Senator Rand Paul, the man of the hour when it comes to pushing back against government secrecy, is throwing his weight behind a fresh push to declassify 28 pages from a 2002 Senate inquiry into the causes of 9/11.
The Kentucky Republican is sponsoring legislation called the “Transparency for the Families of 9/11 Act,” which would force the release of the disputed pages. With his support, an important issue that has languished far too long may be finally gaining traction.
Paul is a big catch for the 28 pages movement, as advocates describe their effort. Former Florida senator Bob Graham, who has been banging the drum on the classified pages for years, will appear alongside Paul at a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday morning to lend his gravitas to the occasion.
Graham led the Senate inquiry and drafted the pages that have been kept under wraps. Without violating his oath of secrecy about specifics, the Democrat has been quite outspoken, saying the redacted pages “point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier” of the 9/11 attacks. He has also said the U.S. government’s protective stance toward the Saudis allows them to continue spreading the extreme Wahhabi version of Islam that has led to the rise of ISIS.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has long been on record supporting the disclosure, and he is co-sponsoring the legislation. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is described as “definitely interested,” and as the 9/11 family members continue to press for answers, they hope the moment is coming when this long-festering report will see the light of day, either by legislative action or by President Obama deciding enough is enough.
North Carolina Representative Walter Jones, an anti-war Republican who has worked tirelessly on behalf of the 9/11 families, said he started reaching out to members of the Senate after a House resolution he sponsored in two successive Congresses failed to gain enough momentum. Bringing Paul aboard at this time, when the nation is focused on issues of government overreach and secrecy, could generate the momentum that until now eluded him.
“This has never been about me, this is about the pain of the families,” Jones told The Daily Beast. He said he had been in contact with several senators, all Democrats, and their staffs. Then he noted, “Rand Paul is my choice for president, so I reached out to his daddy, who had me on his show to talk about it.”
Ron Paul has a radio show where he promotes his libertarian views, and father and son agree that you can always look for excuses not to release something, but absent clear harm to national security, government is not supposed to keep things secret because they’re embarrassing.
“I don’t know if it might be embarrassing to the Bush administration, how close they were to the Saudi family,” Jones said. “I just don’t know. I can’t put my fingers on it.”
Jones and Massachusetts Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch wrote a letter to Obama almost a year ago reminding him that on two separate occasions he told family members that he would declassify the pages. “And he hasn’t kept his word,” Jones said, despite numerous conversations he and Lynch have had in the interim with administration officials.
The introduction that precedes the redacted pages says that in the course of the Senate committee’s inquiry, it found pretty significant leads about the possible sources of support for the 9/11 attackers. But unable to reach firm conclusions within the time frame of the report, and with the resources at hand, the committee passed the information to the FBI. Whether the FBI followed up with sufficient zeal is left to the imagination, and listening to Senator Graham, the answer seems to be no.
Graham has pressed forward on his own to compel the FBI through a Freedom of Information request to turn over some 80,000 pages of evidence to a federal judge in Florida, who is reviewing the information about the agency’s investigation of possible terrorist ties by a Saudi family in Sarasota who fled the country just before the attacks, leaving a new car in the driveway and dinner on the table.
Members of Congress with a security clearance can read the 28 pages in a secure room in the basement of the U.S. Capitol after first writing to the chairman and the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee for permission. Members can’t take notes or bring a staffer, and only a small number of lawmakers have taken the opportunity. A House resolution introduced in the last Congress and the current Congress by Jones and Lynch to declassify the pages has 15 co-sponsors, almost all of whom signed on after reading the pages.
Kentucky Republican Representative Thomas Massie, one of the signers, said in a press conference last year that reading the 28 pages was “shocking” and that he had to stop every couple of pages to “try to rearrange my understanding of history.” A fellow libertarian and frequent sidekick of Senator Paul, Massie tweeted a photo of himself and Republican Representative Justin Amash with Paul in the aftermath of the legislative battle that raged over the weekend. “These are the people in John McCain’s nightmares,” the caption read.
Jack Quinn, a Washington lawyer acting on behalf of the 9/11 families, is part of the legal team bringing accusations against the Saudi government in a long-standing civil suit in the Southern District of New York.
With or without the 28 pages, Quinn says, evidence of Saudi involvement is “28 feet high, way more than ample evidence to bring everyone to trial.” He blames “dilatory tactics” of the Saudis and others to have the case dismissed and thrown out. They’re on their third judge; the case has dragged on for so long the first two judges passed away.
The pages’ potential release has implications far beyond Congress. “This isn’t going to go away,” says Quinn. “There’s too much here that points to the culpability of people who held positions in the Saudi government.”
