Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie supports getting the COVID-19 vaccine, but he thinks President Joe Biden’s new mandate for private employers is “on shaky ground” legally.
“Working for the government and ordering government workers to have a mandate, there is one thing,” Christie said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
“Extending that to two-thirds of all the jobs and make it either get vaccinated or not, it’s also contradictory logically,” Christie said.
The White House last week rolled out a new series of rules in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus, as cases again surgeand the vaccination rate in the country far too low to support herd immunity. Biden’s new rules require private employers with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccines or weekly testing. Federal employees and healthcare workers are also required to be vaccinated, per Biden’s new plan. The administration will also enforce fines of up to $14,000 per violation for employers that ignore these mandates.
“I think they’re really on shaky ground as to whether they can force this or not. So, it’s subject to legal challenge,” Christie said. The government needs to be “persuasive” but “let people get vaccinated on their own accord,” he added.
Christie tweeted out a video of himself speaking at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, where he said the Republican Party should disassociate with Trump. He called Trump’s supporters “conspiracy theorists.”
“The Democrats will not be defeated without sound alternatives to their flawed ideas,” Christie tweeted with the video. “Calling them wrong is not enough. Calling them names is immature & ineffective. Pretending we won when we lost is a waste of time, energy & credibility.”
Some on Twitter criticized Christie for sharing the video on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 instead of writing something in remembrance. Some called him “tone deaf” and replied with comments like “this is what you choose to put out on 9.11?” and “it could have waited a day.”
Many family businesses are passed down from generation to generation, like an heirloom or secret recipe. They aren’t typically inherited through tragedy. But taking over two businesses before the age of 25 is a responsibility Kaley Young, now 28, says she assumed in order to keep the legacy of her parents, Beth and Keith, alive.
At 19, she began running her mother’s Long Island Pilates studio, Hot Pilates Secret, after Beth died of breast cancer. And at 24, after Keith, a first responder to the 9/11 attacks, died of a rare form of cancer, she took over his cutting-board business, Cup Board Pro.
“It feels like an honor to be able to have done that,” Young said of taking over the family’s businesses. “There’s so much love that they poured into what they both did.”
Today, a family friend runs Hot Pilates Secret, and Cup Board Pro, led by Young, has a licensing deal with the home-goods company Williams Sonoma. In channeling her own grief into passion projects, Young has continued a family legacy that spans generations and exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit of seeking growth through loss.
“This isn’t just about Kaley picking up the baton from her mom and dad. This is who she was meant to be,” said Matt Higgins, a guest judge on “Shark Tank” who invested in Cup Board Pro. “There’s a lot more happening here than a family running with their parents’ dream.”
An entrepreneurial spirit from a young age
Young is the oldest of three siblings – her brother, Christian, is 24, and her sister, Keira, is 18 – and grew up watching her parents chase their professional passions. Early on, Beth harbored dreams of opening her own dance and Pilates studios, while Keith worked as a firefighter.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Keith had just put Kaley and Christian on the bus for school when he learned of the attacks. He raced to his station in Brooklyn but was instructed to stay put. Fueled with tense energy, he started cooking.
When the family bought their dream home in Wantagh, on Long Island, Beth turned her aspirations into a reality. The house came with a backyard barn that Beth converted into a dance studio before launching Hot Pilates Secret.
As Young tells it, the studio was a way for Beth to cope with the loss of her own father, who also died of cancer, and help others heal physically and emotionally. She’d often tell Young, “you have to sweat to destress.”
Young began assisting her mother with the business when she was a high school freshman and was managing it by the time she was a junior. In 2011, Beth was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer but didn’t want to close the studio and place of healing she created. Young kept the business, and Beth’s dreams, alive as her mother sought treatment.
The same year, Young enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York to study graphic design. In the fall of Young’s sophomore year, the cancer overtook Beth’s body. After her mother’s death, Young had to decide between continuing school and pausing to support her family. Her father still needed someone to run the studio, which helped pay the mortgage on their house, and care for her siblings.
