The Australian
Saudis Blast 9-11 Allegations
Mon Aug 11 22:59:43 2003


Saudis blast 9/11 allegations
From correspondents in Washington

US President Bush today refused to declassify 28 pages of a congressional report on possible links between Saudi government officials and the September 11 hijackers, saying that "would help the enemy" by revealing intelligence sources and methods.

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal called suggestions of such links "an outrage to any sense of fairness" and said his country had been "wrongfully and morbidly accused of complicity in the attacks".
"Twenty-eight blank pages are now considered substantial evidence to proclaim the guilt of a country that has been a true friend and partner of the United States for over 60 years," the foreign minister said.

The Saudis have complained that they cannot respond to a report they cannot see. But Bush made plain he has no intention of declassifying the material.

"I absolutely have no qualms at all, because there's an ongoing investigation into the 9/11 attacks, and we don't want to compromise that investigation," Bush said at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the Rose Garden.

"If people are being investigated, it doesn't make sense for us to let them know who they are," Bush told reporters before meeting with al-Faisal.

Moreover, Bush said "declassification of that part of a 900-page document would reveal sources and methods that would make it harder for us to win the war on terror. ... It would help the enemy if they knew our sources and methods".

The top Republican senator on the 9/11 inquiry, Richard Shelby, said on Sunday that 95 per cent of the classified pages could be released without jeopardising national security. Bush ignored a reporter's question yesterday on Shelby's assessment.

But he did leave the door open to declassifying portions of the report at some point.

"Perhaps at some point in time, down the road, after the investigations are fully complete, and if it doesn't jeopardize our national security, perhaps we can declassify" the material, he said.

The dispute centres on 28 pages of redacted material in the congressional panel's report. The information is widely believed to center on Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers. Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied supporting the hijackers.

The Saudi government, some members of Congress and at least two presidential candidates have sought declassification of the section.

Senator John Kerry, during a campaign stop yesterday, called on Bush to make public the section at issue. Kerry said his proposal was timed to coincide with the president's meetings with Saudi officials in Washington, which he said provide an opportunity "to make the record clear".

Senator Bob Graham, a presidential candidate and the co-chairman of a congressional committee investigating the September 11, 2001, attacks, also called for declassification.

Graham had said that releasing the report would "permit the Saudi government to deal with any questions which may be raised in the currently censored pages, and allow the American people to make their own judgment about who are our true friends and allies in the war on terrorism". Graham made the request in a Monday letter to Bush.

But White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that "the material included in that section in question contains information about ongoing investigations, counterterrorism operations and sensitive sources and methods".

After the report was released on Friday, Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan issued a statement saying that "28 blanked-out pages are being used by some to malign our country and our people".

"Saudi Arabia has nothing to hide. We can deal with questions in public, but we cannot respond to blank pages," he said.

House and Senate members released the full, 850-page report finding a series of errors and miscommunications kept US authorities from pursuing clues before the attacks. The 28-page section dealing with "sensitive national security matters" was almost entirely redacted.

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