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Biden Moves to Declassify Some Sept. 11 Documents

September 4, 2021 by Dan McCue
The World Trade Center, Sept. 11, 2001. (Richard Drew, Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden directed the Justice Department and other federal agencies on Friday to immediately begin a review of documents related to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks so that Attorney General Merrick Garland can release any deemed declassified over the next six months.

The executive order signed by Biden makes good on a 2020 campaign promise. 

“When I ran for president, I made a commitment to ensuring transparency regarding the declassification of documents on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America,” Biden said in a statement. 

“We must never forget the enduring pain of the families and loved ones of the 2,977 innocent people who were killed during the worst terrorist attack on America in our history,” he said.

Families of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks have pushed the federal government for years to reveal more information about the attacks, including any evidence it has of Saudi involvement in financing the attacks.

In 2019, former Attorney General William Barr considered the release of the documents sought by the families, but ultimately concluded they should stay classified to protect national security. 

Throughout the 2020 campaign, Biden pledged to “err on the side of disclosure in cases where, as here, the events in question occurred two decades or longer ago.”

But the families of those killed in the attacks grew frustrated as other matters took precedence.

Last month, a group of more than 1,600 people, including members of families of the victims and emergency medical workers, told the president to skip the memorial event this year at ground zero if he did not start the process of reviewing the documents for possible declassification and release.

On Friday, Biden said he understood their pain and their frustration.

“For them, it was not only a national and international tragedy. It was a personal devastation,” he said. “For 20 years, children have grown up without parents and parents have suffered without children. Husbands and wives have had to find a way forward without their partners in life. Brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, loved ones and friends have celebrated 20 years of birthdays, family gatherings, and milestones looking at an empty chair at homes and with a hole in their hearts.

“My heart continues to be with the 9/11 families who are suffering, and my administration will continue to engage respectfully with members of this community. I welcome their voices and insight as we chart a way forward,” the president said.

Terry Strada, national chair of 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism, said in a statement Friday that the members of the organization were “thrilled” to see the president forcing the release of more evidence about Saudi connections to the 9/11 attacks.

Strada, whose spouse, Tom, was killed in the North Tower of World Trade Center during the attack, added, “We have been fighting the FBI and intelligence community for too long, but this looks like a true turning point.” 

Just last month, Strada and other Sept. 11 family members participated in a Capitol Hill ceremony announcing the filing of the September 11 Transparency Act. They were joined by Sens. Robert Menendez, Richard Blumenthal, and Chuck Schumer in their demand for greater transparency. 

“There is much more work to be done to secure justice for our murdered loved ones and to rectify the immense damage the 20-year shroud of secrecy has caused, but we now are optimistic that President Biden will be helping us achieve those goals,” Strada said. “Sen. Menendez told us that Congress sometimes has to jolt the White House into action and we’re pleased that President Biden took notice. We all thank Sen. Menendez and the other senators for their leadership.”

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