“I felt honored that my dad trusted me enough to continue it and so many people in our community believed in me as well,” Young said.
With a promise to herself that she’d complete her degree one day, Young left school. Back at home, she grew Hot Pilates Secret by offering teacher training and yoga retreats. But taking over the studio this time wasn’t just about fulfilling her mother’s dreams; it helped Young cope.
“After my mom passed away, I continued her Pilates studio as my own healing,” Young said. “I was mourning my mom at her studio.”
Some people, like Young, process loss by turning their negative energy from grief into creative work, explained Dr. Shelley Carson, a lecturer at Harvard University, in an article for the meditation and mindfulness app Headspace. “Research shows that the mere expression of emotion in artistic form when you are hurting is beneficial,” she told Headspace.
From first shipments to ‘Shark Tank’
Beth’s studio wasn’t Young’s only side project. While still in high school, she also lent her entrepreneurial talents to her father’s burgeoning business, Cup Board Pro, a cutting board with a detachable pocket for scraps. Her father created the tool based on his experiences in the kitchen and asked Young to create a website and shoot promotional videos.
The duo paused their work on Cup Board Pro to tend to Beth’s illness, but a year after Beth’s death, Keith was invited to appear on Food Network’s cooking-competition show “Chopped.” He became a two-time champion of the show, which gave him the confidence to revisit the company.
His first shipment of 2,000 cutting boards arrived in December 2015, the same month he received a terrible diagnosis of his own: He had synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the body’s soft tissues, almost surely a result of his rescue efforts after 9/11. Keith died in March 2018 and, once again, Young vowed to fulfill her parent’s dream.
Opportunity quickly came knocking – or calling.
One month after Keith’s death, producers from “Shark Tank” contacted Young about coming on the show. “It felt like that was a sign from our dad to continue it,” Young said. “‘Shark Tank’ was the show he dreamt about going on.”
In October, the episode featuring Young and her siblings premiered. All five celebrity investors were visibly moved by their story and impressed by the quality of the product, especially the logo, which noted that 343 firefighters died on 9/11. They were also encouraged to know Young and her siblings had sold 300 cutting boards in the weeks before filming.
Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary, and Higgins made an extremely rare decision to partner on an offer, proposing a $100,000 investment for 20% equity, just 10% more than the trio’s initial ask. The sharks also promised to donate any profits from their stake in Cup Board Pro to a charity that supported firefighters who were sick from 9/11. After filming, John helped the trio snag a licensing deal from Williams Sonoma.
“You think about all of the inflection points an entrepreneur goes to that makes the difference in the outcome,” said Higgins, cofounder of venture-capital firm RSE Ventures and former press secretary for New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. “To pick herself back up, three months after her dad died, and end up on that set is extraordinary.”
Fulfilling a dream of her own
A licensing deal with Williams Sonoma allowed Young to take a step back from Cup Board Pro. She’s still the owner but doesn’t have to manage the day-to-day operations of the business. Additionally, Williams Sonoma helped scale the product by offering different colors and sizes, which sell for $70-$100.
“We were so impressed by Kaley, and it was so clear she’s taking charge of that family professionally and personally,” said Kendall Coleman, the director of public relations at Williams Sonoma. “She’s not just the big sister; she’s the boss.”
Young returned to FIT in 2017, this time focusing on interior design, and completed her associate’s degree in 2019. The next year, she sold Hot Pilates Secret to family friend Chrissi Forde. (Young and Forde wouldn’t disclose the details of the deal.)
“I had it for seven years, and it was an incredible seven years,” Young said, “but I knew it was my time to grow a little more.”
For Young, that meant finally focusing on one of her professional dreams: starting a business of her own. In February 2020, she launched her interior-decorating company, Kaley Young Design. Today, she has six clients – the maximum number she can handle as a solo entrepreneur – and has a wait list of eager customers.
Despite entering a new chapter of her life, Young upholds her parents’ tradition of hosting Christmas for the family. She also created a tradition of her own: Loved ones now gather for dinner on her parents’ birthdays and “heaven anniversaries,” often pulling recipes from Keith’s cookbook, which will be re-released in October.
