(CNSNews.com) – An effort on Capitol Hill to prod the administration to declassify documents that could highlight ties between al-Qaeda and prominent Saudis in the run-up to the 9/11 terror attacks has received a boost with the introduction of a Senate bill that would require the president to release the material.
At the helm of the new initiative is aspiring GOP 2016 presidential nominee Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose measure is co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
The legislation would require the president to declassify and make available 28 redacted pages from a 2002 joint House and Senate report entitled “Inquiry into Intelligence Activities Before and After the [9/11] Terror Attacks.”
A similar measure in the House of Representatives, introduced last January by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), is a “sense of Congress” resolution urging the president to do so. It is slowly picking up support, and now has 15 cosponsors from both parties, including Reps. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
Paul announced the move Tuesday, flanked by Jones and other co-sponsors of the House resolution, 9/11 victims’ family members, and former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee from 2001-2003 – during which time the 2002 report was produced – has long called for the classified material to be released.
“I stand with my colleagues today to call for the release of the final 28 pages of the 9/11 congressional inquiry,” Paul said in a statement. “I firmly believe the family members of the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have the right to know the details surrounding the tragedies that occurred on that sad day.”
At the press event, Paul noted that over the past 13 years calls for the 28 pages to be released had come from many quarters, including former heads of the CIA, the Republican and Democratic co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission – even the Saudi government.
He said while the Saudi nationality of 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers did not in itself constitute wrongdoing by the kingdom’s government, “information that has been revealed over the years does raise questions about their support and whether this support might have been provided to these al-Qaeda terrorists.”
“We cannot let page after page of blanked-out documents be obscured behind a veil, leaving these families to wonder if there is additional information surrounding these horrible acts.”
The 2002 joint House and Senate report runs to more than 800 pages, including appendices.
The 28 redacted pages are in a section entitled “Finding, discussion and narrative regarding certain sensitive national security matters.”
Running up to the blanket-out pages, the report states: “It was not the task of this Joint Inquiry to conduct the kind of extensive investigation that would be required to determine the true significance of such alleged support to the hijackers.”
“On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a CIA memorandum, ‘incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists [redacted].’ On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations.”
The 28 redacted pages follow.
Lawmakers who have been allowed to read the 28 pages in a restricted setting may not reveal details.
One of them, Lynch, said in a statement Tuesday that “after careful review of the 28 pages, I believe the full bicameral, bipartisan congressional report should be made public. This will be an important step toward answering some of the questions that remain.”
Another, Massie – who also took part in Tuesday’s announcement – has not minced words about the potential implications of making the information public.
“If avoiding another 9/11 is going to be the justification for involving us in more wars in the Middle East, then the American people need a complete picture of what enabled 9/11,” he said in an earlier statement. “The declassification of these 28 pages will reshape our foreign policy in the Middle East. Based on my reading of the documents, I am confident that making these 28 pages public would enhance, not harm, national security.”
9/11 Commission: ‘No evidence’
Early this year convicted 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui claimed in testimony given in his Colorado prison cell that senior Saudi royals were implicated in the attacks.
The testimony was filed in a federal court in New York as part of a civil lawsuit filed by families of 9/11 victims.
Moussaoui reportedly named billionaire businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and two other princes who have both served as ambassadors to the U.S. and as heads of the Saudi intelligence agency – Bandar bin Sultan (ambassador from 1983-2005; intelligence chief from 2012-2014) and Turki al-Faisal (ambassador from 2005-2006; intelligence chief from 1977-2001).
The Saudi Embassy in Washington denied the allegations, dismissing Moussaoui as “a deranged criminal.”
After Moussaoui’s allegations were aired, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in response to a question that the administration, in response to a request last year, asked the intelligence community to review whether it would be appropriate to release the 28 pages.
He said the process was “ongoing” and he did not have a timeline for when it would be completed.
“I’m not going to comment on those assertions from somebody who, as you point out, has been convicted of very serious terrorism charges,” Earnest said, adding that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia “maintain a strong counterterrorism relationship as a key element of our broad and strategic partnership.”
Two years after the 2002 House and Senate report was published, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission released its major report, which made no finding about official government backing for al-Qaeda in the run-up to the attack on America.
“It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially supported al-Qaeda before 9/11, although some governments may have contained al-Qaeda sympathizers who turned a blind eye to al-Qaeda’s fundraising activities,” the report said.
“Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al-Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization. (This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al-Qaeda.)”