The movement to declassify 28 pages said to link Saudi Arabia to the 9/11 hijackers received two powerful endorsements today, as the editorial boards of the New York Times and USA Today each urged the president to release the pages to the public.
The editorial voices of the nation’s second and third-largest newspapers join a rising bipartisan chorus that has recently added House intelligence committee chair Devin Nunes, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
In an editorial titled, “Unfinished Business from 9/11,” the Times noted that President Obama tasked the intelligence community with reviewing the material for declassification in 2014. “The process is still dragging on. The 28 pages should be released immediately,” said the Times.
The Times, like many others in media and the Saudi Arabian government itself, put too much emphasis on the 9/11 Commission report’s statement that the investigation found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials” funded the hijackers. In the highly influential 60 Minutes segment that aired April 10, former 9/11 commissioner John Lehman pointedly said the statement was “not an exoneration.”
The Times also used its editorial to declare “valid” Obama’s reservations about the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would clear a path for 9/11 victims and families to sue Saudi Arabia. Obama and other opponents claim that weakening U.S. sovereign immunity laws may inspire other countries to do that same, exposing not only the U.S. government, but also American businesses and individuals to widened litigation.
An op-ed piece penned this week by the 9/11 plaintiffs’ attorneys counters that the White House position is based on “troubling mischaracterizations of current law and JASTA itself.” Attorney Sean Carter elaborated on those mischaracterizations in a radio interview with Michael Smerconish.
The USA Today editorial, “U.S. Saudi Ties Full of Knots,” begins by acknowledging lingering questions about an alleged Saudi government role in the attacks: “There has long been more innuendo than fact, thanks in part to the continuing classification of the notorious ’28 pages.'”
Noting the controversy about the significance of the 28 pages, USA Today quoted 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow as saying the 28 pages were largely comprised of “preliminary, unvetted reports.” However, there are many reasons why Zelikow may not be an unbiased voice on the issue.
Similar to the Times’ stance on JASTA, USA Today said, “Congress might be getting ahead of itself with the bill to strip Saudi Arabia of its sovereign immunity against lawsuits over terrorism ties,” but concludes that it’s “better to start by declassifying the infamous 28 pages and begin to publicly sort out what the Saudi role in 9/11 really was. Proof of Saudi government complicity would be a powerful argument for letting lawsuits proceed.”