While the level of protection afforded Saudi Arabia in Washington is hardly a secret, the level of that support was on display this month when officials pushed the Obama Administration to release long-withheld pages from the 9-11 report, as we previously discussed. Those pages reportedly implicate Saudi Arabia in the 9-11 attacks. Saudi Arabia response with an express threat to sell off hundreds of billions of dollars of assets if Congress were to pass a bill allowing the Kingdom to be held liable for the attacks. One would think that the response would be outrage at the threat. After all, the bill would only allow citizens to sue and a bipartisan group of Senators have joined to support the 9-11 families. Saudi Arabia could still defend itself (and according to its government, vindicate itself) in a court of law. Of course, the United States has a real court system as opposed to the government controlled, Sharia “courts” used in the Kingdom to mete out medieval justice.
The Administration not only is staying silent about this insulting threat but is doing precisely what the Saudis are demanding in trying to block the bill. When push comes to shove between the victims or 9-11 and the Saudis, the choice appears clear.
So that there would be no mistake about the threat,
Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, delivered the kingdom’s message personally last month — threatening a sudden sell-off of $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets to cripple the economy. The rationale is to avoid the assets from being frozen by American courts. Interestingly, this assumes that you are likely to be found guilty of complicity in the worst terrorist attack in United States history. What is interesting is that the use of al-Jubeir seemed calculated to maximize the threat. The same message could have been delivered through leaks that the Saudis were preparing such a selloff for strategic reasons. The open threat was a serious miscalculation by the Saudis in my view. Few Americans would take the threat as anything short of a slap in the face of the victims of 9-11 and the country as a whole.
The Obama Administration is shrugging off the insult to our legal system by a country that violates every core principle of due process and civil liberties in their own country. Instead, it is suggesting that holding Saudi Arabia liable for American deaths could put Americans at legal risk overseas. Whatever the merits of the argument against the access to the courts for these citizens (and I would be very interesting to hear them), the Administration should have delivered a clear message that we do not respond to such threats, particularly when another country is balancing American lives against foreign investments.
What do you think?