Senator Rand Paul, the man of the hour when it comes to pushing back against government secrecy, is throwing his weight behind a fresh push to declassify 28 pages from a 2002 Senate inquiry into the causes of 9/11.
The Kentucky Republican is sponsoring legislation called the “Transparency for the Families of 9/11 Act,” which would force the release of the disputed pages. With his support, an important issue that has languished far too long may be finally gaining traction.
Paul is a big catch for the 28 pages movement, as advocates describe their effort. Former Florida senator Bob Graham, who has been banging the drum on the classified pages for years, will appear alongside Paul at a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday morning to lend his gravitas to the occasion.
Graham led the Senate inquiry and drafted the pages that have been kept under wraps. Without violating his oath of secrecy about specifics, the Democrat has been quite outspoken, saying the redacted pages “point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier” of the 9/11 attacks. He has also said the U.S. government’s protective stance toward the Saudis allows them to continue spreading the extreme Wahhabi version of Islam that has led to the rise of ISIS.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has long been on record supporting the disclosure, and he is co-sponsoring the legislation. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is described as “definitely interested,” and as the 9/11 family members continue to press for answers, they hope the moment is coming when this long-festering report will see the light of day, either by legislative action or by President Obama deciding enough is enough.
North Carolina Representative Walter Jones, an anti-war Republican who has worked tirelessly on behalf of the 9/11 families, said he started reaching out to members of the Senate after a House resolution he sponsored in two successive Congresses failed to gain enough momentum. Bringing Paul aboard at this time, when the nation is focused on issues of government overreach and secrecy, could generate the momentum that until now eluded him.
“This has never been about me, this is about the pain of the families,” Jones told The Daily Beast. He said he had been in contact with several senators, all Democrats, and their staffs. Then he noted, “Rand Paul is my choice for president, so I reached out to his daddy, who had me on his show to talk about it.”
Ron Paul has a radio show where he promotes his libertarian views, and father and son agree that you can always look for excuses not to release something, but absent clear harm to national security, government is not supposed to keep things secret because they’re embarrassing.
“I don’t know if it might be embarrassing to the Bush administration, how close they were to the Saudi family,” Jones said. “I just don’t know. I can’t put my fingers on it.”
Jones and Massachusetts Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch wrote a letter to Obama almost a year ago reminding him that on two separate occasions he told family members that he would declassify the pages. “And he hasn’t kept his word,” Jones said, despite numerous conversations he and Lynch have had in the interim with administration officials.
The introduction that precedes the redacted pages says that in the course of the Senate committee’s inquiry, it found pretty significant leads about the possible sources of support for the 9/11 attackers. But unable to reach firm conclusions within the time frame of the report, and with the resources at hand, the committee passed the information to the FBI. Whether the FBI followed up with sufficient zeal is left to the imagination, and listening to Senator Graham, the answer seems to be no.
Graham has pressed forward on his own to compel the FBI through a Freedom of Information request to turn over some 80,000 pages of evidence to a federal judge in Florida, who is reviewing the information about the agency’s investigation of possible terrorist ties by a Saudi family in Sarasota who fled the country just before the attacks, leaving a new car in the driveway and dinner on the table.
Members of Congress with a security clearance can read the 28 pages in a secure room in the basement of the U.S. Capitol after first writing to the chairman and the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee for permission. Members can’t take notes or bring a staffer, and only a small number of lawmakers have taken the opportunity. A House resolution introduced in the last Congress and the current Congress by Jones and Lynch to declassify the pages has 15 co-sponsors, almost all of whom signed on after reading the pages.
Kentucky Republican Representative Thomas Massie, one of the signers, said in a press conference last year that reading the 28 pages was “shocking” and that he had to stop every couple of pages to “try to rearrange my understanding of history.” A fellow libertarian and frequent sidekick of Senator Paul, Massie tweeted a photo of himself and Republican Representative Justin Amash with Paul in the aftermath of the legislative battle that raged over the weekend. “These are the people in John McCain’s nightmares,” the caption read.
Jack Quinn, a Washington lawyer acting on behalf of the 9/11 families, is part of the legal team bringing accusations against the Saudi government in a long-standing civil suit in the Southern District of New York.
With or without the 28 pages, Quinn says, evidence of Saudi involvement is “28 feet high, way more than ample evidence to bring everyone to trial.” He blames “dilatory tactics” of the Saudis and others to have the case dismissed and thrown out. They’re on their third judge; the case has dragged on for so long the first two judges passed away.
The pages’ potential release has implications far beyond Congress. “This isn’t going to go away,” says Quinn. “There’s too much here that points to the culpability of people who held positions in the Saudi government.”