A story that might otherwise have slipped away in a morass of conspiracy theories gained new life Wednesday when former Sen. Bob Graham headlined a press conference on Capitol Hill to press for the release of 28 pages redacted from a Senate report on the 9/11 attacks. And according to Graham, the lead author of the report, the pages “point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as the principal financier” of the 9/11 hijackers.
“This may seem stale to some but it’s as current as the headlines we see today,” Graham said, referring to the terrorist attack on a satirical newspaper in Paris. The pages are being kept under wraps out of concern their disclosure would hurt U.S. national security. But as chairman of the Senate Select Committee that issued the report in 2002, Graham argues the opposite is true, and that the real “threat to national security is non-disclosure.”
Graham said the redacted pages characterize the support network that allowed the 9/11 attacks to occur, and if that network goes unchallenged, it will only flourish. He said that keeping the pages classified is part of “a general pattern of coverup” that for 12 years has kept the American people in the dark. It is “highly improbable” the 19 hijackers acted alone, he said, yet the U.S. government’s position is “to protect the government most responsible for that network of support.”
The Saudis know what they did, Graham continued, and the U.S. knows what they did, and when the U.S. government takes a position of passivity, or actively shuts down inquiry, that sends a message to the Saudis. “They have continued, maybe accelerated their support for the most extreme form of Islam,” he said, arguing that both al Qaeda and ISIS are “a creation of Saudi Arabia.”
Standing with Graham were Republican Rep. Walter Jones and Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch, co-sponsors of House Resolution 428, which says declassification of the 28 pages is necessary to provide the American public with the full truth surrounding the 9/11 attacks. The two lawmakers echoed Graham’s assertion that national security would not be harmed, and point out that on two separate occasions President Obama has told 9/11 families that he wants to see the pages declassified. Jones and Lynch wrote a letter to Obama in April urging him to take action, and have been told by the White House that a response is in the works.
The purpose of the Wednesday press conference was to put pressure on the White House by building bipartisan support in the House and Senate. Any member with a security clearance is able to read the redacted chapter in a closed room, albeit under supervision and with no note taking and no staff. It’s a cumbersome process, and most members haven’t bothered. The relatively few who have read the pages come away with varying levels of shock and surprise. Lynch said he was so blown away that the information was being kept from the public that he told the two room monitors he would be filing legislation. HR 428 had 27 co-sponsors in the last Congress.
Among the attendees at the press conference was Jack Quinn, formerly a top lawyer in the Clinton White House, who is representing 9/11 families in their effort to gain compensation from the Saudi government. If the redacted pages document complicity in the attacks by the Saudi government, or religious and charitable institutions related to the kingdom, which is relevant to a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York where the Saudis are the defendants. Quinn, who is one of several lawyers involved with the case, previously represented families in the Lockerbie crash in their suit against the Libyan government.
Noting that the Senate Intelligence Committee recently released a no-holds-barred report documenting torture in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Quinn told The Daily Beast, “It’s rather bizarre that we would go to these great lengths to air this heretofore confidential information about how we reacted to 9/11, and at the same time we keep secret information about protecting those who helped launch the attack.”
But now the wheels of justice are finally moving. The Senate passed by voice vote in the last Congress JASTA (Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act). Co-sponsored by Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the bill would strip diplomatic immunity from nation states in cases of terrorism, and open the door to financial compensation for the 9/11 families from the Saudi government. There wasn’t time to get it over to the House before the recess, but Quinn said he is confident about re-starting the measure in the new Congress.
It all signals that the decades-long bipartisan policy of always keeping the Saudis happy, and never rocking the boat, may be coming to an end. In Sarasota, Florida, a federal judge is reviewing 80,000 pages of documents that relate to a prominent Saudi family and its extensive contacts with three of the hijackers when they attended flight school in Sarasota.
The family abruptly left the U.S. for Saudi Arabia a few days before the attacks, leaving dinner on the table and a brand new car in the driveway “as though they’d been tipped something was going to happen, and they’d better not be in the country,” said Graham. One member of the family is described as a high-level adviser to the Saudi royal family. The FBI initially rebuffed a Freedom of Information request about the case, Graham said, prompting him to observe that the “pervasive pattern of covering up” the Saudi role in 9/11 extends to all U.S. institutions.
When the 800-page Senate report was made public in 2002, Graham recalled that he and Republican Sen. Richard Shelby were “shocked to see an important chapter in the report has been redacted.” All but three Senate Democrats, joined by one Republican and one independent, signed a letter calling on President Bush to declassify the 28-page section detailing the role of foreign governments in bankrolling the 9/11 attackers.
“Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters,” the redacted portion, begins midway through the report, on page 395. Despite the title, then-CIA Director Porter Goss and the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission all called for it to be declassified, yet it has stayed secret for a dozen years, fueling conspiracy theories that Graham says can only be put to rest by its release.