The Saudis, 9/11, ISIS, and American Secrecy

There is a growing movement in the United States against secrecy and a growing distrust that government is operating in the people's interest. I've written previously about this crisis in democracy. Related to both of these movements is a call for President Obama to declassify and release the 28 classified pages from the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11 that President Bush deemed too vital to United States intelligence operations to be released in the 2004 report.

Current mistrust in government's ability to handle both international and domestic problems is at an all-time high. The numbers show that trust has been eroding ever since the start of the war on terror. President Obama's release of the documents would be an act of good faith the people of this country need. Additionally, people need the cold, hard facts to determine if our current partners in our operations in Iraq and Syria can be trusted.

As the New Yorker explained quite eerily last month, "On the bottom floor of the United States Capitol's new underground visitors' center, there is a secure room where the House Intelligence Committee maintains highly classified files. One of those files is titled "Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters." This file contains the 28 pages that were classified.

At least two Congresspeople, from each party, are campaigning stridently for the release of the documents. Both Republican Walter Jones, from North Carolina, and Democrat Stephen Lynch, from Massachusetts, say that the documents, which they have read, quite clearly spell out a relationship between President Bush and the Saudi government and the Saudis' participation in planning the attacks.

If the claims the congresspeople make are in fact true, Americans have a right to know about it, especially because we are cooperating with Saudi Arabia in airstrikes and other missions against ISIS. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia has been keeping pace with ISIS in the number of beheadings it conducts on its own citizens. American people have to know if we are partnering with a moral force or if instead our politicians are resorting to political expediency in our relationship with the Gulf nation.

Claims about the relationship between the Saudis' intelligence and the intelligence agencies under President Bush were aired in a famous book in 2004 by Craig Unger called House of Bush, House of Saud and in Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. In each case, people seemed to take in the information and do nothing more than shrug.

Even back in 2002, in an interview with PBS, Senator Bob Graham noted that foreign governments might have played a role in the terror attacks:

"SEN. BOB GRAHAM: I think there is very compelling evidence that at least some of the terrorists were assisted not just in financing -- although that was part of it -- by a sovereign foreign government and that we have been derelict in our duty to track that down, make the further case, or find the evidence that would indicate that that is not true and we can look for other reasons why the terrorists were able to function so effectively in the United States.

GWEN IFILL: Do you think that will ever become public, which countries you're talking about?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM: It will become public at some point when it's turned over to the archives, but that's 20 or 30 years from now. And, we need to have this information now because it's relevant to the threat that the people of the United States are facing today."

As Senator Graham presciently noted, the information is very relevant to the threats we are facing today given our partnership with Saudi Arabia. The two commissioners on the 9/11 Commission Report, Thomas Keen and Lee Hamilton, have argued as recently as 2011 for the declassification of the 28 pages.

Beyond the practicality that releasing the 28 pages would serve for the American people in their decision to support the war or not, if Obama were to take the step to declassify the 28 pages, he could silence some of his sharpest critics. The intrepid journalists at The Intercept, whose lead writer Glenn Greenwald broke the NSA spying story, paint the current government as a force addicted to secrecy, one that is attempting to prolong war for its own benefit. Greenwald recently wrote, "This war (on terror) -- in all its ever-changing permutations -- thus enables an endless supply of power and profit to flow to those political and economic factions that control the government regardless of election outcomes."

By releasing the 28 classified documents, President Obama can prove Greenwald wrong; he would show that terrorism is a real threat to the world, not cooked up in foreign governments and intelligence agents' heads and we have to adapt to fight it. He can prove true Sissela Bok's keen distinction that, "While all deception requires secrecy, all secrecy is not meant to deceive." Or if he doesn't release the 28 pages, he can prove his harshest critics right and perhaps the American people do have something to fear.

CORRECTION: This article mistakenly identified the 28 classified pages in question as part of the 9/11 Commission Report. They are part of the Congressional "Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001."