By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, June 2, 2015
It was another one of those weeks in the capital when our leaders debated matters crucial to the survival of American civilization.
Did President Obama try to upstage the Republican presidential debate by asking to address a joint session of Congress that same night? And did House Speaker John Boehner dis the president, and the presidency, by denying him that slot?
Tempted though I was to weigh in on this important matter, I decided instead to head over to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, to preview a small but immensely powerful exhibit marking the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
There, displayed for the first time, are sacred relics of 9/11: the crumpled piece of the fuselage where the American flag had been painted on the Boeing 757 that crashed in a Pennsylvania field, a flight-attendant call button from the plane, a window shade, a landing gear strut, and a log book with the pages intact. The exhibit is simple and raw, without glass or showcases. Some dried mud caked on an airplane seatbelt was flaking off onto a tablecloth.
Nearby is the door from a fire truck crushed at Ground Zero and the beeper of a man who died in the South Tower. There’s a Pentagon clock frozen at about the time American Airlines Flight 77 struck the complex and the phone on which Ted Olson received the last call from his wife on the doomed plane. Most poignant, perhaps, is the postcard from another passenger, written to her sister the day before the crash to give the address of a new home in which she would never live.
The spare exhibit brought back the horror of that time. But it also reminded me of the pride in what followed, the national unity and sense of purpose.
The warm feelings didn’t last long, of course, destroyed by the war in Iraq and the politicization of homeland security. By now, we have lost all sense of purpose in politics, alternately distracted by Sarah Palin’s bus tours, Anthony Weiner’s private parts, David Wu’s tiger suit, Donald Trump’s birth-certificate campaign, and Dick Cheney’s broadsides.
Obama, whose uncertain trumpet has ceased to rally even his own troops, contemplated his long-delayed jobs agenda while lounging on Martha’s Vineyard last month. His leading Republican rival for the presidency talks of treason and secession. Another challenger arranges to quadruple the size of his California home (his defense: He’s only doubling the living space). Lawmakers play games with the debt ceiling and wound the nation’s credit rating but can’t agree on anything to put Americans back to work.
The political extraneousness of the moment, in other words, is like that of early September 2001. We spent those days amusing ourselves with Gary Condit and shark attacks. President George W. Bush spent August on a record-long ranch vacation. The biggest issue under debate: stem-cell research. Warnings about Osama bin Laden were ignored while the administration obsessed over rewriting a missile treaty with Russia.
What will it require to end the drift this time? A depression? Another attack? Or is there a less painful way to regain national purpose?
“For most people,” curator David Allison told me as I toured the Smithsonian exhibit, “Sept. 11 is only a media event.” The exhibit is a modest attempt at changing that, taking that day’s ruins out of storage and rekindling memory. The lucky few who see the exhibit during its short run will be reminded that there are things more important than whether the president addresses Congress on a Wednesday or a Thursday.
Consider the simple postcard, written by Georgetown economist Leslie Whittington to her sister and brother-in-law, as Whittington, her husband and their 8- and 3-year-old daughters headed off to Australia for a sabbatical. The card, postmarked Sept. 12 at Dulles Airport, must have been mailed just before the family boarded American Flight 77. The note says, in its entirety:
Dear Sara & Jay,
Well, we’re off to Australia. When we return we will have a new address (as of 11/30): 8034 Glendale Rd. Chevy Chase, MD 20815
We don’t know our phone # yet. While we are in “Oz”, email will work best for contacting us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love, Leslie, Chas, Zoe & Dana
I thought about Sara receiving that postcard from her dead sister, and about those little girls who never made it to Glendale Road – because of 19 evil men and a government distracted by less important things.
Then I went out onto Constitution Avenue, where, across from the museum, a bus labeled “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” had just parked.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 2, 2011
Koch Industries Lobbying Aggressively To Allow Safety Loopholes At Chemical Sites At Risk Of Terrorist Attacks
One of the largest private companies in the country, Koch Industries, is fighting tooth and nail against regulations aimed at protecting the United States from a terrorist attack on chemical plants, according to a new report. Since 9/11, homeland security officials have worked to establish rules for top chemical producers to ensure that major American plants identify vulnerabilities and shore up potential risks. However, the safety rules are costly, and as Greenpeace reveals in a study released today, Koch has used its influence in Congress to loosen enforcement on its own sprawling network of chemical facilities.
There are two bills that deal with industrial chemical safety standards and terrorism prevention. One bill, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standard (CFATS), will “exempt most facilities and actually prohibit the authority of Department of Homeland Security to require safer processes.” Another bill, the Continuing Chemical Facilities Antiterrorism Security Act (CCFASA), closes security loopholes and provides authorities the power to enforce the law on chemical manufacturers. Koch has pushed for an extension of CFATS and has unambiguously lobbied to kill the CCFASA bill.
