For some time, President Obama has been promising to declassify and release a 28-page section of the government’s most extensive investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. It’s time for him to quit stalling and keep his promise.
The redacted section deals with Saudi Arabia, the country of origin for 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, and, not incidentally, for Osama bin Laden. From the beginning, there have been questions about whether officials of the Saudi government had foreknowledge of the attacks or aided their mission, and, if so, to what extent. It’s long past time to clear that up.
The 28 pages may contain valuable clues to help clarify the matter, but they were ordered withheld and classified by President George W. Bush out of a purported fear that disclosure could damage U.S. intelligence. More likely, the fear was that it would hurt relations with a valuable — and sensitive — U.S. ally.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, co-chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry that produced the extensive, 838-page report on the terrorist attack, objected to the redaction dealing with “specific sources of foreign support for the hijackers” while they were in the United States.
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The passage of time has not diminished Mr. Graham’s concern, nor has it made the issue any less urgent. On the contrary. Even the Saudis themselves believe that release of the hidden report would allow them to respond to any allegations “in a clear and credible manner.” If there is nothing to hide, there is no reason it should remain hidden from the American public.
The issue is important for everyone in the United States, but there are a variety of connections that bring this to Florida’s doorstep. For one, the inquiry was co-chaired by former Sen. Graham and former Florida Rep. Porter Goss, who later became CIA director. He, too, believes the report should not be classified any longer.
Some of the 9/11 hijackers lived in Florida and made preparations here for the deadly attacks that killed some 3,000 people. Then there is the mystery surrounding a Saudi family in Sarasota that was visited frequently by some the hijackers who took flying lessons in Venice on the Gulf Coast. The family fled the country suddenly just before 9/11. Is there some innocent explanation, or were they part of the Saudi connection?
After the congressional inquiry, a second panel called The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States issued its own sharply worded report on the events of 9/11. Although it found no evidence of official Saudi assistance, it didn’t quite exonerate the Saudi kingdom, either, calling its government on page 371 “a problematic ally in combating Saudi extremism.” On page 171, it also declares that al Qaida “found fertile fund-raising ground in Saudi Arabia.”
More than 10 years ago, the commission concluded that cooperation with the Saudi government against Islamist extremism was in the U.S. interest. But it issued a warning that the Obama administration should heed: “Such cooperation can exist for a time largely in secret, as it does now, but it cannot grow and thrive there.”
The panel recommended that the problems in the U.S.-Saudi relationship “be confronted, openly.” Releasing the secret pages would be a great step forward in that regard. It can also shed light on one of the darkest chapters in American history. There’s no reason for these documents to remain secret.