As the United States prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, families of the victims and others demand to know the truth about the deadliest strike on American soil and who was responsible for it.
Faced with mounting pressure from 9/11 victims and their families, US President Joe Biden on September 3 directed the Justice Department and other federal agencies to declassify documents from the FBI's investigation into the attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York. which killed about 3,000 Americans.
It remains unclear how much pivotal new information will be released under Biden's order, since US intelligence officials can still withhold key details based on privacy laws or national security concerns.
The FBI has already said that it cannot account for key evidence in its long-running investigation into the hijackers and their associates. Relatives of the victims have called on the Justice Department's inspector general to investigate the FBI's handling of the evidence.
"The 9/11 families certainly should know the truth about who is responsible for the murder of our loved ones, but the American people deserve to know ... just as much as we do," said Terry Strada, whose husband was killed in the North Tower, as quoted by USA Today.
Strada is among hundreds of relatives of the 9/11 victims, first responders and survivors who are suing the Saudi government in a US federal court in New York over the kingdom’s alleged role in the attacks.
The lawsuit is demanding the US administration release the FBI’s 16-page report of the agency’s Operation Enforce investigation into the activities of two of the Saudi 9/11 hijackers. In January 2000, the two al-Qaeda operatives, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, allegedly arrived in California where they were assisted by other Saudi nationals.
"It was the Operation Encore investigation that really kind of brought this forward," Timothy Frolich, who narrowly escaped the World Trade Center's South Tower, told USA Today. "Those are the specific documents that we're asking for."
A lawyer representing the victims’ families has said the FBI report can provide information about who helped the two Saudis.
Richard Lambert, an FBI veteran who led the agency's initial 9/11 investigation in San Diego and is now a consultant to the 9/11 families, said he believes the Saudi government was directly involved in helping the two hijackers when they were in California.
"I can't comment on any specific items of evidence," Lambert said.
"What I can say is ... I believe that the government of Saudi Arabia directed and orchestrated a hijacker-support enterprise in southern California. And that enterprise enabled the two hijackers, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, to complete all the preparations that they needed to board the plane and fly it into the Pentagon," he added.
US officials assert that the attacks were carried out by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists but many experts and independent researchers have raised questions about the official account. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
For 20 years, both Republican and Democratic administrations have kept key documents and vital information from the public eye, in what critics have termed as a cover-up to shield the Saudi kingdom.
"We've had roadblocks for the last 20 years whenever the kingdom was involved. It’s time we expose the truth," Strada said.
The Saudi government has long denied any involvement in the attacks and recently said it welcomes Biden's decision to declassify the documents.
But families of the victims who are suing the Saudi government and their lawyers say there is already a significant trove of information suggesting that at the very least low-level Saudi officials had assisted the two aforementioned hijackers. They hope that the release of the FBI report will help open the floodgates for more crucial information to come to light.
The 9/11 Commission's final report revealed that the planners and perpetrators of the attacks relied on “a core group of financial facilitators” who raised money from a variety of sources in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries.
Much of the funding for al-Qaeda was channeled through charities, some of which enjoyed Saudi government backing and involvement, according to the 9/11 report and other documents.
'Cut the Pentagon for people, planet, peace, and future'
Meanwhile, peace activists have organized a webinar and White House rally this weekend "to reflect on the lessons of 9/11" and the so-called war on terror that followed—and continues to this day.
CodePink and Massachusetts Peace Action will host the webinar dubbed "Never Forget: 9/11 and the 20-Year War on Terror" to examine how "9/11 fundamentally altered the culture of the United States and its relationship with the rest of the world."
In a prelude to the virtual conference, CodePink, a women-led peace group, issued a statement, highlighting how successive US administrations have exploited the 9/11 attacks to launch and justify wars abroad and expand their authorities at home. It reads:
In the name of freedom, and of vengeance, the United States invaded and occupied Afghanistan. We stayed for 20 years. With lies of 'weapons of mass destruction' a majority of the country was convinced to invade and occupy Iraq, the worst foreign policy decision of the modern era. The executive branch was given sweeping authority to make war across borders and without limits.
The conflict in the Middle East expanded under both Republican and Democratic presidents, leading to US wars in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and more. Trillions of dollars were spent. Millions of lives were lost. We created the greatest migration and refugee crisis since World War II.
9/11 was also used as an excuse to change the relationship of the US government to its citizens. In the name of safety the national security state was given expansive surveillance powers, threatening privacy and civil liberties. The Department of Homeland Security was created and with it ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Words like 'enhanced interrogation,' a euphemism for torture, entered the American lexicon and the Bill of Rights was tossed aside.
A day after the webinar, CodePink and other peace activist groups will hold a rally outside the White House to launch a new 100-day national campaign, calling for efforts to “cut the Pentagon for the people, planet, peace, and a future.”
"Just like CodePink's first vigil in front of the White House in 2002, we'll use this event to begin to organize the movement we need to take on the war profiteers who oppose us at every turn," Jodie Evans, the group’s co-founder, said in a statement.