WASHINGTON - Family members and victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks joined three members of Congress on Wednesday in calling on the Obama administration to declassify portions of a congressional investigation that addresses allegations of possible Saudi Arabian government support of the hijackers.
The report, released by a joint panel of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in December 2002, contains 28 redacted pages that family members and victims say would shed new light on the hijackings. At the time the report was released, the Bush administration classified the material. Numerous sources reported that it dealt with the Saudis.
United Airlines Flight 93 "was supposed to have hit the Capitol dome," imposing a special obligation on Congress to get to the bottom of the matter, said Alice Hoagland, whose son Mark Bingham was one of the passengers who rushed the cockpit, thwarting that part of the attack. The plane crashed in Shanksville, Pa.
In all, nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the crash in Shanksville, including the 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudis.
The small group was joined at a news conference at the Cannon House office building attended by Reps. Walter B. Jones (R., N.C.), Stephen Lynch (D., Mass.), and Thomas Massie (R., Ky.), who are calling for passage of a House resolution requesting that the Obama administration make the information public.
"This is the beginning of a long process," Jones said. "I do not believe that we as a nation will be strong unless we reveal what the 28 pages say."
The Saudi government for years has been embroiled in litigation filed by victims, their families, and insurers that suffered billions in losses at ground zero, accusing the kingdom of providing financial support to Islamist charities that in turn funded al-Qaeda.
One of the suits, filed by the Center City firm of Cozen O'Connor, alleges the Saudis continued their support even after they were warned in the late 1990s by a delegation of senior U.S. officials of the link between the charities and terrorists.
The lawsuit, filed in 2003, has taken a long and winding road through the federal court system. In 2005, U.S. District Judge Richard Conway Casey granted the request of the Saudi government and an affiliated charity, the Saudi High Commission for the Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to be removed as defendants.
Casey ruled then that the charities were too far removed from the government to establish responsibility.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld Casey's ruling in 2008, but on different grounds. It found that under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, suits alleging a foreign government's involvement in terrorism can only go forward with what amounted to a sign-off by the State Department. And in the case of Saudi Arabia, there had been none.
But in a surprising development, the Second Circuit reversed itself in December, effectively reinstating Saudi Arabia as a defendant. The court said it decided to change course because it allowed a related lawsuit to go forward on similar grounds.
Jones and Lynch introduced the resolution late last year, calling on the Obama administration to make public the redacted 28 pages. At the time, Jones described the redacted material, which he had read, as "shocking."
The 9/11 victims have gotten key support from former Sen. Bob Graham (D., Fla.), who was cochair of the joint investigation and who was one of the first on Capitol Hill to accuse the Saudi government of involvement in the attacks.
Graham also provided a sworn statement in the Cozen lawsuit alleging that an obscure Saudi national who provided assistance to two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Al-Hazmi and Khalid Al-Mihdhar, likely was working for the Saudi government.
Graham said that Omar Al-Bayoumi was "acting at the direction of elements of the Saudi government" when he helped Hazmi and Mihdhar find an apartment in San Diego and provided them financial assistance before the hijackings.