Following demand that Biden stay away from 9/11 memorials, FBI takes step to declassify Saudi documents

President Joe Biden meets with White House staff in the Oval Office of the White House on June 2, 2021. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Biden needs to do more despite steps from the federal government aimed at declassifying documents related to Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11, victims and their families said Tuesday.

Biden voiced support for a Department of Justice letter sent Monday to two federal judges about a new opportunity to declassify some of those documents, which families have sought for years.

The letter from lawyers at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York said the Federal Bureau of Investigation had closed a review into some of the files, and would be reviewing documents over which they’d previously asserted privileges.

If deemed appropriate, the bureau would take steps to make available information in those documents that they deemed appropriate.

“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 Monday.

However, victims and families of those lost in the 2001 attacks said the president has yet to make good on his campaign promise to release the documents sought, and should do more to ensure the documents are brought to light.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, candidate Joe Biden made a commitment to release the documents that the families have been searching for and believe link the Saudi government to the attacks. Like President Trump before him, Biden has yet to do so.

A group of more than 1,800 people directly impacted by the attacks called on Biden last week to stay away from ceremonies for the 20th anniversary to be held later this year.

On Tuesday, representatives for the group said the latest move from the government falls short.

“We appreciate President Biden acknowledging our families today as we pursue justice and accountability against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the group said. “Unfortunately, however, we have heard many empty promises before.”

They expressed hopes that the Biden Administration would act to ensure release of the documents they believe will help their ongoing legal action against the Saudi government.

Brett Eagleson, whose father died in the attack, said Tuesday that the move from the DOJ made no real commitment, and, coupled with the Biden’s statement, actually did more to upset the families.

“The response from the president was a tone-deaf response in the sense that this is the very reason why we’re upset to begin with — is these slow-rolling games,” Eagleson said. “(Biden) needs to engage. He needs to do something.”

The Justice Against State Sponsors of Terrorism Act passed both chambers of Congress in 2016 via a veto override of then-President Obama, and allowed families to take legal action against the Saudi government.

According to statements made by the families, they’re seeking documents, including witness interviews, phone records and banking records, that establish the Saudi role in 9/11.

The 9/11 Commission in 2004 “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” Al Qaeda, the terrorist network most closely linked to the attacks, according to the commission’s report.

Al Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, and 15 of the 19 plane hijackers were Saudi nationals, and evidence has since emerged that link members of the nation’s government to the attack.

For example, Omar al-Bayoumi is a Saudi national who helped some of the hijackers secure housing in San Diego after their arrival in the U.S.

A government report declassified in 2016 found that the “FBI believes it is possible that (al-Bayoumi) was an agent of the Saudi Government and that he may have been reporting on the local community to Saudi Government officials.”

Saudi Arabia, in addition to being an oil-rich nation, is a key American ally in the Middle East — a region thousands of miles away that the U.S. has had a consistent military presence in for almost two decades.

In a statement made last week, the 9/11 victims and families asked Biden to release the documents and said they want American policy makers to take a firmer stance against the Saudis.

They hope to force the kingdom to admit its alleged roles in 9/11, the 2019 terrorist attack carried out by a Saudi national on a naval base in Florida that left three sailors dead, and the brutal 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been implicated.

For Eagleson, the man with the most power to do that is President Biden.

“With a wave of his hand, he can tell someone to make sure those documents are given to the families,” Eagleson said. “The buck stops with Joe.”


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