Opinion | Sept. 11, 2021: A victim’s family reflects on justice delayed

Our brother, Daniel — a devoted father, husband and coach — was in the south tower of the World Trade Center, working as a trader for Keefe, Bruyette & Woods on the 89th floor, when it collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001. While the events of that tragic day are embedded in the hearts and minds of all Americans, we still do not know the full truth of who is responsible for one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history. Two wars have been fought across two decades, but the details of what led to the murder of nearly 3,000 Americans remain shrouded in secrecy.

While some of the links between Saudi Arabia and 9/11 are well known, like the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabian, other ties are less known or hidden entirely.

Ever since Daniel’s death, we have searched for answers. A few years ago, our family decided to join thousands of other members of the 9/11 community in seeking justice. While the individual hijackers all died in the attacks, many entities that supported them have never been called to account. The lawsuit by 9/11 families against the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an effort to reveal the extent of the role we believe that country played, and we hope it will bring us some measure of closure along with a full understanding of who was responsible for Daniel’s death.

As part of this lawsuit, many in the 9/11 community have called for the release of various classified materials, including the unredacted report of the FBI’s yearslong investigation into the Saudi role, commonly referred to as Operation Encore, as well as phone records, deposition transcripts and other information the FBI and the kingdom are withholding. We believe these documents will reveal evidence detailing Saudi Arabia’s role in the attacks.

Until this month, successive White Houses denied our community’s requests. It is unclear why, but the United States’ close relationship with and dependence on Saudi Arabia for oil and diplomatic support in the Middle East is undeniably a factor. However, after we urged President Joe Biden to stay away from events commemorating 9/11 unless he took action, he signed an executive order requiring the review, potential declassification and release of classified government documents related to the terrorist attacks.

We hope this will finally allow the truth to come to light. While some of the links between Saudi Arabia and 9/11 are well known, like the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabian, other ties are less known or hidden entirely. Few are aware, for instance, that a former Saudi government employee helped two of the hijackers with finances, housing and more when they arrived in the United States. (Saudi Arabia has denied involvement with the attacks.)

In fact, a sworn declaration from a U.S. Navy veteran and commercial pilot recently came to light as part of our ongoing litigation. It contains new details that seem to link the Saudi national more tightly to the terrorist attacks. In the declaration, the pilot described how, after the attacks, the FBI showed him a notebook that was found in the Saudi man’s apartment that included a drawing of a plane and calculations for rate of descent that he felt indicated a “reasonable basis” for concluding they “were used as part of the preparations of the al Qaeda terrorists.”

Former FBI Special Agent Stephen Moore summarized the Saudi link well when he stated under oath his assessment that without the Saudi support network, the hijackers never would have made it out of an American airport, let alone have overtaken and flown commercial jets with catastrophic precision. But the White House has never acknowledged a conclusive link to the Saudi government.

Instead of getting more answers as time has gone by, we have seen our leaders turn their backs on us and refuse to help. Equally frustrating is that the FBI has said it cannot find key evidence from a nearly 20-year investigation into the attack. Earlier this month, we signed onto a letter requesting the inspector general of the Department of Justice to investigate the FBI’s apparent mishandling of evidence.

Evidence the FBI told us in a legal filing that it cannot locate includes videos and photos of the Saudi government employee with the hijackers, an unredacted joint FBI-CIA intelligence report on the kingdom’s involvement, phone calls between co-conspirators and interview records with key witnesses. It is unfathomable that one of our country’s most highly regarded agencies can’t identify items in what is arguably its most important investigation ever. We as a community and as a country deserve better.

Ahead of this anniversary, we hope to see change. Our family and all members of the 9/11 community need to see proof of this administration’s commitment to transparency before another president commemorates our loss while blocking our access to the truth.

Biden’s executive order is a historic step in the right direction, and we commend him for taking action on our behalf. However, we know the documents in question have been examined and shelved before, and we know a declassification review does not mean a declassification actually happens. This information has been promised to us and then concealed from us by the institutions in which we place our trust. Only after the anniversary has passed and the public pressure eases up will we see how committed this administration is to helping us get justice.

It would dishonor our brother and all the others lost and injured to stop fighting for the knowledge of what happened to them. The murder of nearly 3,000 Americans will never be rectified, but some measure of closure on behalf of the families, first responders and survivors can be achieved. No matter what is contained in the documents that we hope will be released in the coming months, each piece of truth that comes out is one more step toward justice.

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