“It lets their spirits live on,” she said, “like they were here.”
On the morning of September 11, 2001, as Americans everywhere were shocked by the terror attack that would change the world, Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney and her wingman were airborne in their unarmed F-16 Fighting Falcons over Washington DC.
The plan was to sacrifice themselves to bring down Flight 93, the hijacked Boeing 757 headed for the nation’s Capitol.
Born to be a fighter pilot
Heather Penney was born on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near the tail end of the Vietnam War. Her father, Col. John Penney, was a pilot with multiple combat missions at the stick of America’s A-7 Corsair II under his belt.
The A-7 was a subsonic attack aircraft originally developed as a replacement for the U.S. Navy’s A-4 Skyhawk, but eventually found its way into Air Force hangers as their own A-1 Skyraider attack aircraft aged out of relevance. The A-7 wasn’t a fast and nimble fighter jet, so much as a reliable long-range bruiser that could deliver ordnance to ground targets with incredible precision compared to other platforms of its day.
Because of their role providing close air support in the unforgiving jungles of Southeast Asia, A-7 pilots had to be comfortable in the fray, literally flying their aircraft straight at enemy positions and opening fire with its M61A1 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon, or using its first-of-its-kind Heads Up Display (HUD) to drop unguided bombs with near-pinpoint accuracy.
Young Heather Penney grew up seeing her father in uniform and listening in as he and his friends told stories about their combat tours over Vietnam. In that environment, it may come as little surprise that she was drawn to aviation from an early age – particularly the powerful new generation of fighter jets that were just beginning to emerge at the time.
By the time Penney was 18 years old, she already had her private pilot’s license, but at the time, the United States didn’t allow women in combat roles. She knew that, regardless of her skill in an aircraft, following in her father’s footsteps simply wasn’t an option, so she enrolled at Purdue University. She chose to major in Literature, aiming for a career in education, rather than one 30,000 feet above a combat zone.
But shortly before Penney enrolled in graduate school, Congress reconsidered America’s position on women in combat. With bureaucracy no longer barring her from getting behind the stick of one of America’s top-tier jets, Penney headed straight for the local Air National Guard recruiting office when she heard.
“I signed up immediately,” Penney recalled. “I wanted to be a fighter pilot like my dad.”
The first female F-16 pilot in the 121st Fighter Squadron
Penney took to the F-16 just like she always knew she would, and before long, she was checking in at the 121st Fighter Squadron of the DC Air National Guard as the first female Viper pilot in the wing’s history.
On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, now-1st Lt. Penney arrived at work, grabbing a seat around the briefing table. She was just returning from two weeks of air combat training in Nevada, but in a very real way, Penney was still a rookie without much experience in the supersonic fighter.
And as luck would have it, that morning, “Lucky” wasn’t scheduled to fly at all.
“I could tell it’d be a gorgeous flying day, but I wasn’t going to be flying that morning,” Penney later recalled.
“I had called the tape the night before – we had an answering machine that had the next day’s flying schedule on it – and I wasn’t.”
America was a different place leading up to the attacks of September 11th. The Soviet Union had fallen a decade prior, and shortly thereafter the United States and its coalition allies had dominated the Iraqi military in the Gulf War. With the threat from a rising China still years away, America found itself an unmatched power in a historically stable world.
That stability was to be short-lived. At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11, a nearly 160-foot long Boeing 767 with 87 people on board, collided with the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
While today, there are always armed aircraft standing by for exactly such an attack, in a pre-9/11 world, that wasn’t the case at Andrews Air Force Base. There were no armed fighters, and no jets standing by to take off on short notice.
From peace to war in just 17 minutes
Everyone was immediately aware of the World Trade Center crash, but like most Americans at the time, they assumed it was nothing more than a tragic accident.
In fact many dismissed the story, assuming it had been a personal plane, like a small Cessna, that likely hit the building. But 17 minutes after the first aircraft hit the North Tower, another Boeing 767, this time United Airlines Flight 175, hit the South Tower. Most of the nation didn’t know it yet, but the pilots at Andrews Air Force Base did; America was at war.
