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Biden approves 'fresh review' of documents examining Saudi role in 9/11 attacks

Decision comes just days after families of victims said US president was not welcome at 20th-anniversary events unless the secret files were released
The Tribute in Light shines in downtown Manhattan to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on 11 September 2020
The Tribute in Light shines in downtown Manhattan to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on 11 September 2020 (Reuters)
By in
Washington

The Biden administration has approved a move by the Justice Department to conduct a "fresh review" of classified documents about the 11 September, 2001 attacks, which the victims' families think could detail connections between the 19 hijackers and Saudi authorities.

Last week, the families of hundreds of 9/11 victims told US President Joe Biden that he was not welcome at this year's memorial events marking the 20th anniversary of the attacks unless he declassified evidence that could link Saudi Arabia to the attack.

"As I promised during my campaign, my Administration is committed to ensuring the maximum degree of transparency under the law, and to adhering to the rigorous guidance issued during the Obama-Biden Administration on the invocation of the state secrets privilege," Biden said in a statement released by the White House on Monday.

"In this vein, 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 added.

Earlier on Monday, the United States Attorney of the Southern District of New York wrote to the judges overseeing the lawsuit the 9/11 families filed against Saudi Arabia informing the parties that "the FBI has decided to review its prior privilege assertions to identify additional information appropriate for disclosure."

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"The FBI will disclose such information on a rolling basis as expeditiously as possible," the letter said.

Brett Eagleson, whose father Bruce Eagleson was killed in the attacks, and has been an advocate for the families, indicated he would stay skeptical until the documents are released.

"We appreciate President Biden acknowledging our families today as we pursue justice and accountability against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," Eagleson told the Reuters news agency. "Unfortunately, however, we have heard many empty promises before."

The family groups have renewed their push to have the 9/11-Saudi documents declassified after the federal government released an intelligence report in March that said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the killing of Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Last September, a US judge ordered Saudi Arabia to make 24 current and former officials, including a former ambassador to the US, available for questioning in the lawsuit.

While the contents of the depositions are being kept secret, the families are mounting a renewed push to make Washington remove the gag on evidence in the court case against Riyadh and release the results of an investigation, codenamed Operation Encore, into Saudi complicity in the attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment by the time of publication.

However, Riyadh has long denied involvement in the attacks, in which almost 3,000 people died as hijacked jetliners crashed into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon outside of Washington, and a field in western Pennsylvania.

In 2016, both chambers of the US Congress voted to override president Barack Obama's veto of the bill that gave 9/11 families the right to sue Saudi Arabia. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.