DOJ to Review Long-Classified 9/11 Files as Victims' Relations Push for Increased Transparency
18:27 GMT 10.08.2021 (Updated: 18:28 GMT 10.08.2021)
More than 1,600 people who have been affected by the September 11 attacks released a letter addressed to President Joe Biden to say they could not “in good faith” welcome his visit to mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers until he “fulfills his commitment” to release documents so far blocked by the government.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that it will review previously withheld information related to the September 11, 2001, attacks as pressure mounts for greater transparency in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.
Four California-bound passenger planes were hijacked by al-Qaeda* terrorists
on 11 September 2001: one crashed into the Pentagon, one into the north tower of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre and another into the south (both of which collapsed), and the last crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania having been brought down by the passengers. The attack resulted in just under 3,000 deaths.
The two-page letter
filed in Manhattan's federal court on Monday said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had recently concluded an investigation scrutinising some of the 9/11
hijackers and potential co-conspirators.
Accordingly, it is now in a position to determine whether information it previously considered sensitive could now be shared, despite prior court rulings "upholding the government’s privilege assertions".
No details of the probe, referred to as the 'Subfile Investigation' were contained in the filing.
“The FBI will disclose such information on a rolling basis as expeditiously as possible,” stated the DoJ.
President Joe Biden hailed the department's move, saying his administration was “committed to ensuring the maximum degree of transparency under the law.”
Government ‘Withholding’ Crucial Info
The DoJ decision follows long-standing criticism from relations of those who died in the terrorist attacks over the US government’s handling of key details pertaining to the investigation.
Last week, more than 1,600 people affected by the September 11 attacks released a letter
addressed to Biden, reminding him of his campaign pledge
in October 2020 to the 9/11 community to "err on the side of disclosure" in the name of "full truth and accountability".
Ahead of 9/11's 20th anniversary, the letter urged President Biden
to refrain from his stated desire to visit Ground Zero in New York City to mark the occasion until he “fulfills his commitment".
The letter underscored that the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission’s work in 2004 had amassed investigative evidence implicating Saudi government officials in supporting the attacks, yet the DoJ and FBI had sought to keep this information secret.
An advocate for 9/11 victims, Brett Eagleson, whose father perished in the attack on the World Trade Center, said in a statement that “we have heard many empty promises before.” CNN cited him as adding:
“We hope the Biden administration comes forward now to provide the information the 9/11 community has waited to receive for 20 years, so we can stand together with the president at Ground Zero on 9/11.”
The wife of another victim, Terry Strada, said:
“We appreciate that President Biden recognises that long-standing questions about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the worst-ever terrorist attack on American soil remain unanswered, but nobody should be fooled by this half-hearted, insufficient commitment to transparency [that] only applies to a subset of cherry-picked documents that the FBI has already identified for review.”
This comes as a long-running Manhattan lawsuit on behalf of thousands of victims accusing Saudi Arabia of complicity in the attacks witnessed a spate of depositions this year, with former Saudi officials questioned. However, the trove of sensitive documents remains sealed.
A multitude of US government investigations investigated ties between Saudi nationals and some of the airplane hijackers - 15 of the 19 terrorists were Saudi, as was Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaeda network
masterminded the attacks. However, the investigations claim to have fallen short of establishing direct involvement of the Saudi government.
Public documents released in the past two decades - including by the 9/11 Commission, which assembled a timeline of the run-up to the attacks - have revealed how the first hijackers to arrive in the US, (Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar), were met and helped by a Saudi, Omar al-Bayoumi, who helped them navigate western society and lease an apartment in San Diego. The man had ties to the Saudi government, investigators have said.
In 2004 the commission said it had found no evidence the Saudi government or senior Saudi officials had funded al-Qaeda. The Saudi government has denied any connection to the hijackers or to Osama bin Laden
*al-Qaeda is a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries.