Thirteen years ago, a joint congressional committee published a report on what happened before and after the 9/11 attack. Contained in that report were 28 pages of classified material. Although no official hint has ever come from either the Bush or Obama White House, it is widely accepted that the redacted information refers extensively to Saudi Arabian involvement in the worst terrorist attack in American history.
Last night, CBS’ 60 Minutes aired an excellent report on why it’s time for those 28 pages to be declassified and released to the public.
For 13 years, the 28 pages have been locked away in a secret vault. Only a small group of people have ever seen them. Tonight, you will hear from some of the people who have read them and believe, along with the families of 9/11 victims that they should be declassified.
Bob Graham: I think it is implausible to believe that 19 people, most of whom didn’t speak English, most of whom had never been in the United States before, many of whom didn’t have a high school education– could’ve carried out such a complicated task without some support from within the United States.
Steve Kroft: And you believe that the 28 pages are crucial to this? Understand…
Bob Graham: I think they are a key part.
Former U.S. Senator Bob Graham has been trying to get the 28 pages released since the day they were classified back in 2003, when he played a major role in the first government investigation into 9/11.
Bob Graham: I remain deeply disturbed by the amount of material that has been censored from this report.
What could possibly be in those classified documents that would justify keeping them secret? President Obama promised the 9/11 families not once, but twice, that he would declassify the material.
He has failed to keep those promises. And now, just few days away from his trip to Saudi Arabia, calls are once again coming from families and statesmen to release the information and let the chips fall where they may.
What chips? It’s no secret there have been factions in Saudi Arabia, in and out of government that despise the U.S. and our perceived influence on the royal family. Revelations about prominent personalities in the Kingdom helping the 9/11 hijackers with financing, logistics, and planning would not only strain the U.S.-Saudi friendship, but could possibly destabilize a regime already roiled by infighting.
60 Minutes was able to piece together some of what may be in those documents:
In January of 2000, the first of the hijackers landed in Los Angeles after attending an al Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The two Saudi nationals, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, arrived with extremely limited language skills and no experience with Western culture. Yet, through an incredible series of circumstances, they managed to get everything they needed, from housing to flight lessons.
Tim Roemer: L.A., San Diego, that’s really you know, the hornet’s nest. That’s really the one that I continue to think about almost on a daily basis.
During their first days in L.A., witnesses place the two future hijackers at the King Fahd mosque in the company of Fahad al-Thumairy, a diplomat at the Saudi consulate known to hold extremist views. Later, 9/11 investigators would find him deceptive and suspicious and in 2003, he would be denied reentry to the United States for having suspected ties to terrorist activity.
Tim Roemer: This is a very interesting person in the whole 9/11 episode of who might’ve helped whom– in Los Angeles and San Diego, with two terrorists who didn’t know their way around.
The most well known name in these documents is Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical imam formerly of San Diego who showed up in Yemen and proceeded to help found Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.
Al-Awlaki was the hijacker’s spiritual advisor and acted under the direction of Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi national in San Diego who some observers believe is close to several members of the royal family.
There’s a lot in those 28 pages that would embarrass members of the Saudi government and royal family. And if releasing the documents caused friction in our relationship with the Kingdom, it would be a small price to pay for understanding what happened on 9/11 and who is responsible.
The reluctance of the government to declassify the information is understandable. It would bring an element of uncertainty into a volatile situation. But after 13 years, perhaps we are being too protective of Saudi feelings and the time has arrived for them — and us — to own up to what happened and move on.