by Nicholas Levis
Today brings the sad news that Beverly Eckert died in the crash of Flight 3407 on her way to Buffalo for a weekend celebration of what would have been her late husband Sean Rooney’s 58th birthday. She had planned to take part in a presentation at Canisius High School of a scholarship award that she established in Sean Rooney’s honor. Among the family members surviving her was her sister, Sue Borque, who told the Buffalo News that while the family had not yet received official confirmation of her sister’s fate, the reality was settling in. “We know she was on that plane,” Bourque said, “and now she’s with [Sean].” Her husband of 34 years, Sean Rooney had been killed in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11th, 2001.
Beverly Eckert devoted her life to serving others. I met this strong-willed and sensitive woman on a single occasion, in March 2004 when she welcomed me to her home in Connecticut for a few hours to conduct an interview about her advocacy work following September 11th. An insurance manager by profession, Eckert told the story of how she responded to the loss of her husband and the horror of the events. Hers was a beautiful and powerful voice and she speaks best on her own behalf:
“I guess I wish I wasn’t here, because it was such a different life before September 11th. I never envisioned myself speaking to the public having to say anything other than about my own little life. I was just like everyone else, very complacent, very content. World events didn’t seem to affect me, that’s what I believed at the time. All that changed on Sept. 11th, and I guess I just found that I couldn’t just sit back and be a victim…”
“I think any time anyone is attacked, and there’s a threat and you feel threatened, there is an obvious reaction, which is to react the same way, to fight back. I saw this situation immediately as one which could degenerate into a cycle of violence. We would retaliate and there would be more killing, more death. I immediately had the feeling and hoped that this would not happen, that there would be a different reaction, that we were living at a time and a place, at least in this country, that we would have a more rational reaction than just to kill in response. And as you know, we went into Afghanistan with bombs and I did not support that. I do support stopping terrorists, but I do not think that is the most effective way to stop them ultimately. It’s a short-term solution. Yes, we’ve contained them, but I also think in the process we’ve created more terrorists. I thought there would be a worldwide effort to really address the terrorism problem. But instead I think that we’ve polarized the world, we’ve isolated the United States, we’ve isolated ourselves from potential allies. That’s been really sad for me to see, how this whole thing evolved…”
“I started a group called Voices of September 11th. This was for information purposes. I was, I think emotionally I was holding myself together keeping busy and I felt that there was a lot of information that people needed to know as they went through this process of death. It was insurance claims, it was the victims’ compensation fund that was created, there was all kinds of incoming information. It was very hard to deal with. Of course there were widows and other family members in this area, and I started reaching out to them and inviting people to my house and started networking… We joined forces and became a rather large group, Voices of September 11th…”
“I joined other groups, Peaceful Tomorrows. I found them rather late in the game. I wish I had found them right away, because as I described I didn’t think that retaliation and violence was the right answer to the situation. I did not link up with Peaceful Tomorrows for a good six, eight months after Sept. 11. It was really amazing to find people who thought so much like I did. David Pretori wrote a book and just reading it, it was like reading my own thoughts, it was just amazing. It was the story of Peaceful Tomorrows and how it was founded, just some really remarkable people, documenting the trip to Afghanistan which some of the others took. And we participated in the peace marches of course, before the war in Iraq started, and got a featured place in the New York City rally. That happened to be my husband’s birthday, it would have been Sean’s 52nd birthday on February 15th last year . So it was really meaningful to me to participate in something like that on that particular date.”
(See below for complete transcript of the interview of March 3, 2004.)
Beverly Eckert became a member of the Family Steering Committee, the group of relatives who in 2002 and 2003 spearheaded the public fight for a 9/11 commission, against resistance from the White House.
Beverly Eckert was among a handful of Sept. 11th relatives to reject the rich settlements offered by the government in exchange for a renunciation of all legal claims against US persons or entities, such as corporations or government agencies. She participated in a number of lawsuits around Sept 11th, with the express purpose of gaining discovery and accountability about the events of the day. As the deadline for filing claims with the Victims’ Compensation Fund passed in Dec. 2003, she published the following statement in USA Today :
Friday, December 19, 2003
My Silence Cannot Be Bought by Beverly Ecker
I’ve chosen to go to court rather than accept a payoff from the 9/11 victims compensation fund. Instead, I want to know what went so wrong with our intelligence and security systems that a band of religious fanatics was able to turn four U.S passenger jets into an enemy force, attack our cities and kill 3,000 civilians with terrifying ease. I want to know why two 110-story skyscrapers collapsed in less than two hours and why escape and rescue options were so limited.