“There was no perceived threat at the time, especially one coming from the homeland like that,” explained Col. George Degnon, former vice commander of the 113th Wing at Andrews Air Force Base.
“It was a little bit of a helpless feeling, but we did everything humanly possible to get the aircraft armed and in the air. It was amazing to see people react.”
‘Lucky, you’re coming with me’
At 9:37 a.m., a third hijacked aircraft, this time American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon, just a 30-minute drive from the briefing room where Penney sat.
Almost simultaneously, another message came through the pipeline: there was another hijacked aircraft in the air and it was heading for Washington DC.
Air Force personnel sprang into action, but despite their professionalism, confusion swelled within the ranks. No one had anticipated such an attack, and there were no standing procedures to follow. Penney knew the hijacked aircraft would have to be intercepted and shot down before it could reach a target like the Capitol building, but there were no armed F-16s standing by for the job.
Every Fighting Falcon on the tarmac was equipped with dummy rounds and fake munitions meant to mimic real ordnance for training. It would take at least an hour to get the ammunition changed out and have missiles mounted on the aircraft’s hardpoints.
“We know we have to get airborne. We know we have to protect. I was so eager, so impatient, and yet so frustrated and angry, because we couldn’t,” Penney said.
“As I said, we’re with the DC Guard. We’re not part of our nation’s alert squadron.”
But waiting an hour wasn’t an option. The United States was under attack and the men and women of Andrews Air Force Base may have been the only thing standing between the American Capitol and what was now a 250,000-pound missile full of innocent people heading straight for it.
Penney was too junior in rank to do anything about it, but just then, she caught the eye of Col. Marc “Sass” Sasseville.
He was scrambling to put on his flight suit, having just received the go-ahead from Vice President Dick Cheney to put fighters in the air and start searching for the hijacked airliner.
“Lucky, you’re coming with me,” the colonel shouted.
No time for checklists, let alone missiles
Jumping at the opportunity to get into the fight, Penney took off behind Sass, running to their respective F-16s. But the junior pilot had never had to scramble a fighter in combat conditions before.
Like any pilot, she deferred to her training, hurriedly beginning the checklist required to safely start an F-16 and get it ready to fly.
“Lucky, what are you doing? Get your butt up there and let’s go!” Sasseville shouted.
So Penney jumped into the cockpit, fired up her engines, and screamed to her ground crew to yank out the wheel chalks keeping the aircraft from rolling.
As she began to taxi down the runway, her crew chief still had his headphones plugged into the fuselage, allowing the two of them to communicate directly. He was still pulling safety pins out of the fighter as it rolled down the tarmac.
By the time her crew chief unplugged, Sass was already in the air. Penney whispered to herself, “God, don’t let me [expletive] up” and followed right behind. They had made it into the sky, and only then did the gravity of the situation begin to set in.
A one-way trip
Now airborne and on the hunt, Sasseville and Penney began to form a plan.
As they flew low over the smoldering Pentagon at over 400 mph, the senior pilot considered their options. He already knew that with no munitions on board, they were on a suicide mission. That wasn’t the part troubling him. It was the aerodynamic design of their target that gave him pause.
“We don’t train to bring down airliners,” said Sasseville in an interview in 2011.
“If you just hit the engine, it could still glide and you could guide it to a target. My thought was the cockpit or the wing.”
Penney did her best not to let the situation at the Pentagon affect her thinking.
“There was no way to avoid seeing the smoke that was billowing out of the building,” she said.
“I didn’t dwell on that because we had more important things to do. It was a completely surreal experience.”
While Sass will tell you that his plan was to eject just as his F-16 made contact with the Boeing 757, potentially giving him a small chance at surviving, Penney had done the same arithmetic in her head.
But with the stakes so high and her limited experience, she calmly decided that saving her own life simply wasn’t as important as stopping the airliner from hitting its target. She told herself that she wouldn’t bother trying to eject.
“I genuinely believed that was going to be the last time I took off,” she told the Washington Post. “If we did it right, this would be it.”
