The New York Daily News falsely and dishonestly reported yesterday ([in] 9/11 Kin Barred from Gitmo Trial by James Gordon Meek) that 9/11 family members have been barred from observing the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four of his co-conspirators. In fact, the Daily News and its reporter know that the trial, which has yet to be scheduled and which may not commence for several months, will be broadcast on closed circuit tv and all 9/11 family members will be able to monitor the gavel-to-gavel proceedings from remote locations here in the United States.
Further, it falsely reports that the DOD singled out one family member to “secretly” attend Thursday’s arraignment of these five 9/11 defendants, heavily insinuating that the purpose was to propagandize on behalf of the Bush administration, “alongside conservatives from the American Legion and Judicial Watch.” I am the family member the article names, calling me a “GOP loyalist whose brother Charles died in the attacks.” Essentially, the article accuses me of using my brother’s brutal murder as an opportunity to engage in a “covert” operation whose end is crass partisan politics.
This is an outrageous personal insult and deeply hurtful accusation. In the six and one half years since my brother, Chic, the captain of American Airlines flight 77, was brutally murdered in the cockpit of his airplane, my primary focus has been to contribute to the nation’s effort in stopping these barbaric terrorists from perpetrating another attack.
Recently, while researching an article I am writing about former Guantanamo detainee Abdullah Al-Ajmi, who carried out a deadly suicide attack in Mosul, Iraq six weeks ago, I asked a Pentagon public information officer whether the arraignment of 9/11 defendants would be taking place as scheduled. I was surprised when the press officer affirmed that it would and asked if I would be interested in attending. Of course, I was. I felt the Pentagon should have offered all 9/11 family members the opportunity to attend the arraignment, but understood the decision not to do so. There is an emotional component to these events that can be profoundly debilitating. In my experience, the victims’ liaison personnel are highly attuned to and protective of families needs. The trip to Guantanamo is grueling, the conditions are spartan — water is rationed and members of the press will be sleeping in tents — all for a proceeding that may be over in half a day, and which could well be postponed after observers arrive due to rulings on pending defense motions.
We all want to see justice done, and many of us are hoping that the military commissions provide a fair and objective means of holding these men accountable for their war crimes. Some have already decided that any legal proceedings short of criminal trials with full Constitutional rights are defective. I have taken the view that these men are war criminals who are not entitled to Constitutional protections that even uniformed prisoners of war in World War II did not receive. Giving Miranda rights to terrorists would seriously undermine the country’s ability to gather the kind of critical intelligence we need to prevent future attacks on innocent civilians. The detainees’ habeas attorney Michael Ratner — who has made it clear that his mission is to shut down Guantanamo — bragged, “You can’t run an interrogation…with lawyers.”
The military commissions, as currently constituted in accordance with the Military Commissions Act of 2006 enacted by Congress, must be above reproach. Many 9/11 family members are taking a wait and see attitude. We refuse to call them “rigged” or a “kangaroo court” without evidence of impropriety simply because they are administered by the military. While the rights of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow defendants will remain the obvious focus of attention and the subject of intense debate, the bitter reality is that my brother and the 2,972 other victims who died on 9/11 were offered no rights of any kind. At the very least, we should never forget them. For me, this was not about politics.
I have come to know dozens of 9/11 family members over the years. They have my deep respect and many have become dear friends. I would never countenance or participate in an effort to bar them from what I know is so important to us all. To suggest that the government concocted a “secret” or “covert” trip to Guantanamo Bay, in full view of members of the press, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and other NGO’s, is patently absurd. My deepest regret is that by mischaracterizing the nature and circumstances of this episode, reporter Meek has caused unnecessary hurt by inaccurately implicating the Pentagon’s victim-liaison officer, Capt. Karen Loftus, who knew absolutely nothing about my last-minute inclusion on the observer list and who is working night and day to fairly and reasonably accommodate all 9/11 families members for the forthcoming trial itself.
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