United States President Joe Biden has signed an executive order directing the declassification of certain documents relating to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The move has been seen as a supportive gesture to families of the victims who have long sought access to the records in the hopes of implicating the Saudi government.
The order, signed just over a week before the 20th anniversary of the attacks, marks a major milestone in a years-long battle between the US government and families over what information about the build-up to the attacks has been made public.
The conflict made headlines last month when some 1,800 relatives, survivors, and emergency service workers opposed Mr Biden’s participation in 9/11 events if the documents remained as they are.
“The significant events in question occurred two decades ago or longer, and they concern a tragic moment that continues to resonate in American history and in the lives of so many Americans,” the executive order states.
“It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States Government maximises transparency, relying on classification only when narrowly tailored and necessary.”
The order directs the Justice Department and other executive branch agencies to begin a declassification review and requires that declassified documents be released over the next six months.
Still, the practical impact of the executive order and any new documents it might yield was not immediately clear.
Past investigations have outlined ties between Saudi nationals and some of the airplane hijackers, but have not established the government was directly involved. How the release of any previously withheld documents might change that assessment is not known.
The Justice Department revealed last month that the FBI had recently concluded an investigation that examined certain 9/11 hijackers and potential co-conspirators, and that it would now work to see if it could share information that it had previously determined could not be disclosed.
But, the families said on Thursday, “thus far, no additional substantive material has been produced, and the FBI has not agreed to make a further effort to find its missing documents”.
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