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Editorial: Declassifying 9/11 documents

The Obama administration has a lackluster track record when it comes to transparency and open government. Even the Washington Post noted last year that the president “falls short” of delivering on his ambitious vow of an “unprecedented level of openness.”

Mr. Obama, however, now has an opportunity to make progress in this realm by releasing 28 pages of previously classified documents from the bipartisan congressional investigation into 9/11. The Bush administration withheld the papers from the final report, citing a concern that they could compromise intelligence gathering methods.

More likely, they were kept from the American public in an effort to appease Saudi Arabia, which many suspect of having at least indirectly funded some of those involved in the terror attack.

Recent news reports indicate that President Obama has asked intelligence officials to review the documents to determine whether they can be declassified. “When that is done, we’d expect that there will be some degree of declassification that provides more information,” Ben Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser, said last week.

The move is long overdue.

“I hope the decision is to honor the American people and make it available,” Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida who co-chaired the 9/11 panel, said over the weekend on “Meet the Press.”

While no documents, testimony or historical perspective can ever squelch the fervor and fantasies of the most rabid conspiracy theorists, release of the papers might help dispel the unfortunate and unfounded notion that the federal government was somehow complicit in the tragedy or has something to hide. A continued resistance to providing this information to the public will only further fuel skepticism and distrust.

Those who have seen the papers indicate they may prompt questions about the relationship some Saudi officials had with the 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi nationals. “We did not discover … Saudi government involvement at the highest level of the 9/11 attacks,” former congressman Tim Roemer, a member of the 9/11 panel, told the Associated Press. But “we certainly did not exonerate the Saudis. … Saudi was a fertile ground for fundraising for al-Qaida.”

The AP reports that the Saudis claim they welcome the release of the documents as a means to “allow us to respond to any allegations in a clear and credible manner.” Fine, but who cares? At this point, the Obama administration should be more concerned about providing Americans access to relevant papers offering insight into the country’s deadliest terror attack than about shielding an ally from potential embarrassment.

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