Transcript: Capitol Hill Press Conference on S. 1471 · June 2, 2015
Full transcript of the June 2, 2015 Capitol Hill press conference on Senate Bill 1471 (S. 1471) “Transparency for the Families of 9/11 Victims and Survivors Act,” sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and cosponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The press conference featured Sen. Paul, former Sen. Bob Graham, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), as well as family members of the 9/11 victims and survivors, including Terry Strada, Kaitlyn Strada, Abraham Scott, and Matthew Sellitto.
SEN. RAND PAUL: Good morning. Over a decade ago, a bipartisan Congressional Committee investigated the 9/11 attacks, and wrote a report. Twenty-eight pages from that report have never been released to the public. We're here today to call for the release of those 28 pages. The survivors, civilian heroes, and families of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks, some of whom are here today, deserve the full truth.
I'm not alone in calling for the 28 pages to be released. Over the 13 years since the Report was completed, many have called for the release of these records, including former heads of the CIA, the Republican and Democratic heads of the 9/11 Commission, even the Saudi government continues to favor the release of these pages.
The cosponsors of my bill are Senators Ron Wyden and Kirsten Gillibrand. We all are calling today for the release of these 28 pages. We are joined by bipartisan members of the House with a similar bill. I especially want to thank my friend Walter Jones for encouraging me to learn more about this issue.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. While their nationality alone does not constitute any wrongdoing by the Saudi government, information that has been revealed over the years does raise questions about their support, and whether their support might have been provided to these al-Qaeda terrorists. For example, according to Senator Graham's book, two of the hijackers appear to have been aided by another Saudi national in the U.S., who, in turn, appears to have been supported by and worked with the Saudi government. We cannot let page after page of blanked-out documents be obscured behind a veil, leading these families to wonder if there is additional information surrounding these horrible acts.
We owe it to these families. We cannot let this lack of transparency erode trust, and make us feel less secure. Therefore I, along with Senators Wyden and Gillibrand, have submitted Senate Bill 1471, to declassify these pages. I also intend to offer this bill as an amendment next week, to the Defense Authorization bill.
Now I'd like to introduce Senator Bob Graham, who led this Congressional Inquiry, who can tell us more about the development of the Report, and the bipartisan support for releasing the missing 28 pages.
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Thank you, Senator. And thank your colleagues, and those in the House who have already introduced this important legislation calling for the release of the 28 pages. The 28 pages in a report of over 800 pages, go to the question of who financed 9/11, and they point a strong finger at Saudi Arabia. Since the final report came through the classification process in the summer of 2003, these 28 pages have been withheld from the American people. In my opinion, yes, the 28 pages are very important, and will, I think, inform the American people, and, in so doing, will cause the American government to reconsider the nature of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.
But, beyond that, these are emblematic of a pattern of withholding information, unnecessarily, and to the detriment of the American people. As an example: One piece of information which was secured by the work of the victims, those who have suffered the most from 9/11—the sons, daughters, wives, husbands of those who were killed on that tragic day—their efforts have resulted in a trickle of information that better allows us to understand the full scope of 9/11.
One of those requests was to the United States Treasury Department, and it related to a Saudi-based foundation, which had a reputation of having been a significant financier of al-Qaeda. The Department of Justice responded. They responded with a report on the information which it had relative to this foundation. Let me just show you what the report said [holds up page after page of totally blacked-out text]. That is what the United States Department of Treasury felt the American people should know about an organization which may well have been a significant reason for 9/11 to have occurred.
This is an important issue that goes to the fundamental three words of American democracy—"We the People." This government is a government of the people. People deserve the respect to know what their government is doing in their name. The passage of this legislation will be an important step towards realizing that respect to the people of America.
I'd like to again thank Senator Paul and his cosponsors in the Senate, and to call upon Congressman Walter Jones, who has been the leader of this effort in the U.S. House of Representatives.
REP. WALTER JONES: Senator, thank you very much.
I'm going to speak, and then introduce my two partners on the House side, which would be Steve Lynch from Massachusetts, and also Thomas Massie from Kentucky. And then, after they've made their remarks, I will come up and introduce the family members, and after the families speak, we will open this up for questions.