Both pilots scanned the skies for Flight 93, solemn in their determination to stop it from destroying America’s Capitol even at the cost of their own lives … But despite their heroic efforts, it was a different group of heroes that would stop the 757 from making it to Washington; the passengers on board.
‘The passengers on Flight 93 are the true heroes’
Penney and Sasseville may have been willing to give their lives to save others, but it was the passengers of Flight 93 who would make ultimately make that sacrifice.
As the two pilots scoured the skies over Washington DC, the people on board the Boeing 757 were getting word of other terrorist hijackings that had been crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. In order to prevent their own flight from becoming another such attack, a group of passengers decided to attempt to retake the plane.
A struggle ensued, and as the brave men and women of Flight 93 fought to retake the plane, the hijackers deliberately crashed it into the ground, killing everyone on board.
As Penney and Sasseville searched for their target, they wouldn’t know about the heroic last stand of the passengers of Flight 93 for hours to come.
“The passengers on Flight 93 are the true heroes. In the years since that bright, blue morning, I’ve come to realize that heroism isn’t something unique or possessed by only a chosen few,” Penney said.
Despite the tragedy of that day, Penney points out that Flight 93 stands as a shining example of what Americans will do to help one another, to save one another, when thrust into incredible circumstances.
“I still get really frustrated with the failures of the command and control and all of that, but what I now see that gives me tremendous hope is that they were willing to do what was unimaginable, and what they had not had time to think of,” she said.
“When you take that oath of office, when you choose and enter the military, you use that time to sort of meditate on what that might require. And they had to make that decision.”
You can read biographies of each person who died on Flight 93 here.
Penney would go on to serve two combat tours in Iraq during the Global War on Terror that would follow, eventually finding her way to Lockheed Martin as the director of T-50A and Aviation Training Systems, where she worked until 2018.
Today, she’s a senior resident fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. She remained in uniform for the Air National Guard until 2020.
You can watch Heather “Lucky” Penney discuss her experiences in the video below:
Last month, the Biden administration released a Moroccan man who had been held at Guantánamo Bay for nearly two decades without ever being charged with a crime.
Abdul Latif Nasser arrived at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba in 2002. The US accused him of being involved with the Taliban, but charges were never brought against him and he was cleared for release in 2016.
Nasser was one of many detained at Guantánamo without ever being charged with a crime. Of the 39 detainees that remain, 27 are held as Nassar was: as law-of-war detainees without charge or trial, according to The New York Times.
“They’re called forever prisoners, because they’ll be held forever,” Mark Denbeaux, a lawyer and law professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, told Insider, referring to those who have not been cleared for release.
Denbeaux, who served on the Obama transition team and was focused on the closure of Guantánamo, called the recent release “very significant.” He said he is confident President Joe Biden wants to continue the effort started by former President Barack Obama and close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp for good.
But between the forever prisoners and those awaiting trial, including some accused of involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it’s not a straightforward task.
Who the ‘forever prisoners’ are
The term forever prisoners refers to detainees who have not been charged and are never expected to face trial, but that the government deems too dangerous to release.
Kevin Powers, a lawyer, professor and director of the Cybersecurity Policy and Governance Program at Boston College, explained the detainees are not considered regular prisoners of war. Instead, they are classified as unlawful combatants, or alien unprivileged enemy belligerents.
Powers also worked as a legal adviser for the Department of Defense on some cases at Guantánamo Bay from 2011 to 2013.
“The reason they’re unlawful combatants is because they don’t follow the rules of combat under the international rule of war,” Powers told Insider. “So they’re not entitled to the rights of prisoners of war.”
Unlike with regular prisoners of war, he said, the US “can hold them without bringing charges or anything like that until the end of hostilities.”
So because the US is still considered at war with Al Qaeda and its allies, the government does not need to charge the detainees and can continue to hold them under international law of war as long as the war is ongoing.
Cleared for transfer but still awaiting release
Since 2013, a panel of six government agencies, including the CIA and the FBI, has occasionally reviewed detainee cases and authorized people for release. Acting similarly to a parole board, the Periodic Review Board has already cleared several detainees since Biden took office.
