Members of Congress say 28 redacted pages in the 9/11 inquiry report point to high-level Saudi involvement which the Obama administration refuses to divulge.
When Terry Strada received a phone call from her husband on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, she initially didn’t think much of it. A plane had just flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Tom Strada was working on the 104th floor.
“I just figured it was a small plane that hit the building,” Terry Strada told MintPress News.
She went back to tending to her four-day-old son Justin, but then the images started coming on TV and she knew the worst was upon her.
The thought proved prophetic: Tom Strada’s body was never found.
Tom was a senior vice president of corporate bonds at Cantor Fitzgerald. In addition to Terry and Justin, he left behind Thomas and Kaitlyn, who were 13 and 4 years old, respectively, at the time.
“The children were robbed,” Terry said. “It didn’t just kill Tom, it robbed them of the childhood they were supposed to have, the wonderful dad.”
The Strada family is routinely reminded of that day.
“It’s especially so hard because it was broadcast,” said Kaitlyn, now 14. “It was so public. We see the photos every year, over and over again. Not everyone who has a loss goes through that. I’m reminded of the horrors he had to go through just for going to work to provide for his family.”
Terry, Kaitlyn and Justin were all on Capitol Hill on the eve of their annual reminder, calling on Congress and the president to give them the one thing they are still missing from the fateful day: the full truth about who was behind the attacks.
All 19 of the hijackers committed suicide the day they flew the planes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. Almost immediately, the Bush administration announced that the attack was orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, a member of a prominent Saudi family connected to the royal family.
Fifteen of the hijackers were also Saudi nationals. Additionally, members of the Saudi royal family were permitted to leave the country immediately after the attacks, despite having what some sources call “troubling connections” with al-Qaida.
At the end of 2002, a Congressional commission to investigate the events leading up to the attack released the 832-page report, titled “Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.” When it was made public, 28 pages were kept classified, with the Bush administration citing issues of national security.
Terry Strada believes those pages will complete the story of why and how her husband and 3,00 other Americans were killed. She believes it will also give a better understanding of the nation’s odd alliance with a repressive oil-funded monarchy.
“Not knowing how the perpetrators were funded is a greater threat to our national security,” she said. “It speaks to the events that led up to 9/11, and if that implicates Saudi Arabia, then so be it.”
As MintPress News reported in March, members of Congress who have read the classified pages of the 9/11 inquiry say those pages significantly implicate members of the Saudi ruling class.
In December of last year, Congressmen Walter Jones of North Carolina and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts introduced a bill to force the public disclosure of the 28 redacted pages. Ten other representatives have since signed on as cosponsors, including Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Charles Rangel of New York.
“This wasn’t a mere redaction of a few specific words or sentences, which is common in documents like these,” Lynch told reporters on Tuesday. “This was a wholesale excising of entire pages.”
Lynch and Jones have said that they were “shocked” by what they learned from the redacted pages, including a reported CIA memo that claims high-level Saudi diplomats and intelligence officers had helped the hijackers logistically and financially.
“Terrorism remains a real threat but the better we are informed, the better we are at protecting Americans here and abroad,” Lynch added.
According to some surviving family members, President Obama has promised to declassify the pages but has yet to respond to multiple letters they have sent asking for him to do so — some with the letterhead for “9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism.”
“I just want an explanation,” Strada said. “If there’s a good explanation, I’ll hear it, but we haven’t even gotten that.”
“I’d like an answer to why they would like to keep them classified. We haven’t had a response to three letters, so if he wanted to explain it to us then maybe I could understand it better. But he’s silent on the issue.”
Rep. Jones has suggested it would be helpful if more members of the Democrat-led Senate were active on the issue.
However, that particular house had been involved before. On Aug. 1, 2003, 46 members of the U.S. Senate — including Chuck Schumer, Sam Brownback, Max Baucus and Robert C. Byrd — sent a letter to President George W. Bush.
In that letter, they argued that “the American people remain in the dark about other countries that may have facilitated the terrorist attacks.”
“If we are to protect our national security, we must convince the Saudi regime to get tough on terror,” they continued. “Keeping private its involvement — or that of any other nation — in the September 11th attacks is not the way to accomplish that goal.”
“There is no reason that any of the senators who signed that letter shouldn’t be just as adamant today, those that are still in office,” Jones told MintPress. “The Senate owes it to the families, especially those representing the northeastern part of the country [where many of the victims were from].”
Asked if this was simply a matter of partisan politics — the letter having been signed predominantly by Democratic senators and addressed to a Republican president, Jones responded: “Let’s remember that it was originally Bush who decided to classify these documents but it’s up to Obama to release them now.”
