Prominent litigator talks 9/11 lawsuit at Dickey Center event

by Lauren Adler | 10/31/19 2:00am

On Monday, James Kreindler ’77, a prominent New York attorney, returned to campus to give a talk in partnership with the Dickey Center for International Understanding. The talk, delivered in the Kreindler Conference Center — named after Kreindler’s father — to over 100 students and community members, was titled, “Saudi Arabia’s Role in 9/11 and Why the U.S. Government has Kept it Hidden,” in which Kreindler charged that the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks could never have occurred without the support of the Saudi government and that high-level U.S. officials engaged in a cover-up after the fact. 

Kreindler, a government major at Dartmouth who now specializes in aviation law and redress for victims of terror attacks, is co-chair of the plaintiffs’ committee in the 9/11 litigation against allies and sponsors of al-Qaeda, including, allegedly, the government of Saudi Arabia. 

“He is obviously a very distinguished attorney, but I’m pretty much in awe of Jim also because of his political shrewdness,” said Dickey Center director Daniel Benjamin while introducing Kreindler at the event, referring to Kreindler’s work to create the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.

JASTA, enacted into law in 2016 over former President Barack Obama’s veto, limits the scope of foreign states’ diplomatic and foreign sovereign immunities and allows U.S. citizens to sue foreign states for damages in cases like 9/11, even if those states are not formally designated state sponsors of terrorism. Kreindler’s litigation against Saudi Arabia is contingent upon this law.

“Like many government majors, I had an undying faith and belief in the efficacy of our government,” Kreindler began at the event. “Talking to you now, I’ll make a prediction: By the time we’re done, you will be revolted and horrified to learn what prominent members of our government, including past presidents, have done. You will be equally amazed and thrilled with the courage and determination of a few private citizens and former FBI agents who [have] beaten the government and defeated the largest lobby effort in world history.”

Kreindler transitioned into a discussion of alleged Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks. 

“The fact is, 9/11 was an attack on the United States with the active intent and cooperation from 11 known Saudi government officials,” he alleged. “Saudi Arabian government officials were the accomplices without whom there never could have been a 9/11 attack,” he added.

Kreindler explained that in order to understand why Saudi Arabia would support the 9/11 attacks, one needs to look back to 1979, when two pivotal events occurred in the Middle East. First, the U.S.-backed Iranian Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi was deposed and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in the Iranian Revolution. Then, the Grand Mosque — the holiest mosque in Islam, located in Mecca in Saudi Arabia — was captured and held by radical Wahhabis Muslims for nearly two weeks. After these incidents, Kreindler said, Saudi government officials decided to accommodate themselves to these radical groups rather than suffer the same fate as the Shah.

“The way in which you rise to prominence and power in Saudi Arabia is to seek and obtain the support of the Wahhabi ummahs,” or community groups, Kreindler said. He further alleged that “every prominent person in Saudi Arabia — King Salman, his predecessor — all made their pilgrimages to kiss bin Laden’s ring in Kandahar,” the mountainous region of Afghanistan where bin Laden built his headquarters.

Kreindler also outlined the sequence of events that he said led up to the 9/11 attacks, beginning in the fall of 1999, when two of the future hijackers attended a convention of terrorists in Malaysia at which the plans for 9/11 were finalized. The two men then landed in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 2000. Kreindler alleged that they were given all the help and money they needed by other al-Qaeda operatives — including $25,000 from the wife of the Saudi ambassador to the United States. He further alleged that instructions to help the hijackers were passed to a Saudi consular official in Los Angeles by a high-ranking official in the Saudi embassy, whose name Kreindler said he knows but was unable to share due to a protective order issued by the Justice Department.

But according to Kreindler, the U.S. government’s true offenses came after the attacks, when former President George W. Bush was allegedly determined to pin blame on Saddam Hussein as revenge for trying to assassinate George H.W. Bush with a car bomb eight years earlier. Then-FBI director Robert Mueller was also allegedly determined to cover up America’s “colossal intelligence and law enforcement failure,” Kreindler said.

“Why did the 9/11 Commission exonerate Saudi Arabia?” asked Kreindler, proceeding to answer answered his own question: “Because they were lied to by Robert Mueller — under oath, in Congress — and others who did not want the Commission to know what role the Saudi government played. Because Saudi Arabia was our new ally in the war against Iraq.”

However, Kreindler said that despite backlash from powerful U.S. officials and millions of dollars’ worth of Saudi lobbying, several of the FBI agents taken off of the 9/11 investigations have come to him after retirement to do what they can to help his case. Although many of Kreindler’s Freedom of Information Act requests for documents from the FBI and the Justice Department have been denied, he says that these agents have been invaluable to his team because they now know exactly what they should be looking for.

“I could be doing this for another 10 or 15 years, but I am hopeful that with the enthusiasm and aid and support from people in Washington, we can break through and bring Saudi Arabia to the table” to discuss compensation for the victims’ families, Kreindler said.

Kreindler’s take on the 9/11 attacks is one inconsistent with the story most Americans know, but audience members nonetheless found his perspective interesting.

“It’s definitely a different theory from any that I’ve heard in the past, so it was really interesting to hear,” said Matt Gluck ’23, who hopes to study counterterrorism and international security at Dartmouth. “I’ve thought a lot about 9/11 and its implications in the political discourse in the United States, and I think that this really gives me something to think about that I hadn’t really thought about before.”

The government’s response to Kreindler’s most recent court motion is due on Friday. Although he expects another invocation of state secrets and national security, he hopes that government officials will respond more positively to his requests for documents.