I want to thank Senator Graham for being the driving force of this effort for the truth. What got me started was a book that he wrote years ago about terrorism, and influence of certain Middle East countries. I bought the book. I read it. I called him. I did not know him. We had a great conversation, and I said, "Senator, the truth does matter—to the families, but also to the American people. I'd like to get involved."
So, we had a conversation. Then I went down on the House side— you have to make a request of the Intel Committee—and read the 28 pages. About the same time, my friend Stephen Lynch, who will speak next, also read the 28 pages. It's a classified setting. Shortly after that, then Thomas Massie read the 28 pages, and from that, we have been working together to get more and more members on the House side, to join in this effort to give the American people the truth. The families deserve it, and the American people deserve it.
To my dear friend Sen. Rand Paul, I want to thank you for taking the lead in the Senate, and getting your colleagues Senators Wyden and Gillibrand to join you in this effort. One of my biggest disappointments has been, on the House side—I can't speak for the Senate side—but we have gotten very few members on the House side, from the areas that were impacted by 9/11, to join us in our House Resolution 14, which simply calls on the President of the United States to keep his word to the 9/11 families, and declassify this information.
There is nothing in this information, as has already been spoken to by Senator Graham and Senator Paul, about national security. It's about relationships. The families deserve—their pain has been with them for so long—they deserve the truth, and certainly the American people deserve the truth, or there is no hope for America.
So, with that, I would like to introduce my good friend from the state of Massachusetts, Congressman Stephen Lynch. Thank you.
REP. STEPHEN LYNCH: Good morning, everybody. I especially want to thank the 9/11 families who are here today, to add such urgency to this effort. Let me thank Sen. Rand Paul for his energy on this, and for bringing a sharper focus to this issue, and I thank your colleagues, Senator Wyden and Senator Gillibrand, for joining you.
I'd also like to make special notice of Sen. Bob Graham, because back when very few people were focusing on this, Bob having been part of the official investigation, he singled out the need to make all of this information available to the public. In our request for full transparency, we're joined today by the families of the victims of these tragic attacks on September 11th. Our nation has suffered a tremendous loss, and we're all devastated by the horrific events of 9/11.
However, these men and women, these families behind me, their lives were forever altered that day. And we deeply appreciate their persistence in seeking the truth about their families. Our commitment to one another, as citizens, in a society that values freedom and justice, demands that we hold accountable those who aided and abetted the savage attacks on our homeland, and the murder of thousands of innocent Americans.
When that fundamental duty to protect American citizens has been breached, it is not enough to say, "We will never forget." We need to do more. The military and civilian personnel at the Pentagon, the first responders and office workers in New York, the passengers and the crew of those hijacked planes, and all those families whose hearts still ache—we owe it them to provide a full accounting of the events and circumstances surrounding the tragedy of 9/11.
It is appalling, it is a disgrace, for a country which prides itself on transparency and truth and justice, that these 28 pages of this bipartisan, bicameral, Congressional Inquiry remains classified after 14 years from those terrorist attacks. This is not a mere redaction! As Senator Graham has noted, it is not just the mere deletion of a few words here and there, as is typical in these reports. This is full-fledged blackout of information, of these 28 pages. They have been excised from that otherwise informative report — 28 pages in length.
It may have been a matter of national security to secure those pages back in 2002, with the urgency and the fear of vengeance at that time. But it is long since time that we made these reports public. Transparency in government is vital to our democracy. Enough time has passed that we can digest this information without worrying about the visceral passions, and security implications, that existed in the days immediately following those attacks. These families, and our nation, experienced a profound and personal loss. And these families, and our nation, deserve to have their questions answered.
The declassification of the 28 pages is an important step towards answering these questions. After personally and carefully reviewing these 28 pages, I believe—and Walter and all the other legislators that have read these—feel confident that these can be declassified without harming U.S. intelligence sources or methods. Indeed, I firmly believe that the information contained in these 28 pages, will better inform our national security protocols, and will better inform our anti-terrorism policy going forward.