Of the 27 prisoners currently held without charges, 10 have been recommended for transfer, but even then their releases are delayed.
Upon release, detainees are typically sent to countries that have agreed to keep them under certain security arrangements required by the US. So before the releases can happen the US must come to a diplomatic agreement with another government that is willing to take them, be it the detainee’s home country or somewhere else entirely.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress in June the Biden administration is looking into appointing someone to work full-time on arranging the transfers and closing Guantánamo, The Times’ Carol Rosenberg reported.
Detainees accused of war crimes await trials under a military commission system
Others at Guantánamo have been charged with war crimes and are awaiting trial, some for many years.
Denbeaux said freeing the “forever prisoners” and those cleared for release is likely a simpler task than addressing those who have been charged with crimes.
That’s largely because the prisoners are not on trial in a US federal court. Under the Military Commissions Act of 2009, Guantánamo detainees are charged and tried by a military commission under a legal system established and run by the US military.
“Our American court systems work very, very well,” Denbeaux said, adding they were formed over the course of hundreds of years. But he said the military basically invented a new court system that still has a lot of kinks to work out.
Powers echoed those remarks. He commended the judges and lawyers working on the cases but said he didn’t think the current system was set up for success when it comes to the Guantánamo detainees.
“The federal courts are used to handling big litigations like this. The military commissions are new,” Powers said. “It was kind of like building the plane while you’re trying to fly it. It doesn’t work.”
Trial delays for the five men accused of plotting the 9/11 terrorist attacks
The most apparent example seems to be the case of Guantánamo’s most notorious prisoners, the five men accused of being involved in planning the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US that killed nearly 3,000 Americans two decades ago.
The men, captured in 2002 and 2003, are accused of directing or assisting the 19 hijackers who crashed four passenger planes on US soil within hours of each other on that day. Two flew into the World Trade Center, one crashed into the Pentagon, and another crashed into a Pennsylvania field. The charges include terrorism, murder in violation of the law of war, and conspiracy, which, if convicted, would result in the death penalty.
Despite the suspects being arraigned in 2012, the trial has been plagued by years of delays. Under the military commission system, prosecutors and defense attorneys have been arguing over what evidence is admissible in court, what can be withheld from the defense for security reasons, and even what laws apply, according to The Times.
The defense has argued testimony from FBI interrogations, the ones that did not include tactics like waterboarding or sleep deprivation, should be inadmissible because their clients were conditioned by torture to say what interrogators wanted to hear.
But Powers said the location alone may be the biggest reason the trials have progressed so slowly. The judges and lawyers are typically commuting to Cuba, a tropical island with unpredictable weather, for hearings and motions. He said a hearing may be held for a case once every other month.
If everyone, the judges, lawyers, and detainees, were all in one location, either in Cuba or in the US, “you could have regular motion practice every day,” he said.
But US politicians have long rejected the idea of trying or transferring the detainees onto American soil.
The trial has also been delayed by personnel turnover and the COVID-19 pandemic, The Times reported. And whenever the trial does happen, it could then go through years of appeals, potentially all the way up to the Supreme Court.
All things considered, the closing of the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay appears to be far out of reach.
The Biden administration announced on Monday that the Department of Justice would review a series of classified FBI documents with an eye towards disclosing them, hoping to head off a confrontation with 9/11 families and fulfill a campaign promise.
But both the families and top Democratic senators still say more should be done. Last week, a group of senators introduced the September 11 Transparency Act of 2021, a bipartisan bill backed by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that would mandate the CIA, the DOJ, and the Director of National Intelligence declassify documents that could reveal whether the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia played any role in the attacks.
“This announcement is a necessary but insufficient step towards transparency, accountability and above all, justice,” said Terry Strada, the national chair of 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism, in a press release. She also called it a “half-hearted, insufficient commitment to transparency.”
“Only quick passage of the 9/11 Transparency Act will ensure that the government carries out the full declassification review that is needed for the 9/11 community and the American people,” she also said.
