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Families of three victims of the September 11 attacks are asking a judge to release secret documents. The aviation industry provided close to one million pages of information to lawyers for a pending lawsuit, but the industry marked all those documents confidential. The families argue the documents contain more information about who's responsible for letting 19 terrorists on the planes. NPR's Robert Smith has more.

ROBERT SMITH: What's in this secret file?

Mr. DON MIGLIORI (Attorney): This is the sole repository of information about what happened on September 11th with respect to aviation checkpoint security.

SMITH: Don Migliori, a lawyer for the families, says it includes the depositions of security screeners, how they were trained, who hired them, the calibrations of the X-ray machines. It answers what Migliori thinks is the biggest mystery of 9/11.

Mr. MIGLIORI: How did items that screeners were trained to detect get on-board airplanes such that four planes can take 3,000 people out in the United States?

SMITH: This isn't just information from the 9/11 report or anything uncovered by investigators. It's the result of a few families still waging a legal fight with the airlines. Most of the relatives of the victims never sued. Instead they opted for money from the federal compensation fund. Ninety-two families filed lawsuits but then settled with the airlines. Just three families are still in court. Mike Low lost his daughter Sara, a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11. He's rejected settlement offers in an attempt to get this information out.

Mr. MIKE LOW: I want to find out everything that we can about what led up to the failures of 9/11, what happened leading up to it and what happened on that horrible day. I think I owe that to my daughter Sara.

SMITH: The families got the documents in pretrial discovery motions, but went to federal court yesterday for the right to make them public. A lawyer for the aviation companies argued that it wasn't fair to release the confidential documents. The companies provided the pages with the understanding that it was for lawyers' eyes only.

Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein seemed to agree. Although he didn't rule immediately, he said he was inclined to wait until a trial and see which documents get introduced into evidence.

Lawyers for the airlines declined to be interviewed. But outside the courthouse, Mike Low says if the judge does rule to keep the 9/11 information secret, the families will have to keep pushing for a trial.

Mr. LOW: It's all going to be locked away, sealed away, and put away from the public if some of us don't keep trying.

SMITH: That trial date is still more than a year away.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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