So I urge my colleagues in the House and Senate—I share the frustration with some members of the House who have not read the report, who have not signed on to this bill, that Walter Jones has articulated. But we need to get this done. We hope many of our colleagues will work with us, to make sure that these pages are declassified in 2015. And again, I want to thank Sen. Rand Paul, for bringing this sharp attention, this sharp focus, on this issue today. And I want to thank these families behind me, for their patriotism, and for their quest for justice, on behalf of their loved ones.
REP. THOMAS MASSIE: Congressman Massie from Kentucky. I want to thank Congressman Jones for drawing my attention to this issue, and I want to make three points.
First and foremost, the point for the families. The information in these 28 pages, I think, establishes a chain of liability that I think is important for the families in receiving justice. And I, first and foremost, hope those pages are released for the families of the victims.
Secondly, this is a bipartisan issue. Unfortunately, bipartisan in two regards. We have Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate who are leading the charge to release these pages; but you had two Presidents, either of which could release them, could have released them. The Republican President who is the reason that they are secret, and a Democratic President who keeps them secret.
Tomorrow, or even this evening, the President could release these pages. Our resolution merely urges him to do that. And it's completely within his authority to release these pages, and I want to make that point today.
Finally, nearly not a day goes by in Congress, where we aren't discussing about how to prevent another 9/11. Whether it's in the discussion about whether we should collect Americans' phone records, whether we should look at the content of their emails, to what degree do we need more intelligence-gathering capabilities. That's all in the name of preventing another 9/11. Whether we should get involved in Syria, to what degree we should be concerned about Yemen, what to do about Iraq? All of these are colored by the question, How to prevent another 9/11?
Some of the best intelligence we have is in these 28 pages, and most of our colleagues in the House have not read them, yet they're pretending to be informed on these issues, and having a discussion about how to prevent the next 9/11—yet turning a blind eye to these 28 pages. And that is another important reason why they need to be released. Thank you.
REP. JONES: I'm going to introduce Terry Strada. Her husband lost his life in the 9/11 attack. Terry will introduce her children, who are here, and then other members of the families who have felt the pain of 9/11—that believe that the truth of 9/11 will help them, as they move forward with their lives. So, with that, thank you, Terry, so much for all you, and everyone here today, and those who are not standing with us here, because you've done so much to bring the truth to the American people.
Terry, come forward, please.
TERRY STRADA: Thank you. My name is Terry Strada. I am the national chair of 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism. I'm here today with my three children, Thomas, Kaitlyn, and Justin. I'm also joined by some family members and survivors from 9/11. With us today we have Abraham Scott, who lost his wife Janice in the Pentagon. We have Mary Ellen Salamone and Aidan Salamone—they lost their husband and father on 9/11. Next you have Emanuel Lipscomb; he is true treasure. He is a civilian hero. He saved many lives on 9/11 down at the World Trade Center. We also have Matt Sellitto. Matt lost his son in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. And we have with us today a New York fireman survivor, Mike Hadden [?]—he's with us as well.
Thank you all for coming to be with us today.
Many people believe our suffering is in the past, and future attacks are diminished. Neither is true. Our loss is for the rest of our lives, and so is the real threat of another terrorist attack. We are forever united in our grief, and our commitment for a safer nation. I've been outspoken on the topic of terrorism financing for several years, because I have lived through the devastation of terrorism, and continue to live with the battle scars today. I lost my husband Tom Strada and dozens of dear friends and colleagues on 9/11. Every single person that Tom worked with, was killed that day. If I had the strength, I could easily have attended well over 25 services and funerals.
To this day, we have not been able to lay my husband to rest, because he has never been identified and returned to us for a proper burial. So, yes, like all of the members here today, I know a lot about the pain and suffering of terrorism.
For the sake of the American people, not just those who suffered injuries or had their families ripped apart, but for all Americans, the entire truth about who attacked us on 9/11 needs to be aired. We cannot properly secure our future if we remain kept in the dark about what foreign country or countries helped facilitate the attacks. And yet, here we stand, more than a decade later. Despite the availability of additional information on this subject, secretted in a guarded vault beneath the Capitol, only steps away from where we stand today, we remain almost universally uninformed.
