hiding in the darkness, look at what has happened, look at where we are now, that's not, it's not working.
Last year, a judge ruled 9/11 families couldn't sue Saudi Arabia in court because of a 1976 law that gives foreign nations sovereign immunity, or protection from most U.S. lawsuits. The proposed new law would change that for foreign nations found responsible for terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
Strada: If the bill gets passed, then they can no longer hide behind the cloak of sovereign immunity. Instead, you have to come to the courtroom and answer on the merits. You can't just hide behind sovereign immunity.
But in the past week, Republican leaders of both the House and Senate said they were in no hurry to get behind the bill, and President Obama signaled he would veto it.
President Obama on CBS This Morning: This is a matter of how generally the United States approaches our interactions with other countries. If we open up the possibility that individuals and the United States can routinely start suing other governments, then we are also opening up the United States to being continually sued by individuals in other countries.
It's a continuation of a bitter battle between 9/11 victims and the U.S. government that dates back to the Bush administration and its redaction of 28 pages from the final report of the Congressional investigation.
Sharyl: There's 28 pages that look like just redactions?
Rep. Stephen Lynch, (D-MA) Yeah and when I read it, I thought this information is something that the public should have.
Congressman Stephen Lynch is among those pushing to have the 28 pages released.
No ordinary American can view them. And members of Congress, sworn to secrecy, are only permitted to read the 28 pages under strict conditions.
Rep. Lynch: You had to make an appointment with the Intelligence Committee and also go to a secure location. They take your pen, paper, electronics. You sit in a room and they watch as you read it.
In October of 2013, Lynch went to the secret room in the basement of the Capitol and began reading. The censored material begins on page 395 under the heading, "Certain Sensitive National Security Matters".
Sharyl: As you're reading the pages, what kind of realization was coming to your mind?
Rep. Lynch: It gave names of individuals and entities that I believe were complicit in the attacks on September 11th. They were facilitators of those attacks and they are clearly identified. How people were financed, where they were housed, where the money was coming from, you know, the conduits that were used and the connections between some of these individuals.
Individuals, he says, who were never brought to justice. But who are they? And why would the U.S. government want to keep the information secret?
Former Senator Bob Graham thinks he knows. He co-authored the Congressional report, including the 28 pages.
Former Sen. Bob Graham, (D-FL), January 7, 2015 press conference: "Here are some facts. The Saudis know what they did Second, the Saudis know that we know what they did".
Graham has become a relentless advocate for releasing the records. He goes so far as to say the 9/11 Islamic extremist hijackers were only successful due to direct support from prominent Saudis named in the 28 pages. The Saudis deny that.
15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi. Their leader, Al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden was part of a powerful Saudi family with close ties to the royal family.
Graham: The position of the United States government has been to protect Saudi Arabia at virtually every step of the judicial process.
And that may be the problem-- could the 28 pages unravel the alliance between the U.S. and a close Arab ally in the Middle East?
Sharyl: Has someone put an official reason out there why this is still classified?
Rep. Lynch: Having read the 28 pages, I think it's to allow those individuals to escape accountability.
Former Congressman Pete Hoekstra read the 28 pages a decade ago when he headed the House Intelligence Committee.
Sharyl: You read the pages many years ago. Can you imagine what's in there today that would be so sensitive to the Saudis as well as the Obama administration?
Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, (R-MI): Well, [it] may be embarrassing to the Saudis or other governments, but that's no reason to now continue to withhold this information.
Sharyl: What's your view of the bill that Congress is trying to pass that would allow the United States to hold other countries accountable?
Hoekstra: American citizens face a threat from terrorism that they didn't face 20 or 30 years ago. Clarifying that American citizens can then hold foreign governments accountable in our courts is very appropriate.
Reports of a Saudi connection to 9/11 were furthered by none other than 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. In 2014, the Al Qaeda member gave rare prison testimony for victims' families suing Saudi Arabia for allegedly supporting terrorism.
Moussaoui testified it was his job in the late 1990's "to create a database" of Al Qaeda donors. On that list, he claimed, were important Saudi royal family members and officials.
Attorney for the victims (in a court deposition): "The money that was coming from the Saudi donors, how important was it to bin Laden's ability to maintain the organization?"
Moussaoui:"It was crucialwithout the money of the Saudi[s], you will have nothingit was absolutely fundamental."
Lawyers for Saudi Arabia deny any link to terrorism. They say there's "no evidence the Saudis supported or caused the attacks", calling Moussaoui's comments, "colorful but immaterial hearsay" from a convicted terrorist diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
If Congress passes the law to lift Saudi Arabia's sovereign immunity, the Kingdom has reportedly threatened to retaliate, selling off hundreds of billions of dollars in American assets that it owns.
Sharyl: What do you make of the Saudi threat to try to hit us economically if we pass this law?
Hoekstra: It's an idle threat. They don't have nearly the kind of leverage over the United States that they would have 15 years ago because of their oil production and those kinds of things. It's an idle threat because they can't execute it. To get rid of some of the assets that they hold in the United States, they'd have to do it at fire sale prices. They're not going to do it.
Strada: This is ridiculous. This is America. Saudia Arabia does not get to come in and tell us what laws we can and can't have and neither does the State Department.
The Saudi embassy declined our interview request and referred us to 2003 statement that said any idea they "funded, organized, or even knew about September 11th is malicious and blatantly falseWe can deal with questions in public, but we cannot respond to blank pages."