New York – A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled Saudi Arabia: Friend or Foe in the War on Terror? inspired in part by the ZOA-initiated Saudi Arabia Accountability Act, which is working its way through the House and Senate, convened this week. Unfortunately, the State Department refused to send a representative to testify. The State Department failure to send a witness came in advance of a visit to Saudi Arabia today by the Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice.
The Saudi Arabia Accountability Act was introduced earlier this year in both the Senate and House by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) respectively and is designed to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its sponsoring of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Wahhabi incitement in the U.S., and calls for greater Saudi cooperation with U.S. law investigations abroad. At the moment, 12 senators and 46 house members have co-sponsored the Act.
The Committee hearing featured testimony by investigators and analysts of the Saudi kingdom who told the Committees chairman, Senator Specter, and its ranking Democrat, Senator Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, that Saudi Arabia has not curbed the propagation of anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-American ideologies. Senator Specter said that the Saudis had been asked to participate in the hearing but had declined. (New York Sun, November 9).
The Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Nina Shea, director of Freedom Houses Center for Religious Freedom, who said that the Saudis had distributed extremist Wahhabi hate materials in U.S. mosques inciting violence against Jews and Christians. Committee members also viewed video clips of Muslim clerics urging, over Saudi government-controlled television, that throats must be slit and skulls must be shattered in the fight against infidels.
The Treasury Departments Deputy Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, Daniel Glaser, disclosed that the Bush Administration had doubts over Saudi Arabias claims to have closed a government account, known as Account 98, that funded Palestinian terrorist groups but donations to which had still been solicited in August in a broadcast on Saudi television.
Mr. Glaser also expressed Administration concern over the overseas activities of other Saudi charities and non-governmental organizations with close ties to the Saudi royal family. The Committee also heard testimony from Steven Emerson, the Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, who said that Senate staff had informed him that the Saudi government was aggressively lobbying to have the hearing canceled and did not want this hearing to happen.
Missing from the hearing was the State Departments Director of Arabian Peninsula and Iran Affairs, Alan Misenheimer. Senator Specter indicated that we were notified late yesterday afternoon that the State Department would not be sending a witness. Both senators were reported to have repeatedly denounced the State Departments absence from the hearing as a disappointing development.
Senator Specter told The New York Sun after the hearing that he had been informed by State Department staff that Foggy Bottoms last-minute withdrawal was linked to Secretary Rices upcoming meetings with Saudi officials. Senator Leahy also expressed concern about the State Departments general willingness to push the Saudis to reform. One of the things I would have asked Secretary Rice or her representative, Mr. Leahy said, is, is she willing to speak out strongly when she goes to Saudi Arabia?
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, We are deeply disappointed and concerned that the State Department failed to participate in Senate hearings on the vital issue of Saudi sponsorship of terrorism against the U.S. and U.S. allies. We at the ZOA have long been troubled by Saudi Arabias failure to cooperate with the U.S. in the war against Islamist terrorism and worse, its continuing to fund and promote terrorist groups, which is why we worked hard to help initiate the Saudi Arabia Accountability Act.
We strongly urge the Bush Administration to make it clear to the State Department that it has deep concern over the fact that Saudi Arabia not only refuses to cooperate in fighting terrorism, but funds and promotes it, as has now emerged in the Judiciary Committee hearings, and that it expects the State Department to play its part in uncovering the facts. We also strongly urge Secretary Rice to raise the issues that have emerged in the hearings when she meets with Saudi officials.