Biden orders declassification review of 9/11 records amid pressure from victims' families

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Fires burn amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center on September 13, 2001, days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. (U.S. Navy Photo by Jim Watson/Getty Images)
Fires burn amid the rubble of the World Trade Center on Sept. 13, 2001. (U.S. Navy photo by Jim Watson/Getty Images)

President Biden signed an executive order on Friday directing the Justice Department and other agencies to conduct a declassification review of documents related to the FBI’s investigation of 9/11. The order requires that Attorney General Merrick Garland release the declassified documents to the public over the next six months.

“When I ran for president, I made a commitment to ensuring transparency regarding the declassification of documents on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America,” Biden said in a statement announcing the order. “As we approach the 20th anniversary of that tragic day, I am honoring that commitment.”

President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. (Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
President Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House on Friday. (Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Biden’s executive order comes amid mounting pressure from families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to release documents from the government’s investigation, which they believe may contain evidence of a link between Saudi leaders and the al-Qaida terrorists.

Last month nearly 1,800 Americans who were directly affected by 9/11 issued a statement urging Biden to abstain from participating in any memorial events for the upcoming 20th anniversary of the attacks unless he follows through on his campaign pledge to declassify the documents.

“We cannot in good faith, and with veneration to those lost, sick, and injured, welcome the president to our hallowed grounds until he fulfills his commitment,” the statement said.

On Thursday, relatives of the 9/11 victims filed a complaint with the Justice Department’s inspector general calling for an investigation into whether FBI officials may have deliberately lost or destroyed evidence that could potentially prove that Saudi officials were complicit in the attacks.

While past investigations have drawn connections between some of the 9/11 hijackers and Saudi nationals, they have not concluded that the Saudi government was directly involved in the plot.

Copies of “The 9/11 Commission Report” for sale at Borders Books in New York City in 2004. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
“The 9/11 Commission Report” was issued in 2004. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In the statement released by the White House on Friday, Biden appeared to acknowledge the frustration expressed by the victims’ families, and sought to reaffirm his commitment to the transparency he promised on the campaign trail.

“We must never forget the enduring pain of the families and loved ones of the 2,977 innocent people who were killed during the worst terrorist attack on America in our history,” he said. “My heart continues to be with the 9/11 families who are suffering, and my Administration will continue to engage respectfully with members of this community. I welcome their voices and insight as we chart a way forward.”

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