Years after 9/11 attacks, 28 pages are still blank

James Eli Shiffer, Star Tribune

In the public report of Congress’ investigation of the 9/11 attacks, something strange happens after page 395. The words disappear, replaced by blank lines that go on for most of 28 pages.

It’s the part of the report that discusses evidence of foreign support for the terrorists, specifically Saudi Arabia. For more than 12 years, those pages have remained sealed by order of President George W. Bush and then President Obama.

The administrations stood their ground, despite pleas from Congress members of both parties, families of 9/11 victims and many others to declassify the report. The mystery of the 28 pages has become one of the hottest secrecy battles in Washington.

The debate was inflamed earlier this year when the man known as the “20th hijacker” claimed that members of the Saudi royal family bankrolled Al-Qaida. Zacarias Moussaoui is serving a life sentence in federal prison after his arrest in Minnesota in August 2001. A living reminder of the government’s intelligence failures before the worst terror attack in its history, Moussaoui stoked the issue by giving a sworn statement to lawyers representing 9/11 families suing Saudi Arabia. In the statement, he said he brought letters from Osama bin Laden to members of the royal family in that country.

In February, Saudi Arabia rejected Moussaoui’s contentions as the lies of a “deranged criminal,” and said the kingdom was cleared of culpability in a later report by the 9/11 Commission. Still, even the Saudi ambassador once complained about the redacted 28 pages. “We can deal with questions in public, but we cannot respond to blank pages,” he said in 2003.

Former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who co-chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, has continually demanded that the full report be released. U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., introduced a bill last year to urge the president to declassify the 28 pages.

On the House floor in February, Jones cited the Moussaoui statement and called for his colleagues to support his bill. He said he had read the 28 pages, that they pose no risk to national security.

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