The timing is about more than the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, as the U.S. Supreme Court in June refused an appeal by Saudi Arabia to stop a lawsuit against the Saudi government. The complaint, brought by family members of victims as well as insurance companies that incurred huge losses as a result of the destruction, alleges that the Saudi government financed al-Qaida prior to the hijackings, thus indirectly financing the attack.
On Sept. 1, Sen. Schumer, one of the signatories to the 2003 letter, announced that a bill he filed to allow more lawsuits by victims’ families is now headed for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is expected to take action this month. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act would open the courts to lawsuits against any foreign nation found to have financed terrorist activity.
“Terrorism just didn’t happen on its own,” Schumer told reporters. “It took money. There were many countries and groups that funded al-Qaida. Today, similar groups are funding ISIS and yet when these families wanted to sue these countries and groups the courts told them they had no basis — a very unfair ruling.”
While trying to stop the lawsuits, Saudi officials have previously called for the declassification of the 28 pages, saying their release would exonerate them.
“Since September 11, Saudi Arabia has questioned over 1,000 individuals, arrested more than 500 suspects and succeeded in extraditing al-Qaida members from other countries to face justice,” Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. at the time, said in a 2003 statement. “Bank accounts of suspected individuals have been frozen and some of the most stringent banking regulations implemented. Saudi Arabia today has one of the toughest counter-terrorism laws and regulations in the world.”
However, Lynch is adamant that such a public statement was likely accompanied by some behind-the-scenes effort to keep the documents closed.
“I could not see if I was part of the Saudi royal family I would want this released,” Lynch told MintPress. “I would not be calling for the disclosure of this information. I expect some duplicity here.”
Human rights and oil
The U.S. imported 485 million barrels of crude oil from Saudi Arabia last year, more than from any other OPEC member. That Saudi oil plays such a significant role in the American economy was not lost on the Bush family. The close ties between the oil-rich Bush family and the oil-rich Saudi royals are well documented in Craig Unger’s 2004 book “House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World’s Two Most Powerful Dynasties.” George W. Bush’s decision to classify the 28 pages may well be a favor for a friend.
However, President Obama’s refusal to make the full account public suggests it wasn’t simply about the Bush-Saud connection. In 2009, the Obama administration even intervened in the 9/11 families’ lawsuit, requesting that the courts keep the information classified. The solicitor general who made the case against allowing the lawsuit to continue was Elena Kagan, now an Obama-appointed associate justice of the Supreme Court (which just allowed the lawsuits to go forward).
Whatever the motivation behind keeping those 28 pages classified, doing so also ensures that the U.S. overlooks Saudi human rights issues. Human Rights Watch posts regular notices about human rights and civil rights violations, consistently giving Saudi Arabia a poor grade.
“Saudi Arabia has stepped up arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents, and forcibly dispersed peaceful demonstrations by citizens,” Human Rights Watch says on its website. “Authorities continued to violate the rights of Saudi women and girls and foreign workers. Authorities subjected thousands of people to unfair trials and arbitrary detention. Courts convicted human rights defenders and others for peaceful expression or assembly demanding political and human rights reforms.”
An Aug. 21 post notes, “Saudi Arabia has executed at least 19 people since August 4, 2014. Local news reports indicate that eight of those executed were convicted of nonviolent offenses, seven for drug smuggling and one for sorcery.”
The 19 people executed in that 17-day span were all beheaded.
The Saudi government has also started persecuting Shiite Muslims and other minorities, fomenting and suppressing an underground rebellion inspired by the Arab Spring in 2011. By restricting its citizens’ access to telecommunications and monitoring any and all dissent, the response has turned the areas of contention into a veritable police state. Much of the “revolution” has been unfolding over the last three years near oil fields, with residents protesting they are not being given the same benefit of the country’s oil wealth as the Sunni-majority citizens receive. At least 20 people have been killed, hundreds injured, and an unknown number imprisoned without trial.
“Many countries have problematic records, but Saudi Arabia stands out for its extraordinarily high levels of repression and its failure to carry out its promises to the Human Rights Council,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement session of the U.N. Human Rights Council last October.
It’s for these reasons that Strada says she continues to work for the declassification of those 28 pages 13 years after her husband was killed. She’s also bolstered by her belief that releasing the pages will give Americans the information they need to make better national security decisions.
“Not declassifying is more of a threat to our national security than declassifying them would be,” she concluded.
Feature photo | Geraldine Davie of Pelham, N.Y., cries after viewing name of her 23-year-old daughter, Amy O’Doherty, on the wall at the Sept. 11 memorial during the 12th anniversary observance of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. David Handschuh | AP