John Aloysius Farrell, Ben Wieder and Evan Bush, reporters for iWatch News, have covered the issue and note the proximity of Koch’s most dangerous facilities to large population centers:
– An Invista chemical plant in LaPorte, Texas, where a spill and vaporization of formaldehyde could threaten almost 1.9 million potential victims within 25 miles.
– A Georgia-Pacific plant in Camas, Wash., where a chlorine spill and gas cloud could endanger 840,000 people within 14 miles.
– A Flint Hills refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, where 350,000 people living within 22 miles would be threatened by a hydrogen fluoride spill and vaporization.
– And a Koch Nitrogen plant in East Alton, Ill., where 290,000 people live within 11 miles, and face the potential danger of a poisonous anhydrous ammonia cloud.
Koch’s campaign donations appear closely aligned with their anti-terrorism prevention lobbying. For instance, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), the lead author of the flawed CFATS extension, blocked amendments to the bill that would “require facilities to asses their ability to convert to safer chemical processes, close regulatory loopholes, and involve non-management level workers in the chemical security process.” Lungren has accepted over $22,000 from Koch-related campaign donations.
By: Lee Fang, Think Progress, August 24, 2011
We have a tendency to elect presidents who seem like the antitheses of their immediate predecessors — randy young Kennedy the un-Eisenhower, earnest truth-telling Carter the un-Nixon, charismatic Reagan the un-Carter, randy young Clinton the un-H.W. Bush, cool and cerebral Obama the un-W.
So Rick Perry fits right into that winning contrapuntal pattern. He’s the very opposite of careful and sober and understated, in his first days as an official candidate suggesting President Obama maybe doesn’t love America (“Go ask him”) and that loose monetary policy is “treasonous.” (“Look, I’m just passionate about the issue,” he explained later about his anti-Federal Reserve outburst, before switching midsentence to first-person plural, “and we stand by what we said.”)
Yet the most troubling thing about Perry (and Michele Bachmann and so many more), what’s new and strange and epidemic in mainstream politics, is the degree to which people inhabit their own Manichaean make-believe worlds. They totally believe their vivid fictions.
Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. Perry is even entitled to his opinion that states such as Texas might want to secede, as he threatened at a Tea Party rally two years ago. But he’s not entitled to his own facts. “When we came into the nation in 1845,” he’d earlier told some bloggers visiting his office, “we were a republic. We were a stand-alone nation. And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.” That special opt-out provision is entirely fiction, a Texas myth the governor of Texas apparently thinks is real.
Perry also believes in the fiction of intelligent design. Campaigning in New Hampshire, he said that in Texas public schools, “we teach both creationism and evolution” — an assertion that’s a fiction itself; last month the Texas Board of Education unanimously rejected creationist biology textbooks. In Iowa, Perry served up a fresh viral-Internet fiction as his what-the-hell example of federal over-regulation — a new rule forcing farmers to get special drivers’ licenses to drive tractors. In fact, the Obama administration had just taken the very opposite position, ruling that states should maintain “common sense exemptions” for tractor-driving farmers.
Sincere, passionate, hysterical belief that the country is full of (make-believe) anti-American enemies and (fictional) foreign horrors is the besetting national disease. And I’ve diagnosed the systemic problem: the American body politic suffers from autoimmune disorders.
It’s a metaphor, but it’s not a joke. I’ve read a lot about autoimmune diseases — the literal, medical kinds, also disconcertingly on the rise — because several members of my family have them. At some point, our bodies’ own immune systems went nuts, mistaking healthy pieces of our anatomies — a pancreas, a thyroid, a joint — for foreign tissue, dangerous enemies within, and proceeded to attack and try to destroy them. It’s as close to tragedy as biology gets.
Which is pretty much exactly what’s been happening the last decade in our politics. The Truthers decided the U.S. government was behind 9/11. Others decided our black president is definitely foreign-born and Muslim. Tea Party Republicans are convinced his administration is crypto-socialist and/or proto-fascist. The anti-Shariah people are terrified of the nonexistent threat of Islamic law infecting American jurisprudence. It’s now considered reasonable to regard organs and limbs of the federal government — the E.P.A., the education department, the Federal Reserve — as tumors that must be removed. Taxation itself is now considered a parasitic pathogen rather than a crucial part of our social organism.
Many autoimmune diseases of the literal kind, such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, are apparently triggered by stress. For the sociopolitical autoimmune epidemic, there are plenty of plausibly precipitating mega-stresses: the 9/11 attacks and the resulting wars, a decade of stagnant incomes, chronic job insecurity, hyper-connected digitalism, real estate wipeout, teetering financial system, take your pick.
