December 10, 2008
By AMY WESTFELDT, Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK — Two dozen family members of Sept. 11 victims signed a letter Wednesday saying they don’t believe in the fairness of the military trials of five men charged with orchestrating the terrorist attacks, and some suggested their opinions cost them attendance at the proceedings.
While the family members who attended this week’s proceedings at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba expressed support for the tribunals, they also said “that many of us do not believe these military commissions to be fair, in accordance with American values, or capable of achieving the justice that 9/11 family members and all Americans deserve,” according to the letter released by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Robin Theurkauf, whose husband was killed at the World Trade Center, said she wanted to attend the proceedings but was denied a spot in a lottery for family members.
“I testified for the defense in the (Zacarias) Moussaoui trial,” Theurkauf said, referring to the convicted Sept. 11 conspirator. “I think I was skipped over because of that.”
Lorie Van Auken, whose husband Kenneth was killed at the trade center, also wanted to attend the hearings. She has been a prominent critic of the Guantánamo proceedings, accusing the government of using torture to coerce confessions.
“It could be that they didn’t want the critical voices to be heard,” Van Auken said.
Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said Wednedsay that five family members from a pool of 113 people were chosen randomly through a computer program to attend the proceedings.
Their selection was “based on what came through the computer,” not their opinions, he said, noting that each family member was allowed to bring one other person.
The victims’ relatives were allowed to observe the war-crimes proceedings for the first time Monday.
The five detainees, including alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, said they intended to abandon their defenses and confess to charges they orchestrated the 2001 terrorist attack.
Several family members said they were told they could watch this week’s proceedings from remote video hookups at military facilities across the country, but they hadn’t been accommodated.
Gordon said the military had made arrangements for families to view the actual trial, but this week’s appearances were preliminary.
9/11 families condemn tribunals
December 10, 2008
Thirty-three relatives of people killed in the 9/11 attacks on the US have denounced the Guantánamo war crimes trials as illegitimate and unfair.
In a letter posted on a civil liberties website, the relatives say the military trials are politically motivated.
Pre-trial hearings began on Monday in Guantánamo for five prisoners charged with plotting the 9/11 attacks.
Other 9/11 relatives brought to the hearings by the Pentagon praised them as giving the accused a fair trial.
“Many of us do not believe these military commissions to be fair, in accordance with American values, or capable of achieving the justice that 9/11 family members and all Americans deserve,” says the statement posted on the website of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“These prosecutions have been politically motivated from the start, are designed to ensure quick convictions at the expense of due process and transparency, and are structured to prevent the revelation of abusive interrogations and torture engaged in by the US government.”
The statement continues: “No comfort or closure can come from military commissions that ignore the rule of law and stain America’s reputation at home and abroad.”
Nearly 3,000 people were killed on 11 September 2001 when four planes were hijacked and crashed into New York City’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a farm field in Pennsylvania.
Alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants said they wanted to plead guilty at Monday’s pre-trial hearing at Guantánamo Bay.
He said they would postpone their pleas until an investigation to determine whether two of the defendants are mentally competent to stand trial is complete.
The five men face death sentences if convicted.
No trial date has been set and there seems little chance that one will begin before President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.
He has said he is opposed to the military tribunals and has pledged to close down the detention centre at Guantánamo Bay.