I am suing because unlike other investigative avenues, including congressional hearings and the 9/11 commission, my lawsuit requires all testimony be given under oath and fully uses powers to compel evidence.
The victims fund was not created in a spirit of compassion. Rather, it was a tacit acknowledgement by Congress that it tampered with our civil justice system in an unprecedented way. Lawmakers capped the liability of the airlines at the behest of lobbyists who descended on Washington while the Sept. 11 fires still smoldered.
And this liability cap protects not just the airlines, but also World Trade Center builders, safety engineers and other defendants.
The caps on liability have consequences for those who want to sue to shed light on the mistakes of 9/11. It means the playing field is tilted steeply in favor of those who need to be held accountable. With the financial consequences other than insurance proceeds removed, there is no incentive for those whose negligence contributed to the death toll to acknowledge their failings or implement reforms. They can afford to deny culpability and play a waiting game.
By suing, I’ve forfeited the “$1.8 million average award” for a death claim I could have collected under the fund. Nor do I have any illusions about winning money in my suit. What I do know is I owe it to my husband, whose death I believe could have been avoided, to see that all of those responsible are held accountable. If we don’t get answers to what went wrong, there will be a next time. And instead of 3,000 dead, it will be 10,000. What will Congress do then?
So I say to Congress, big business and everyone who conspired to divert attention from government and private-sector failures: My husband’s life was priceless, and I will not let his death be meaningless. My silence cannot be bought.
Our condolences go out to Beverly Eckert’s family and friends.
Interview with Beverly Eckert – Stamford, CT, March 3, 2004
Q. What would you like to tell us just about yourself personally?
I guess I wish I wasn’t here, because it was such a different life before September 11th. I never envisioned myself speaking to the public having to say anything other than about my own little life. I was just like everyone else, very complacent, very content. World events didn’t seem to affect me, that’s what I believed at the time. All that changed on Sept. 11th, and I guess I just found that I couldn’t just sit back and be a victim. I hate that word, I guess we’re always called victims’ families and things like that. I hate that term, what it conveys is helplessness and no control. I think it’s just been part of my healing process to see if I can make something good happen out of all this. My husband Sean worked in the South Tower, his office was on the 98th floor with a couple of hundred other people and he didn’t really have a good understanding of evacuation and escape options and so they went up, only to find that the doors were locked. They had a window of opportunity to escape down Staircase A, there were three staircases in the South Tower. I think they thought that the rooftop was an option, and so they went up and they were trapped because the roof doors were locked. And I heard from him, he called me and was able to get through to me so I was one of the very lucky family members, I was able to say goodbye. I know what happened to him, I know what his last moments were like. He was very brave. He was a hero. So I have a legacy that I have, that I thought just to take his strength and try to do something positive with it. He was a really strong individual his whole life and I’m kind of feeling infused with that now. I’m trying to make a difference, I’m trying to find the truth in all this chaos.
Q. After Sept. 11, how did you see what began to happen in the public, with the country and the world?
I think any time anyone is attacked, and there’s a threat and you feel threatened, there is an obvious reaction, which is to react the same way, to fight back. I saw this situation immediately as one which could degenerate into a cycle of violence. We would retaliate and there would be more killing, more death. I immediately had the feeling and hoped that this would not happen, that there would be a different reaction, that we were living at a time and a place, at least in this country, that we would have a more rational reaction than just to kill in response. And as you know, we went into Afghanistan with bombs and I did not support that. I do support stopping terrorists, but I do not think that is the most effective way to stop them ultimately. It’s a short-term solution. Yes, we’ve contained them, but I also think in the process we’ve created more terrorists. I thought there would be a worldwide effort to really address the terrorism problem. But instead I think that we’ve polarized the world, we’ve isolated the United States, we’ve isolated ourselves from potential allies. That’s been really sad for me to see, how this whole thing evolved.
