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DeSantis Joins 9/11 Families at Ground Zero, Backs Calls for Transparency and accountability
On September 11, 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis spent several hours at the 9/11 memorial in New York City alongside families who lost loved ones in the 2001 terror attacks. The visit came on the 22nd anniversary of 9/11 and allowed DeSantis to hear firsthand from those impacted as they continue seeking full transparency from the government surrounding the events leading up to the tragedy.
DeSantis has voiced support for the families' push for disclosure of classified documents that may reveal connections between the Saudi Arabian government and the 9/11 hijackers. The families believe Saudi officials were complicit in the attacks, while the Saudis vehemently deny any government involvement.
DeSantis Tours Memorial with "9/11 Justice" Group
The Republican governor was escorted throughout the memorial by members of the organization 9/11 Justice, which represents families accusing Saudi Arabia of enabling the 9/11 plot. The group had previously visited DeSantis in Florida over Memorial Day weekend earlier this year.
DeSantis and his wife Casey spent around three hours touring the memorial site and museum with 9/11 Justice members including Dennis McGinley, who lost his brother Daniel in the World Trade Center collapse. The governor asked many questions and appeared genuinely moved by the experience according to McGinley.
Standing with the group at ceremonies, DeSantis heard the reading of victims' names and viewed the reflecting pools and museum exhibits. By directly engaging with the families, he gained deeper insight into their grief and their two-decade fight for answers.
Continued Push for Document Declassification
While president, Donald Trump pledged to help the 9/11 families by declassifying secret documents that might uncover more Saudi links to the hijackers. However, his administration did not follow through on releasing substantial new information.
Upon urging from the families, DeSantis issued a statement on September 11, 2023 calling for full transparency and accountability relating to the attacks. He asserted that the U.S. government still owes clarity to the grieving families after broken promises by past politicians.
DeSantis also condemned potential plea deals for five accused co-conspirators, saying the public deserves "maximum lawful punishment" and a transparent trial that could produce more revelations about 9/11 planning. The families had previously felt spurned by Trump over his Saudi-backed golf dealings.
Ongoing Dispute Over Saudi Arabia's Role
The precise role of Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 attacks remains a charged political controversy even 22 years later. The Saudi government staunchly denies any ties to the hijackers or Al Qaeda and rejects accusations of enabling the tragedy.
But U.S. intelligence has established links between the hijackers and Saudi associates. An FBI report declassified in 2021 importantly highlighted support given to the first two 9/11 hijackers upon their arrival in the U.S. by Saudi nationals.
While Saudi officials were not directly implicated, the kingdom's credibility on outright denying any government-related support for Al Qaeda has been weakened. The 9/11 families maintain that more classified evidence could bring hidden details into the light.
Balance of U.S. Strategic Interests
Successive U.S. administrations have tread cautiously on confronting Saudi Arabia too forcefully on the 9/11 issue, knowing the U.S. depends heavily on the Saudis for counterterrorism cooperation, regional security, oil exports, and an important Muslim ally against Iran.
But the families of 9/11 victims argue that geopolitics should not override the need for justice and complete transparency on who enabled the murder of thousands of innocent Americans on U.S. soil. They criticize Washington's "soft glove" handling of the authoritarian Saudis.
DeSantis expressed willingness to challenge this delicate balance and prioritize uncovering the full 9/11 story over kowtowing to Saudi interests. His hard-line stance may act as a political counterweight to Biden administration foreign policy.
Lingering Grief and Anger Among Families
For many survivors of those killed on 9/11, their grief remains an open wound two decades later without definitive answers surrounding the attacks that killed loved ones. Most bitterly reject any notion of the Saudis as victims wrongly accused.
Family members like McGinley and Eagleson channel their enduring grief and anger into advocacy groups like 9/11 Justice that apply public and political pressure seeking full accountability. But patience is waning over government inaction and secrecy.
DeSantis' attentiveness appears to acknowledge their profound pain and need for closure. The governor lacks direct authority over national security matters but can amplify these families' voices.
Opposing Stance to Trump on 9/11 Issues
Former President Donald Trump also met with and voiced support for some 9/11 families as a 2016 candidate. However, their disaffection with his failure to unlock secrets during his presidency differentiates Trump from DeSantis.
Whereas Trump placed strategic alliance with the Saudis first, DeSantis is signaling a more uncompromising pursuit of transparency to help 9/11 survivors find peace. His promise to shake up Washington's tolerance of Saudi evasiveness makes a clear break from Trump's position.
DeSantis seems cognizant that the 9/11 families' endorsement carries significant emotional and moral weight in his broader political efforts. Trump's perceived abandonment of these families presents political vulnerability that DeSantis appears eager to exploit.
Declassification Demands Add Pressure on Biden
In demanding full declassification, the 9/11 families have gained a prominent conservative ally to counterbalance any Biden administration reluctance on exposing Saudi ties.
With DeSantis amplifying their message, the White House faces heightened bipartisan pressure to air remaining secrets instead of shielding strategic Saudi relations. Grassroots advocacy now has prominent governmental support.
The 9/11 families recognize DeSantis cannot directly declassify documents. But his bully pulpit can compel President Biden to heed families' cries for transparency and override objections from security agencies. Mobilizing public opinion becomes their weapon.
Lingering Questions Need Resolution
Two decades later, the 9/11 attacks remain shrouded in troubling unanswered questions largely due to excessive government secrecy:
- How much Saudi officials knew of the unfolding plots.
- Who provided financial and logistical support for the hijackers.
- Why early warnings went unheeded by intelligence agencies.
- What intelligence failures allowed such security lapses.
While the full truth may prove elusive, the 9/11 families deserve an honest accounting. DeSantis understands that protecting U.S. strategic partnerships cannot justify suppressing evidence on the murder of thousands. For far too long, political expedience has overridden moral clarity on 9/11. That may finally change with DeSantis adding his influential voice to the families' crusade for transparency.
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