Based on what little we do know about what is in those 28 pages, we are confident that declassifying them will prove to be critical to unraveling the Saudis played in the worst terrorist attack on American soil.
There is nothing conspiratorial or hidden about the ultimate responsibility for the horrific terrorist attack that led to the incineration of almost 3,000 souls. Nearly every significant element that led to the murderous attacks on September 11, points to Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden was a member of the Saudi elite. His father and much of his family had been close associates of the family monarchy for decades. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals. The very ideology, Wahhabism, that set the attacks in motion, has thrived in Saudi Arabia since the inception of the Kingdom, and when the money trail is followed, it almost always leads back to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is influential because its oil and vast wealth make it powerful in the Middle East and beyond. Money is the lifeblood of terrorism. Without money, 9/11 never could have happened, ever. But it is not financial resources alone that make it such an important player in the reign of terror we are witnessing worldwide. The ideology of al-Qaeda and ISIS draws a great deal from Wahhabism, often referred to as radical Islam, and it's now taking over mainstream Sunni Islam.
Many banks, charities and wealthy Saudis, are not only responsible for financing terrorist organizations, but in one country after another, they are putting up the money that makes possible the training and the radicalizing of individuals in spreading their violence-inspiring Wahhabi-bred ideology into far-reaching places around the globe, including here in the United States.
All people flocking to join ISIS are not necessarily doing so because of lack of economic opportunities. On the contrary. Many of the new recruits are well-educated and economically secure. It is the fanatical ideology that they have given their lives to. The expression of their fanaticism in terrorism is a major threat to our, and other peoples', safety.
The war on terror cannot be won until we hold accountable the terrorist financiers for their role in propagating that violent ideology, and for facilitating terrorists and terrorist organizations, that are slaughtering innocent people in the Middle East, and vowing to kill us and destroy us here at home.
You should not have to take my word for it. Let's look at what is in the 28 pages.
Since these highly respected government officials have repeatedly said that the release of the 28 pages poses no threat to national security, we believe that hidden details of that chapter should be not kept a secret, but should be accessible to inform all of our views.
My husband's murder, and the murder of all our loved ones, cannot be the price we pay for doing business with the Saudis. Nor should that price ever be repeated, especially simple for the sake of our so-called friendship.
On behalf of all 9/11 family members and survivors, I thank Senator Paul for introducing this vital piece of legislation; former Senator Bob Graham, for his tenacious dedication in pursuing the truth; and also Congressmen Massie, Lynch, and Jones. And we call on all members of the Senate and the House to please join us here today, in our request to declassify the 28 pages. Without the truth, there is no accountability. Without accountability, there is no justice. Without any of these, we can never be safe.
And now I'd like to introduce my daughter Kaitlyn.
KAITLYN STRADA: Hello. My name is Kaitlyn Strada. On September 11, 2001, along with thousands of people across America, my father left for work. Only, tragically, he never came home. By 2 o'clock, terrorists had taken his life, and the lives of nearly 3,000 other innocent men, women, and children. My father was a successful bond broker, a trusted friend, but most importantly, he was a great family man. We miss him every day.
My brother Thomas was 7, I was 4, and my brother Justin was just 4 days old on September 11. On that horrific day, our lives were painfully changed forever. When the smoke cleared and the fires were extinguished, nearly 3,000 children were left mourning the death of their murdered parent. We were young and innocent, without a care in the world one day, and then terrified and heartbroken the next. We experienced the hell, fear, and trauma of terrorism firsthand. We are the children of 9/11.
I stand here today with my family, and my extended 9/11 family, and before all of you, asking our President to declassify these 28 pages, which hold the truth about who is responsible for our pain and suffering. Who helped Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda carry out the heinous attacks on our country, that took our parents away? That question haunts me, and will continue to haunt me until these 28 pages are declassified.
Children should not have hearts broken, their dreams destroyed, and their lives shattered. When my father was killed, something was taken from all of us: our innocence and our trust. 9/11 children are growing up in a world where we can't trust our own government, because too many truths remain hidden about who was ultimately responsible for the murder of our parents.
Please, Mr. President, on behalf of all the children who are growing up without a parent because of terrorism, help us regain some of what we lost. We respectfully ask that you please declassify the 28 pages, and allow us and the world know the truth.
