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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Middle East

By Aakriti Bhalla and Mark Hosenball

(Reuters) -The FBI has released a newly declassified document related to its investigation of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and allegations of Saudi government support for the hijackers, following an executive order by President Joe Biden.

The partially redacted 16-page document released by the FBI on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, detailed contacts between the hijackers and several Saudi officials, but it did not draw a definitive conclusion whether the government in Riyadh was complicit in the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

Earlier this month, Biden ordered the Department of Justice to review documents from the FBI's probe into the attacks for declassification and release.

Relatives of the victims have been pushing for years for more information about what the FBI discovered in its probe and have contended that the documents would show Saudi Arabian authorities supported the plot.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom has long said it had no role in the attacks. The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment sent out of hours late on Saturday.

A U.S. government commission in 2004 found no evidence that Saudi Arabia directly funded al Qaeda, the group given safe haven by the Taliban in Afghanistan at the time. It left open whether individual Saudi officials might have.

The families of roughly 2,500 of those killed in the attacks, and more than 20,000 people who suffered injuries, businesses and various insurers, have sued Saudi Arabia seeking billions of dollars.

In a statement issued on September 8, the embassy said Saudi Arabia has always advocated for transparency around the events of September 11, 2001, and welcomes the release by the United States of classified documents relating to the attacks.

"As past investigations have revealed, including the 9/11 Commission and the release of the so-called '28 Pages,' no evidence has ever emerged to indicate that the Saudi government or its officials had previous knowledge of the terrorist attack or were in any way involved," the embassy's statement said.

In a statement on behalf of the organization 9/11 Families United, Terry Strada, whose husband Tom was killed on September 11, said the document released by the FBI on Saturday put to bed any doubts about Saudi complicity in the attacks.

"Now the Saudis' secrets are exposed and it is well past time for the Kingdom to own up to its officials' roles in murdering thousands on American soil," the statement said.

Biden has taken a tougher stance with Saudi Arabia than his predecessor Donald Trump, criticizing the kingdom over its human rights record while releasing a U.S. intelligence report implicating the its de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the 2018 killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The prince denies any involvement.

(Reporting by Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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New Washington Post Editor Sally Buzbee

Photo by Knight Foundation (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0)

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post announced with much fanfare that it was hiring Sally Buzbee to be the newspaper's new editor. Arguably the second most important newspaper in America, the top Post position carries with it enormous responsibility. Buzbee will soon join the Post in June after she finishes up her current position as senior vice president and executive editor at the Associated Press, the world's largest news outlet.

But suddenly Buzbee and the AP are facing a barrage of questions after the wire service fired a young reporter, Emily Wilder, last week. She became the target of a concerted right-wing smear campaign because of Pro-Palestinian tweets she had posted in college. (Wilder is Jewish.)

The episode is not only troubling for the AP, it's also a problem for the Post, as it prepares for Buzbee's arrival. The last thing the paper wanted during this key transition period, which followed an extensive, high-profile search for a new leader, was to be grappling with doubts about Buzbee's leadership. But after watching the Winter debacle unfold last week at the AP, it's impossible to not question the editor's newsroom guidance. Post reporters must be wondering how many of them will soon be thrown under the bus by management if GOP activists target them with bogus claims of "bias."

The stunning termination of Wilder came just 16 days after the Stanford University graduate was hired. Her AP bosses told her she had violated the company's social media policy, although they would not detail how. Her college tweets became newsworthy when conservative news outlets, including The Federalist, Washington Free Beacon, and Fox News, began highlighting them and accusing AP of having an anti-Israel bias. Note that the entry-level Wilder was working out of the AP's Arizona bureau and her journalism output had nothing to do with the Middle East.

Wilder was initially assured that her previous tweets were not a problem and that the AP would stand by her, but was subsequently fired. The move came just days after the AP's bureau in Gaza was bombed by the Israeli military as part of the May fighting that erupted in the Middle East. The Israeli government insisted the building housed Hamas operatives, but has not provided definitive proof in order to justify leveling the AP building. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) pointed to Wilder's employment and tweeted, "Not a surprise from a media organization that shared office space with Hamas." He also suggested the AP colluded with Hamas and allowed reporters to be used as "human shields."

It's clear the AP found itself in the middle of a contentious, international national standoff when the Wilder story, and the manufactured claims of bias, began to gain traction. Rather than defend its targeted reporter, AP caved to the right-wing mob, thereby encouraging to take aim at more journalists in the future.

"It feels like AP folded to the ridiculous demands and cheap bullying of organizations and individuals," Wilder said. "What future does it promise to aspiring reporters that an institution like The Associated Press would sacrifice those with the least power to the cruel trolling of a group of anonymous bullies?" she asked.

Added Columbia Journalism School professor, Emily Bell, "If news organizations cave in to pressure from bad faith campaigns, if they cancel workplace contracts on the basis of student activism or errors of judgment, then the field will miss out on some great reporters. Newsrooms are too often unprepared for this predictable onslaught."

The whole sordid chapter represents a black eye for the AP and raises real questions about its leadership.

Whether Buzbee directly ordered Wilder's firing is unclear. But Buzbee is a high-ranking executive of the news operation and everyone there must have known terminating Wilder would generate lots of news. More significantly, Buzbee has remained silent as the controversy has escalated and the AP has been widely denounced within journalism circles for giving in to disingenuous, right-wing trolls who aren't seeking fairness, but instead want media scalps as trophies.

It was clearly Wilder's college tweets that prompted AP's review of her online content. But in justifying her firing, the AP insists she was fired "for violations of AP's social media policy" for tweets posted this year.

None of this is believable and it all reflects poorly on the AP. If the Associated Press did have a problem with a new hire regarding a tweet or two, the normal course of action would be for an editor to counsel that person and warn them about the social media policy. It's completely irrational to fire someone hired just 16 days earlier because of a minor social media guidelines transgression.

It's obvious the AP did not want to defend Wilder and did not want to do battle with bogus GOP allegations, so the wire service took the cowardly way out.

And soon, the AP's executive editor will be taking over the Washington Post newsroom.