The US Justice Department is taking a fresh look at secret United States government documents about the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks with an eye to releasing more information to the public.
The move, welcomed by President Joe Biden in a White House statement, comes as family members of many of nearly 3,000 victims of the 2001 attacks have demanded Biden act.
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“As I promised during my campaign, my Administration is committed to ensuring the maximum degree of transparency under the law, and to adhering to the rigorous guidance issued during the Obama-Biden Administration on the invocation of the state secrets privilege,” Biden said in a statement released on Monday by the White House.
“In this vein, I welcome the Department of Justice’s filing today, which commits to conducting a fresh review of documents where the government has previously asserted privileges, and to doing so as quickly as possible,” Biden said.
In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, family members of victims have sought to pressure Biden to declassify government documents that they contend will show Saudi Arabian leaders supported the attacks.
The victims’ family members, joined by first responders and survivors of the attack, released a letter on Friday as the attack’s 20th anniversary nears, called on Biden to skip this year’s memorial events unless he releases the documents.
“Since the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission in 2004 much investigative evidence has been uncovered implicating Saudi government officials in supporting the attacks,” the letter stated.
“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 said.
In total, about 1,700 people directly affected by the September 11 attacks signed the letter last week. Saudi Arabia has insisted it had no role in the attacks.
Family members of the September 11 victims have long sought US government documents related to whether Saudi Arabia aided or financed any of the 19 people associated with al-Qaeda who carried out the devastating attack.
“We appreciate President Biden acknowledging our families today as we pursue justice and accountability against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Brett Eagleson, whose father Bruce Eagleson was killed, said in a statement to the Reuters news agency. “Unfortunately, however, we have heard many empty promises before.”
Al-Qaeda operatives crashed three commercial jet planes into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon outside Washington, DC. A fourth hijacked plane believed to be targeting the US Capitol building crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Nearly 3,000 people died.
In recent weeks, White House officials had several meetings with groups representing the September 11 families regarding their document requests, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on August 6.
In 2020, a US judge directed Saudi Arabia’s government to make 24 current and former officials, including a former ambassador to the US, available for questioning in a lawsuit by families claiming Saudis provided assistance to the September 11 attackers.