9/11 Families Hope the Truth About the Saudis Is Finally Here
The families that have fought their government and ours for years are hurting but hopeful that President Biden will keep his word and let the facts come out.
Brett Eagleson was a sophomore in high school when he lost his father on Sept. 11, 2001.
“My family never bought the narrative that 19 cave men banded together, with no knowledge of English, no knowledge of Western culture, to pull off the most devastating attack in American history. If not for the Saudi support network, the 19 hijackers would have had zero chance of success,” the 35-year old commercial loan vice president told The Daily Beast last week.
Eagleson, one of many plaintiffs in a massive lawsuit to hold the Saudi government accountable for its role in the events of 9/11, says “the government has documents that prove complicity.”
As the nation marks the 20th anniversary of the attacks, over 2,000 family members of 9/11 victims last month signed a letter to President Biden objecting to his participation in any memorial ceremonies if he didn’t live up to his campaign commitment that he would “err on the side of disclosure” as president in releasing documents. The message from the families, Eagleson said: “If you don’t stand with us, then don’t expect to come to Ground Zero.”
That got the administration’s attention, and last Friday Biden signed an executive order calling for the review and release of classified documents related to 9/11. It had been in the works for some time and its language is much like bipartisan legislation introduced last month in the Senate titled the “September 11th Transparency Act.”
Biden orders the FBI and the Department of Justice to release all 9/11 documents following a de-classification review with the first materials scheduled for release on the 20th anniversary, and the rest in staggered deadlines within six months. Eagleson called it a “critical step forward,” but says he’s holding his enthusiasm in check until he sees what the administration reveals, and whether it is heavily redacted.
“This is an historic opportunity for Biden to be a hero if he has the courage to do what Obama and Trump did not do, and that is to de-classify the 9/11 files, give us what the government has, give us Operation Encore,” he told The Daily Beast.
Operation Encore is the code name the FBI gave to an investigation it opened in 2006 after the 9/11 Commission concluded the Saudi government was not behind the attacks, though it left open the possibility that some elements of the royal family could have contributed money through a network of religious charities with extremist views. Operation Encore ran for a full decade and when the FBI wrapped it up in 2016, its findings released in a heavily redacted report, the last paragraph of the last page accidentally revealed the name of a mid-level Saudi Embassy official, Mussaed Ahmed Al-Jarrah, who oversaw two handlers, also employed by the Embassy, who worked directly with the hijackers finding them places to live, providing them with lavish expense accounts and flying lessons.
Al-Jarrah is believed to have reported to Prince Bandar, the long-serving Saudi ambassador from 1983 to 2005, and a fixture on the Washington social circuit. He was so close to the Bush family, he was called “Bandar Bush,” often spending Thanksgiving with the family. His daughter is now the ambassador, the first Saudi woman to serve in the position.
Among Operation Encore’s findings is a notebook belonging to Al-Jarrah with detailed instructions on how to fly a plane into buildings. An American Airlines pilot who flew the same route as one of the ill-fated 9/11 flights told the FBI he found the notebook credible, information that the FBI had withheld from the attorneys representing the families.
The 9/11 families and their lawyers have been after this new information for months, if not years. If Biden delivers on his promise the dam will have broken. “I don’t think Biden will hold back to protect the Saudis,” said a former State Department official who worked on Middle East issues in pre-Trump Republican administrations and asked to speak on background because of the sensitivities in the foreign policy establishment. “There’s no love lost between Biden and MBS (Muhammad bin Salman),” the ruling prince, said the official, particularly after the brutal murder of the U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey on MBS’ orders in 2018—a murder that Trump brushed aside. Past administrations have “lectured” the kingdom with little success about its funding for the Taliban and other religious extremist groups, said this official, but “Biden might be the guy who will call them on it and end this double game.”
The first lawsuit, filed in August 2002, listed specific individuals, among them Prince Turki, then the head of Saudi intelligence, and MBS’ father, now the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz. After the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) passed in 2016, allowing the families to sue the Saudi government, the complaint was refiled, this time with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the only defendant. President Obama vetoed JASTA and was overruled, 97 to 1 in the senate and 347 to 77 in the House—a rare veto with big bipartisan majorities that the families had built over six years of lobbying.
“We’re not just fighting the Saudis, we’re fighting the (American) government,” said Sharon Premoli, who was on the 80th floor of the North Tower when it was struck by American Airlines flight 11 at 8:46 a.m. She managed to escape but suffered a traumatic brain injury and severe PTSD.
“I witnessed murder and for 20 years, the government has decided to take a position on the wrong side of justice. The loss of trust has been a profound experience.”
Premoli was with a financial services company at the time and had traveled extensively, living in four countries. Her sense of security and safety was shattered by 9/11. For a time, she couldn’t even bear to enter an elevator, much less ever feel safe again in a high rise. She now lives in Vermont with a new puppy.
“Just imagine, some people still have never received a body or even a piece of their loved one,” she said in an email on the eve of the 20th anniversary. “There is still an ocean of grief out there and anger because there has been no justice. I can't speak for all survivors, but while most are very grateful to have survived, we are forever changed and we live with our injuries. I am sure that this is a tough week for all of us.”
She called Biden’s Executive Order “a positive departure from two decades and three administrations’ inaction and stonewalling… The time is long overdue for truth and justice, and President Biden has opened that door.”
Robert Haefele with the Motley Rice law firm, who represents about a third of the 9/11 victims and families, including Premoli, told The Daily Beast, “What I’m focused on is Saturday (the anniversary) and making sure the government follows through on the strongest words in support of transparency of any president in the last 20 years.”
Years of stonewalling and slow walking the production of documents may be coming to an end. Biden took his cue not only from the 9/11 families but from a broadly bipartisan group of senators sponsoring 9/11 transparency legislation led by New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez and including Texas Republican John Cornyn together with Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and other northeastern senators whose constituents were directly impacted by the collapse of the Towers.
After the efforts of three successive American administrations to provide cover to an unsavory ally in the Saudi government and sprawling royal family, which are one and the same, truth may finally be coming on behalf of the 3,000 people who were murdered on Sept. 11.
“If 30,000 people had been killed that day, the outcome I believe would have been the same,” Premoli told The Daily Beast. “We were just collateral damage. I don’t think we matter. Doesn’t anybody have a conscience?”
The answer finally might be yes.