JONES: Abraham, did you want to say something?
ABRAHAM SCOTT: I'm not getting any younger. Good morning, everyone. I'm not here this morning to beat up on you about President Obama's promise, or Senator Paul or Congressman Jones' promises to declassify the 28 pages. I'm here this morning to let you know that each morning and night, I ask the Lord to allow me to live long enough so that one of my two granddaughters, Angelese [ph], who is 8 years old— and Mary who is 20 months old—should ask me, "Grandpa, what was significant about 2015?" And I'm hoping that I'll be able to tell them that this Congress, as well as President Obama, passed a law that declassified those 28 pages.
I just hope and pray that I will see that day. And I'm also concerned about other family members who are up in age, and having some trials and tribulations in different ways with grandchildren, Bill Doyle and Rosemary Dillard. I'm hoping that hoping that this will come to reality before we all pass.
This is not a political thing, not to prove that it's the right thing to do. I beseech both the Congress, as well as President Obama, to please pass this bill, and I want to thank Senator Paul, Congressman Massie, Congressman Jones, and the rest of the Congressional people who support this proposal. I wish you Godspeed. And hopefully next time we meet, at least Congress will have passed an appropriation, that will then go to President Obama's signature. Thank you. Godspeed and God Bless.
SEN. PAUL: We'll be happy to take a few questions.
Q: Thank you, sir. My name's Barry Kissin. Bob Graham has on a number of occasions been more specific about how this money was being funneled. He refers to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia. My question to you, or Bob Graham for that matter – is Senator Graham aware of who was the ambassador to Saudi Arabia, at the time of this involvement on the part of embassy?
GRAHAM: Prince Bandar.
Q: Right, Prince Bandar. Now, is the same fellow who George W. nicknamed "Bandar Bush" because of his longstanding affiliations with the Bush family? Is it the same one?
GRAHAM: I only know of one Prince Bandar.
Q: [followup] One other question. If Senator Paul wanted to, couldn't he get up on the floor of the Senate and read these 28 pages into the record, with impunity?
GRAHAM: I would rather you direct that question to Senator Paul. [laughter]
PAUL: Those are the rules. Next question.
Q: Yes, I wanted to ask Senator Graham, would he consider running for President?
SEN. PAUL: We need some competition. [laughter]
Q: You could appear live in the Democratic debates on national television and make remarks about this problem?
GRAHAM: Well, first I certainly understand your sense that there's been a paucity of candidates thus far, [laughter] and we need more to step forward. Two, I think there will be someone in those debates, who might have a question or a response that would touch the 28 pages [references Sen. Rand Paul], and I don't think it's necessary to have a second one and I am enjoying retirement.
Q: Wayne Madsen, WMR. Senator Paul, you mentioned that there was some support from Saudi Arabia for declassification of these pages. And King Salman was the Governor of Riyadh before 9/11 and there were reports that he facilitated al-Qaeda members' passage through Riyadh on their way to Pakistan and Afghanistan, with money, logistics, travel support. So, would he be included amongst these Saudis who are in favor of releasing—?
PAUL: I don't have in front of me the quote, but it's from someone in their government, I think within the last year, there has been a quote, plus quotes in the past in support of releasing the 28 pages.
Yes, in the back.
Q: [Jeffrey Steinberg, EIR, unidentified] A question for Senator Graham: I understand that since the issue of the 28 pages, that there've been new revelations in Florida that further tend to point to the role of the Saudis, and that there's action by a Federal judge, and that there's been some documents released. And you've suggested that the situation out in San Diego and now in Sarasota, Florida, begs the question of other locations—Herndon, Virginia; Paterson, New Jersey—all of the places. Could you elaborate a bit on that, please?
GRAHAM: Well, the hijackers lived in a few locations for an extended period of time, in some numbers. We know a lot about San Diego. We are learning about Sarasota, but encountering very similar obstacles to getting access to information there. I do not know what the status of investigations in places like Herndon or Great Falls [virginia], or Paterson have been. Whether there were investigations—I assume there were—what results that they reached.
