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Editorial: Declassify, release secret Sept. 11 pages

The 28 still-classified pages from a congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are "very disturbing" to read, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan told the Duluth News Tribune editorial board earlier this month during an exclusive interview.

But every American has a right to read them, Nolan said, calling for them to be declassified and released to the public. Transparency-demanding, freedom-loving Americans interested in holding government accountable can enthusiastically join the congressman’s call. They can insist on being allowed access to documents that reportedly describe in detail who financed the hijackers and who ultimately was responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in the fall of 2001. It’s crazy the American public still doesn’t know.

"I can’t tell you who it was without going to jail myself because it’s all classified. But why should I know and you don’t know, huh?" Nolan asked after being one of only a few lawmakers granted special security clearance to a locked and guarded room under the U.S. Capitol where he read the secret pages from the 9/11 Commission’s official report.

"They have the names of the people who sent the money. They have account numbers. They have who the money went to by name, by account numbers (and) by amounts. It’s not idle speculation — and it’s not who we were told it was," Nolan said.

Meaning, it can be assumed, it was not Iraq or Afghanistan who was responsible, even though the U.S. went to war with both nations shortly after Sept. 11.

"Will reading those pages affect your understanding of all this? I would think so," Nolan said. "How do the American people know who to support (going) to war against and what kind of foreign policy (they) want if they’re not being told the truth? People can come to erroneous conclusions if you don’t have all the facts and all the information."

The possibility of spreading inaccurate information has been a reason given by top government officials for keeping the pages private. They could reveal "sources and methods that would make it harder for us to win the war on terror," former President George W. Bush has said, according to a Minnesota Public Radio report in April.

The page’s contents are "not corroborated, not vetted and not deemed to be accurate," CIA Director John Brennan has insisted, according to numerous news reports.

"I think some people may seize upon that uncorroborated, un-vetted information … to point to Saudi involvement, which I think would be very, very inaccurate," Brennan said on NBC’s "Meet the Press" in late May.

If preserving relations with the Saudis is the concern, why is the U.S. worried? The Saudis have said for years they support releasing the 28 pages, the New York Times reported in May. The Saudis are more concerned about a U.S. Senate vote last month to change foreign sovereign immunity laws, giving the families of those killed on Sept. 11 the opportunity to sue Saudi Arabia in federal court. If the House passes a similar measure and it’s signed by the president, the Saudis have said they may be forced to remove hundreds of billions of dollars in investments from the U.S., harming the American economy.

Regardless of how that turns out, full disclosure of the classified pages remains the right move. If information on those pages isn’t accurate, the American people can be told that while being given access to the full report.

"You know, I’ve got great confidence in the American people," Nolan said. "But if you keep them from the real facts and the real knowledge, you run into all kinds of problems. … People have a right to know about critical stuff like this."

Will it happen?

"I think there’s a good chance," the congressman said. "(President Barack) Obama is considering it, and that’s what our resolution is calling on him to do. … A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but (full knowledge) is being withheld from us."

That can be changed. Americans can join Nolan and others in demanding declassification.