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, one of the cosponsors of the transparency bill, also said the bill should still be passed. “I trust the Biden administration’s decisionmaking on matters of national security, but I think it’d be better to have to have clear law on transparency,” he told Insider.
“I think it’s a good first step,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, another co-sponsor of the bill. “But the documents should be released. I hope [the review] will result in the release of those documents.”
On Friday, nearly 1,700 loved ones of 9/11 victims released a letter to President Joe Biden telling him that unless he ordered the declassification of the documents, he will not be welcome at the 20th anniversary commemoration event in New York City next month.
“We cannot in good faith, and with veneration to those lost, sick, and injured, welcome the president to our hallowed grounds until he fulfills his commitment,” says the letter.
Fifteen of the 19 men who hijacked four airplanes on September 11, 2001 were Saudi citizens, and were part of the terror network led by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi expatriate from a family with extensive business ties to the country’s rulers. The 9/11 Commission found no evidence the Saudi government supported the attacks, but speculation has continued.
Biden had told 9/11 families last October, “I will direct my Attorney General to personally examine the merits of all cases where the invocation of privilege is recommended, and to err on the side of disclosure in cases where… the events in question occurred two decades or longer ago.”
In 2016, Congress overrode a veto by then-President Barack Obama to pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which opened the door for 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia for culpability in the terrorist attacks. As family members have sought to bring suit against the Kingdom in the wake of that legislation, the FBI has refused to cooperate, citing state secrets privilege.
While many of the family members have directly accused the Kingdom of playing a role in their loved ones’ deaths, senators have taken a more cautious approach.
In a brief interview, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York – another cosponsor of the transparency bill – said she’d personally reviewed the documents and believed that they should be released.
Asked whether she believed Saudi Arabia played a significant role in 9/11, she demurred. “I’m not going to speak to the content of these documents, but I will say that families… have a right to have access to the information,” she said.
“I think it’s important for us to get all the information out in the public sphere so that everybody can make that decision for themselves,” said Murphy. “There’s obviously some pretty troubling evidence that the Saudis had some connection to these individuals beyond just citizenship papers.”
Family member of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks asked President Joe Biden not to come to upcoming memorial events unless he declassifies documents related to the attacks.
The letter, which was signed by about 1,700 people and included first responders and survivors, asked Biden to release documents that they believe will show leaders of Saudi Arabia backed the attacks, Reuters reported.
Next month will mark 20 years since the September 11, 2001 attacks, when 19 hijackers crashed four passenger planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people.
“Six months ago the 9/11 community had great hopes that President Joe Biden would be the long lost champion of those directly affected by this murderous attack on our nation, finally placing the values of truth, justice, and accountability before the interests of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the letter said, according to The Washington Post.
While campaigning for president last fall, Joe Biden penned a letter to the families saying he would work with them and only withhold information “to the extent necessary to protect against the risk of significant harm to national security.” He also said his administration would “err on the side of disclosure.”
“Twenty years later, there is simply no reason – unmerited claims of ‘national security’ or otherwise – to keep this information secret,” the letter also said. “But if President Biden reneges on his commitment and sides with the Saudi government, we would be compelled to publicly stand in objection to any participation by his administration in any memorial ceremony of 9/11.”
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said during a news conference that Biden is still committed to working on the issue and that official have been meeting with the families, according to Reuters.
At the time of the raid, Biden was serving as vice president under then-President Barack Obama.
“Ten years ago, I joined President Obama and members of our national security team, crowded into the Situation Room to watch as our military delivered long-awaited justice to Osama bin Laden,” Biden said in a statement. “It is a moment I will never forget – the intelligence professionals who had painstakingly tracked him down; the clarity and conviction of President Obama in making the call; the courage and skill of our team on the ground.”
He added: “It had been almost ten years since our nation was attacked on 9/11 and we went to war in Afghanistan, pursuing al Qaeda and its leaders. We followed bin Laden to the gates of hell – and we got him.”