To me, there are two basic questions. One, the one that Porter Goss, the co-chair of the 9/11 Congressional Joint Inquiry has asked: if these 28 pages are going to be withheld, what is the reason they're going to be withheld? At least we ought to have a debate over the validity, the strength, the rationale, behind the decision not to release. And then, if they are released, then the debate will be, what do these pages tell us, and what policy adjustments should we make, based on this new reality of the truth of our relations with Saudi Arabia?
STRADA: Excuse me, I've been asked to introduce a family member who'd like to give a very brief statement, and we will continue with questions after that. So, this is Matt Sellitto.
MATTHEW SELLITTO: Thank you. Good morning, my name is Matthew T. Sellitto: My son Matthew C. Sellitto was murdered by terrorists on Sept. 11th. First, I want to thank Senators Paul, Gillibrand, and Wyden for introducing the Transparency for the Families of 9/11 Victims and Survivors Act. It will finally help to close the Congressional gap in our 14-year struggle for the whole truth about 9/11. Thank you, Sen. Bob Graham, for your extraordinary commitment to all of Americans, and to us, and the truth. We have been fighting for this cause up and down the East Coast. And to Representatives Jones and Massie, and to my fellow Bostonian, Representative Lynch, for their House amendment, H.Res.14.
I would also like to thank the media here, today. We need you. You are the oxygen that disseminates the story and gives this vital issue life. Please, keep it alive, in front of all Americans, until the 28 pages are declassified.
This 14-year coverup must end now. It must not survive another administration. Today, our members of Congress are making critical foreign policy and national security decisions in the absence of the information contained in the 28 pages, because they have never read them. How is this possible? As long as those implicated in the 28 pages are protected via classification, we will be very vulnerable to their treachery, their terrorism, and their war. Just look at what has happened in the Middle East: Fourteen years on this, they continue with total impunity. Furthermore, those who helped them by allowing the shameful coverup, are complicit.
Finally, let me remind you that the plane that came down in Shanksville, forty souls took that plane down, because that plane was coming here, gentlemen and ladies, to Congress, and many more lives would have been taken, and those lives could have been these Congresspeople. And these people have a right to know where that money came from. Who financed the people to have their lives taken?
I would also, finally, like to thank all the people that put extra-hard work in putting all this together. Thank you very much: and please, please, let these people know what is contained in those 28 pages. Mr. President, we're putting an olive branch out to you, President Obama, we're putting an olive branch. We come to you today: Come over to our side, the side of justice, please.
PAUL: We've got time for about two more questions, right here.
Q: Thank you. So a lot of this effort really depends on President Obama. And I'm wondering Senator Paul, if President Obama stands in the way, will you consider exercising your Constitutional rights to enter them into the Congressional Record, as you acknowledged you could do?
PAUL: We're going to try the normal legislative procedure first, and see how it goes. I will bring it up with the President, and I will ask him directly if he will do this.
Back there, the young lady.
Q: By declassifying these pages, are you essentially saying that the special relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia could be called off? And then how do you see this impacting the foreign policy in the Middle East?
PAUL: You know, I see this more as just a search for the truth, and both Republicans and Democrats, those who were in charge of the inquiry, they all said at the time they would like to see it released. The heads of the 9/11 Commission also say it should be released; former heads of CIA have said it should be released. And in our bill we also allow them to look at it, and if they think there's some kind of ongoing investigation where a name or something like that has to be redacted, we give them the freedom to actually redact it. We just don't want the whole thing to be black, like Senator Graham showed us, when it is redacted. We've got time for one more for a journalist, right back there.
Q: [name inaudible, Al Jazeera] Just wondering, how does this affect the lawsuit that the 9/11 families have against the Saudi government?
PAUL: I don't have a good answer. Does anybody want to answer that?
STRADA: Well, to our lawsuit, how would it affect it? It would just be bringing out the truth that we need. It would just be more proof: We have an abundance of evidence, and this would just be one more piece to that.
PAUL: Thanks everybody. If you want individual questions, people will be around afterwards if you want to ask them. Thanks for joining us here today.
[END OF PRESS CONFERENCE]
Archive of live-stream video of full press conference.