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Families of 9/11 victims say Biden not welcome in this year's memorial events

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
People who lost loved ones in the September 11, 2001 attack listen during a press conference about the September 11th Transparency Act on Capitol Hill, August 5, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Family members of the victims of the September 11 attacks have asked President Joe Biden to stay away from the memorial events this year unless he upholds a pledge to declassify documents that they contend will incriminate the Saudi government in the attacks.

People who were directly impacted by the 9/11 attacks, including first responders and survivors, joined the victims’ family members in calling on Biden to skip the 20th-anniversary events in New York and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon unless he releases the documents.

In a letter released on Friday, the group reminded Biden of his campaign promise to be transparent and release as much information as possible on the attacks.

“Twenty years later, there is simply no reason – unmerited claims of ‘national security’ or otherwise – to keep this information secret,” reads the letter, which was signed by nearly 1,800 people.

“But if President Biden reneges on his commitment and sides with the Saudi government, we would be compelled to publicly stand in objection to any participation by his administration in any memorial ceremony of 9/11.”

“We cannot in good faith, and with veneration to those lost, sick, and injured, welcome the president to our hallowed grounds until he fulfills his commitment,” they wrote in their letter.

Family members of the victims and members of the 9/11 truth movement have long sought US government documents related to whether high-ranking Saudi officials aided or financed any of the 19 people associated with al-Qaeda that the United States has accused of carrying out the attacks.

“Through multiple administrations, the Department of Justice and the FBI have actively sought to keep this information secret and prevent the American people from learning the full truth about the 9/11 attacks,” the letter continues.

Whether the Saudi government had prior knowledge of the 9/11 plot and the extent to which it may be complicit remain one of the many unanswered questions about the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shanksville.

In 2016, 28 pages from a top-secret 2002 congressional report into US intelligence activities before and after 9/11 were declassified, revealing the identities of individuals who knew some of the 19 hijackers after they arrived in the United States and helped them stay in the country.

Lawmakers also found that some hijackers were linked to, and received support from, people associated with the Saudi government, including two Saudi intelligence officers.

In sworn testimony in 2017, former FBI Special Agent Stephen Moore, who led the Los Angeles Task Force Team for PENTTBOM --the bureau’s investigation of the 9/11 attacks-- said there was evidence of the Saudi involvement.

“Based on evidence we gathered during the course of our investigation, I concluded that diplomatic and intelligence personnel of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia knowingly provided material support to the two 9/11 hijackers and facilitated the 9/11 plot. My colleagues in our investigation shared that conclusion,” Moore said in his affidavit.

The US government has also withheld a trove of other 9/11 documents under a so-called “state secrets” privilege meant to avoid putting national security at risk.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. However, in response, the United States invaded Afghanistan weeks after the attack. 

The Saudi government is being sued by families of the victims and others for billions of dollars in damages. Last year, a US judge ordered the kingdom to make two dozen current and former officials available for testimony about their possible knowledge of events leading up to the attacks.

The White House said on Friday that the administration was working with groups representing the victims’ families regarding their requests for the release of the documents.

“Our hearts are with the families who lost loved ones on 9/11, especially in these days preceding the 20th anniversary of the attacks coming up just next month,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

“He (Biden) remains committed to that pledge he made during the campaign,” she said. “Of course, any steps would be taken by the Department of Justice.”

On Thursday, a group of influential US senators said they supported legislation that would force the Justice Department, the CIA and Director of National Intelligence to declassify additional information about the 9/11 attacks.

“If the United States government is sitting on any documents that may implicate Saudi Arabia in the events of 9/11, these families and the American people have a right to know,” said Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Saudi government has denied any connection to the attacks.

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