9/11 and the Public’s Right to Know

by Will Bunch

Philadelphia Daily News

March 25, 2005

It has been more than three and a half years since the terror attacks of Sept. 11. The main perpetrators have been ID’d by the government and died in the suicide assault, and key planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is also in custody.

Yet both the federal government and New York officials continue to block the public’s right to know more about what really happened that day — even though it’s the family members of the victims of the tragic attack now pleading for a fuller public account.

In blocking the free exchange of information, public officials are heavily damaging one of the key democratic values that the terrorists themselves so badly wanted to knock down on 9/11/01. The latest blow came yesterday from a New York courtroom:

The emergency phone calls made by people trapped inside the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, need not be released to the public, a New York court ruled Thursday.

The New York State Court of Appeals declined to grant the wish of September 11 families who joined in a lawsuit seeking release of all tapes and transcripts of calls made from inside the Twin Towers to 9-1-1 operators.

“We are not persuaded that such disclosure is required by the public interest,” the judges said in their ruling.

Instead, it agreed only to the release of calls from any relatives of the eight families who joined a lawsuit, originally filed by The New York Times as part of a request under the freedom of information law…

But, as the article notes lower down, not one single 9/11 family has opposed releasing the tapes.

Indeed, were it not for the families, we’d still know next to nothing about what really happened. The much-praised 9/11 Commission — which was far from perfect but at least a start — only came about because of pressure from the families. And although the government has still not released a transcript from the Flight 93 cockpit voice recorder to the public — as was done in every other major U.S. aviation accident in modern times — at least it allowed willing family members to hear the tape…only after howls of protest from those who lost loved ones.

We can think of nothing good that comes from such excessive 9/11 secrecy. Instead, the stench of a cover-up has allowed some of the worst conspiracy theories to fester on the Web, impossible to swat away without what should be the readily available facts.

What’s missing from the public record? Tapes that might show Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon on 9/11. A better explanation of what really happened to the voice and data records from Flight 77 and the two WTC jetliners. A better accounting of why NORAD didn’t respond properly to the attacks, and what the heck Donald Rumsfeld was doing during all this time, besides scheming to attack Saddam Hussein.

That’s just a start.

This fall, the governmemt is supposed to finally try Zacarias Moussaoui, wrongly labelled the 20th hijacker, in a court of law. The Moussaoui case has been one of the lamer excuses the government has used to withhold records that have nothing to do with the criminal case. The trial is a chance for the government to finally add to the public record.

We’re not holding our breath.


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