After 14 years, Congress on Friday lifted the veil of secrecy that has shrouded a long-classified chapter of a congressional investigation into the 9/11 attacks, publishing the so-called "28 pages" that explore alleged Saudi links to the hijackers.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released the document Friday afternoon after a unanimous vote to do so. Congress received a redacted version of the chapter earlier in the day from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The long-secret chapter has helped fuel speculation about alleged ties between the 19 hijackers — 15 of whom were Saudi — and members of the Saudi royal family or government.
President George W. Bush opted to classify the chapter on possible Saudi involvement when the full report was originally published in late 2002 over concerns that intelligence methods could be exposed.
The potential harm to U.S-Saudi ties was another consideration.
Rep. Chris Stewart, a member of the intelligence committee, said after voting to release the documents that he can understand why the 28 pages were originally classified.
“I do believe, however, having read the information and looked at the three studies that looked into it, this is appropriate for the American people to have this information,” the Utah Republican said.
“There are enough threats out there for us to concentrate on and take our attention, let’s not be diverted with threats or conspiracy theories that actually aren’t true,” he said.
Releasing the documents, Stewart said, “helps us clear the table and lets us concentrate on the threats that we actually do face.”
The publication of the chapter comes at a tense time in U.S.-Saudi relations. Riyadh has grown increasingly frustrated with the U.S. over the the Obama administration’s willingness to engage Saudi rival Iran and U.S. unwillingness to take more action to confront Syrian President Bashar Assad. U.S. officials, meanwhile, have also expressed frustration with America’s Saudi allies.
In May, the Senate unanimously passed a bill (S 2040) that would allow Americans to sue the Saudi government for any role in the Sept. 11 plot. Families of those killed in 9/11 have welcomed the legislation, although the White House has threatened to veto the measure.
Saudi Arabia, which has long called for the release of the 28 pages, welcomed their publication Friday.
“We hope the release of these pages will clear up, once and for all, any lingering questions or suspicions about Saudi Arabia’s actions, intentions, or long-term friendship with the United States,” the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Abdullah Al-Saud, said in a statement.