Biden Signs Executive Order to Release 9/11 Documents, Relationship With Saudi Arabia in Focus

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The twin towers of the World Trade Center billow smoke after hijacked airliners crashed into them early Sept. 11, 2001.
The twin towers of the World Trade Center billow smoke after hijacked airliners crashed into them early Sept. 11, 2001. (Image: HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden has signed an executive order instructing the U.S. Justice Department and other agencies to review and release some documents related to the FBI investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attack. The order comes just a few days before the 20th anniversary of the tragic event. The declassified information must be released over the next six months. Biden called the executive order, a fulfillment of his campaign promise.

“We must never forget the enduring pain of the families and loved ones of the 2,977 innocent people who were killed during the worst terrorist attack on America in our history… My heart continues to be with the 9/11 families who are suffering, and my Administration will continue to engage respectfully with members of this community,” Biden said in a statement.

The White House recently announced that Biden will visit all three sites of the 9/11 attack for the upcoming memorial. Last month, a group of families of the victims who died in the attack released a public statement. It requested that Biden not attend any Sept. 11 memorial events unless Washington released documents regarding potential Saudi ties to the incident.

The families wrote that they cannot “in good faith and with veneration to those lost, sick, and injured,” welcome Biden to their “hallowed grounds” until he fulfills his commitment.

“If President Biden reneges on his commitment and sides with the Saudi government, we would be compelled to publicly stand in objection to any participation by his administration in any memorial ceremony of 9/11, given its continuation of policies that thwart Americans’ rights to hold accountable those who, known evidence reveals, materially supported the 9/11 hijackers,” the statement said.

The group, “9/11 Families United,” praised Biden’s recent executive order. Terry Strada, whose husband died in the incident, said that they are thrilled about Washington’s decision to release more evidence of Saudi connections to the 9/11 attack. 

However, she added that “much more work” needs to be done to rectify the immense damage caused by the “20-year shroud of secrecy.” She said that they have been “fighting” the FBI and intelligence community for “too long.”

In March, a group of 2,100 9/11 families wrote a letter to President Biden and US Attorney General Merrick Garland criticizing the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ).

Following the passage of the Justice Against State Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), the families had sued Saudi Arabia. They also served a subpoena to the FBI in 2018. They sought documents related to its two investigations into the 9/11 attack, the PENTTBOM investigation between 2001 and 2004, and Operation Encore (2006 – 2016).

But ever since the subpoena was served, the intelligence agencies, including the FBI, “have continually obstructed and impeded us” in the lawsuit against Saudi Arabia. “Does the Federal Bureau of Investigation work for the American people or for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?” the letter asked.

Saudi links to 9/11

The 9/11 Commission that was set up in the aftermath of the attacks called Saudi Arabia a “problematic ally” in regards to sharing intelligence. The commission found “no evidence” that the Saudi Arabian government “as an institution or as individual senior officials” were supportive of al Qaeda that carried out the attack.

However, it did note that the country’s failure to conduct oversight over its institutions created an environment where “such activity has flourished.” The report noted that Saudi nationals were the main funders of the terror outfit. Saudi Arabia has denied any connection to the 9/11 attacks.

In an interview with NBC News, Brett Eagleson, whose father died in the attack, said that he is convinced that some senior leaders of the Saudi government planned the attack. He is part of a group that has filed a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia, accusing the country of being complicit in the event. Eagleson cites a 2017 sworn testimony issued by former Special Agent Stephen Moore who was part of the PENTTBOM investigation of the attacks.

“Based on evidence we gathered during the course of our investigation, I concluded that diplomatic and intelligence personnel of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia knowingly provided material support to the two 9/11 hijackers and facilitated the 9/11 plot. My colleagues in our investigation shared that conclusion,” Moore said in his affidavit.

A 2012 memo related to Operation Encore’s investigation of the attack stated that Saudi officials, including an employee at the Saudi embassy, had assisted the terrorists who hijacked the plane. The officials provided the terrorists with shelter and trained them in combat.

All previous administrations, Bush, Obama, and Trump, had declined to declassify relevant documents citing “state secrets” privilege. In May, a group of 22 lawmakers wrote a letter to Attorney General Garland, challenging the “state secrets” doctrine, insisting that it has no basis in statute.

“It is entirely judge-made, and it has frequently been asserted to cover up government misconduct. In many instances, courts have given the executive branch the unilateral power to dismiss a case or withhold information from litigants without needing to show any legitimate concern about the national security sensitivity of the information in question,” the letter stated.

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