After the 9/11 terror attacks, the US invaded Afghanistan to bring down the terrorist organization Al Qaeda. The execution of bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011, was a major accomplishment for the Obama administration.
“We kept the promise to all those who lost loved ones on 9/11: that we would never forget those we had lost, and that the United States will never waver in our commitment to prevent another attack on our homeland and to keep the American people safe,” Biden continued in his statement.
Since bin Laden’s death, the US has reduced the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan, and Biden has committed to withdrawing troops from the country by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
“As we bring to an end America’s longest war and draw down the last of our troops from Afghanistan, al Qaeda is greatly degraded there,” Biden said. “But the United States will remain vigilant about the threat from terrorist groups that have metastasized around the world.”
He added: “We will continue to monitor and disrupt any threat to us that emerges from Afghanistan. And we will work to counter terrorist threats to our homeland and our interests in cooperation with allies and partners around the world.”
Biden ended his statement by thanking the service members that have valiantly fought to protect the US.
“We will continue to honor all the brave women and men, our military, our intelligence and counterterrorism professionals, and so many others, who continue their extraordinary work to keep the American people safe today,” he said. “They give their best to our country, and we owe them an incredible debt of gratitude.”
The Biden administration plans to withdraw all American forces in Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks that dragged the US into a decades-long conflict, The Washington Post first reported Tuesday.
“We will begin an orderly drawdown of the remaining forces before May 1 and plan to have all US troops out of the country before the 20th anniversary of 9/11,” a senior administration official said Tuesday, confirming The Post’s reporting.
Under the deal negotiated by the Trump administration with the Taliban, the US was expected to have all US forces out of the country by May 1.
“We have … long known that there is no military solution to the problems plaguing Afghanistan, and we will focus our efforts on supporting the ongoing peace process,” the official said Tuesday.
“That means putting the full weight of our government behind diplomatic efforts to reach a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government, but what we will not do is use our troops as bargaining chips in that process,” the official added.
In March, Biden said that “it’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline,” explaining that for tactical reasons, “it’s hard to get those troops out.” He stressed, though, that “it is not my intention to stay there for a long time.”
The next day, the Taliban said that “if God forbid, all foreign troops [do] not withdraw from Afghanistan on the specified date,” then the insurgent force “will be compelled to defend its religion and homeland and continue its Jihad and armed struggle against foreign forces to liberate its country.”
It’s unclear if the Taliban will follow through on that threat with the new September deadline, but the administration is hopeful the new plan will prevent renewed fighting.
“If we break the May 1st deadline negotiated by the previous administration with no clear plan to exit, we will be back at war with the Taliban, and that was not something President Biden believed was in the national interest,” a person familiar with the planning told The Post. “We’re going to zero troops by September.”
The senior administration official said Tuesday that the US has “told the Taliban in no uncertain terms that any attacks on US troops as we undergo a safe and orderly withdrawal will be met with a forceful response.”
The original agreement for a full withdrawal by May 1 was conditions-based, requiring all sides to “demonstrate their commitment to advancing the peace process.”
US military leaders have repeatedly said that the Taliban has not lived up to these commitments. Biden’s plan to withdraw, however, “is not conditions-based,” the official said Tuesday.
“The president has judged that conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever,” the official added.
The official said the September 11 deadline was set largely due to “operational and logistical issues related to ensuring that we have a safe and orderly withdrawal” and that it may be “completed well in advance” of that date.
The US will also coordinate with NATO allies and partners about the drawdown of their forces over the same time period, the official added.
The war in Afghanistan, which began on October 7, 2001, has been America’s longest-running conflict. The US has been steadily pulling troops out of the country amid negotiations with the Taliban.
The plan to pull troops out by September comes as the US shifts its focus to what are considered to be higher-level threats, such as rivals like China and Russia.
“Afghanistan just does not rise to the level of those other threats at this point,” The Post’s source said, adding that the US would “remain committed diplomatically” in Afghanistan.
Biden has determined “that the best path forward to advance American interests is to end the war in Afghanistan after 20 years so that we can address the global threat picture as it exists today, not as it was two decades ago,” the official said Tuesday.