Exposure to chemicals or infections also play a role in triggering autoimmune disorders. My pathogenic scheme’s got that, too: the new streams of iffy infopinion, via talk radio and cable news and the Web, seeping into our political bloodstream 24/7.
Of course, metaphors are just … metaphors. Maybe in 2031 we’ll look back and smile and shake our heads and see the pathology of this haywire age as more psychological than physiological, a temporary national nervous breakdown, like the late 1960s. But what if our current, self-destructive political dysfunction really is exactly like an autoimmune disorder? They are generally permanent, chronic conditions. Only some are debilitating, and most are treatable, but they are all incurable.
By: Kurt Anderson, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 19, 2011
A decidedly unremarkable event by past standards occurred yesterday. The U.S. government brought criminal terrorism charges in a New York City courtroom against a Somali man captured in the Gulf of Aden. This is the first prosecution in criminal court to happen during the Obama administration, but such cases have been a common and extremely successful feature of U.S. policy that passed without notice for decades. This move, however, has provoked the now-typical reaction from conservatives who reflexively oppose every Obama administration action as a radical departure from U.S. norms that threatens the security of the nation. That’s ridiculous, and these conservatives risk U.S. security by pushing to remove a very powerful weapon against terrorists.
Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame was reportedly seized in April onboard a ship in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen. He is charged with conspiracy and providing material support to terrorist groups—in this case the Somali-based al-Shabaab and the Yemeni-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.
The Obama administration revealed that Warsame was held on a U.S. Navy ship for two months and interrogated by the High-Value Interrogation Group, the team drawn from numerous frontline U.S. government agencies established by the Obama administration specifically to question suspected high-ranking terrorists. This produced significant information outlining a deeper connection between al-Shabaab and AQAP than previously known. U.S. officials reportedly discussed all options for Warsame’s future and unanimously decided on criminal prosecution.
Warsame’s trial in New York City is like many previous instances when individuals were seized abroad and brought to the United States to face terrorism charges in criminal court. The most recent similar case dates from the Bush administration, when Afia Siddique was detained in Afghanistan by U.S. troops in 2008 for attempting to shoot U.S. military personnel. She was quickly brought to New York, convicted, and sentenced to 86 years in prison. During the Clinton administration, Mir Aimal Kasi stood outside CIA headquarters in Virginia in 1995 and murdered two CIA employees as they drove into work. He was captured in Pakistan in 1997 and brought to Virginia for trial, convicted of murder, and executed in 2002.
Neither of these cases or the others like them produced negative responses from conservatives. Once the Obama administration did it, however, conservatives were outraged.
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that “Congress has spoken clearly multiple times … of the perils of bringing terrorists onto U.S. soil.”
What perils? There has never been a terrorist attack related to the trial or incarceration of terrorists in the United States.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said, “A foreign national who fought on behalf of al Shabaab in Somali—and who was captured by our military overseas—should be tried in a military commission, not a federal civilian court in New York or anywhere else in our country.”
Forcing all prosecutions of suspected terrorists into military commissions has political appeal because it sounds tougher than using criminal courts. But let’s look closer at that military commission option.
First off, Warsame has been charged only with conspiracy and military support for terrorism. Those offenses are available in military commissions but neither has ever been considered a war crime. For that reason, the Department of Justice believes that convictions on those offenses in military commissions are susceptible to being overturned on appeal.
Further, the extremely short record of military-commissions cases based on conspiracy or material support reveals that those convicted receive short sentences and are quickly transferred back to their home countries and released. The most famous of these cases was that of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver, who was sentenced to only five additional months in custody. The Bush administration sent him home to Yemen soon after.
U.S. criminal courts, on the other hand, have an excellent record at convicting terrorists. In a case analogous to Hamdan’s, Ali Asad Chandia was convicted in 2006 of providing material support for terrorism for driving a member of Lashkar-e-Taibi from Washington National Airport to spots around the D.C. area. His sentence was 15 years. So bin Laden’s driver got five months from a military commission but driving an unknown member of a lesser-known terrorist group resulted in a 15-year sentence in a criminal court.
Since the 9/11 attacks, U.S. criminal courts have locked up more than 200 individuals on terrorism charges while military-commissions convictions can be counted on one hand.
American presidents of both parties have relied on criminal courts for decades because they are extremely effective at convicting suspected terrorists and have an excellent record of producing reliable and actionable intelligence information. Today’s conservatives are trying to deny the U.S. government this valuable tool because they are more interested in using political weapons against President Barack Obama than counterterrorism weapons against America’s enemies.
By: Ken Gude, Managing Director of the National Security and International Policy Program, Center for American Progress, July 6, 2011