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Q&A: 20th Anniversary of 9/11

With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa

Senator Grassley

Q: What goes through your mind two decades after 9/11?

A: As the world observes the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it’s notable that an entire generation of Americans was born after the horrific terror attacks. No matter if you watched it unfold on television in real time or read about it in school, it’s still inconceivable that hijackers jetted across New York City’s skyline on a sky blue September morning and struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. A third jet was plunged into the Pentagon and a fourth crash-landed in a rural field in Pennsylvania. For those old enough to bear witness to 9/11 in 2001, it was a traumatizing moment in history, exposing the odious divide between good and evil in the world. In the 20 years to follow, many Americans report a lingering vulnerability that ranks among the most consequential events of their lifetimes.

The deadliest terror attacks on U.S. soil killed nearly 3,000 people, leaving behind grief-stricken loved ones and the gruesome business of rescue and recovery. The attack also sickened or killed thousands of Americans, including first responders, years later after they suffered from medical ailments, such as cancer, connected to inhaling toxic dust from the towers falling. By all accounts, these were horrific crimes shattering a collective sense of security and invincibility among freedom-loving Americans. And yet, amidst one of the darkest chapters in our history, America’s resilience and solidarity rose to the occasion. On that day, the world watched an inferno of terror become Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. In the weeks to follow, we heard stories of grief and devastation from survivors, widows, orphans and co-workers. We also learned about the epic heroism of first responders who climbed up the stairs to save lives and the uncommon bravery of passengers and crew members who charged the cockpit aboard Flight 93.

In the past two decades, I’ve supported legislation to beef up homeland security, fight the War on Terror and reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund to help first responders and survivors pay for medical expenses. We must uphold our promises to the men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East. The chaotic withdrawal of the U.S. military last month from Afghanistan that left Americans and Afghan allies behind enemy lines is an unconscionable lapse in leadership by President Biden. To the veterans who sacrificed life and limb in Afghanistan and the American taxpayer who spent trillions of dollars to finance the overseas military operations, the mismanaged exit is a disgrace. U.S. military assets are now in the hands of the Taliban and Afghanistan will likely reemerge as a safe haven for terrorists. The botched exit gives the Biden administration a self-inflicted black eye. What’s much worse, it will have consequential impact on our national security and strategic alliances in the years to come.

Q: What’s the 9/11 Transparency Act?

A: As a watchdog for good government, my legislative and oversight work promotes transparency of the people’s business. Transparency brings accountability. From protecting whistleblowers to beefing up the Freedom of Information Act and putting teeth in the financial audits of government agencies, sunshine laws help root out wrongdoing and wasteful spending. For nearly 20 years, 9/11 survivors and victims’ families have sought to bring to justice all of the perpetrators of the terror attacks. The federal government has kept secret much of the 9/11 records that these families and the American public are entitled to see. The American public still doesn’t have a full picture of everything that led to the horrific attacks or if anything got swept under the rug afterwards. The families and American people have a right to know. My bipartisan bill would ensure the Department of Justice, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Director of National Intelligence declassify, as appropriate, the documents that could identify additional co-conspirators. These agencies must provide Congress with justification if they decide not to declassify a document or record. One week before the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and after pressure from 9/11 families, President Biden signed an executive order modeled after our bipartisan bill. I’m glad the curtain will begin to be pulled back on the 9/11 records. These families have every right to seek justice. If declassified records can help them have their day in court, we have a responsibility as stewards of good government to uphold the principle of transparency and accountability. After 20 years of secrecy, it’s about time for everyone involved in the funding, planning and perpetrating of these horrific acts of terrorism to be held accountable.