Q. You became involved in starting a group called Peaceful Tomorrows.
Yes I did. Actually I started a group called Voices of September 11th. This was for information purposes. I was, I think emotionally I was holding myself together (by) keeping busy and I felt that there was a lot of information that people needed to know as they went through this process of death. It was insurance claims, it was the victims’ compensation fund that was created, there was all kinds of incoming information. It was very hard to deal with. Of course there were widows and other family members in this area, and I started reaching out to them and inviting people to my house and started networking. Then I started an e-mail list, once again disseminating information. Where to go at Ground Zero, where families were allowed to have a little place of privacy there. That was a very compelling need for many people, to go there, just to be there. Named the group, kind of got it this copyright or whatever you do on the Internet. There was another woman who came, she had lost her son. We joined forces and became a rather large group, Voices of September 11th, as I said we co-founded it.
I joined other groups, Peaceful Tomorrows. I found them rather late in the game. I wish I had found them right away, because as I described I didn’t think that retaliation and violence was the right answer to the situation. I did not link up with Peaceful Tomorrows for a good six, eight months after Sept. 11. It was really amazing to find people who thought so much like I did. David Pretori wrote a book and just reading it, it was like reading my own thoughts, it was just amazing. It was the story of Peaceful Tomorrows and how it was founded, just some really remarkable people, documenting the trip to Afghanistan which some of the others took. And we participated in the peace marches of course, before the war in Iraq started, and got a featured place in the New York City rally. That happened to be my husband’s birthday, it would have been Sean’s 52nd birthday on February 15th last year. So it was really meaningful to me to participate in something like that on that particular date.
Q. What seems unusual to a lot of people is the idea that the families of Sept. 11 would want anything other than retaliation or a very strong military reaction to what happened. And usually it is the families who are invoked in the media or by the government as the justification.
Yes I know. I so strongly object to that, that our situation has been used for a political agenda, and an economic agenda I guess, if you equate that with some of the oil issues that I think influence the U.S. policy in the Middle East. I think we all know now that the Iraqi war was kind of predestined before Sept. 11. That was going to happen anyway and Sept. 11 was used to motivate the American people to support the war. It just breaks my heart that people go over there and are dying and being mutilated and they believe what they’ve been told, that this is the way to fight terrorism, this is the way to prevent another Sept. 11th. And there’s a lot of family members that don’t agree with that.
Q. You are among the families organizing for disclosure around the facts of Sept. 11th, the unanswered questions. When did you begin to suspect that maybe there was something there that we have not yet heard?
You know I don’t think I can pinpoint that particular moment in time, but I do know that we crossed paths a lot, family members on different issues. It was actually a family member from another event who said to us, why isn’t there a commission investigating this? The government forms commissions all the time, any time something happens. Why isn’t there a commission for after Sept. 11th? Honestly I don’t think any of us had thought of it, until this person brought it up. So immediately we saw that yes, this is definitely necessary. How could this happen? My husband went to work in the middle of a city in the United States and a fleet of enemy airplanes, basically, came and bombed our city. It’s incomprehensible.
I think family members early on were focusing on the immediacy of their situation. How do I survive, how do I survive emotionally, how do I survive financially? There were so many things going on that I think they were a distraction. But once the question came to pass, the realization that our government was not providing any answers, they were just going to war, that was very disturbing.
I personally remember thinking, why doesn’t George Bush ever say, “This happened on my watch. I will find out how and why, and I will hold people accountable.” I think that as president, he’s commander- in-chief. But he also owed it to the citizenry to find out what went wrong, and he was not pursuing that line at all. Family members got together and we had our first formal and public awareness campaign about the need for a commission in June of 2002. We had a rally in Washington, DC and started the ball rolling. President Bush has never met with the Family Steering Committee, of which I am a part of. We are the most active family members in getting this bill (establishing the 9/11 Commission) created and passed. There are twelve of us, and we have been to the White House for meetings with some domestic policy people, but never with George Bush.
Q. Tell us about the family fund that was set up by the government. Actually this was set into motion very early on and the condition was that you take a good settlement, a very good settlement from the government, as long as you agree to forego all manner of litigation against American companies or the U.S. government.
Absolutely. In a way, this was pretty ingenious. What it did was, it made people relinquish their right to have questions answered about what went wrong. That’s what litigation is. Litigation has many facets. It’s about compensation, at its most basic level I guess, but it’s also about finding out what happened. It’s a fact-finding mechanism, through discovery and depositions, etcetera. And ultimately, especially in our society which is very litigious, reforms are implemented as a result of litigation. And that to me was the natural course. This is not about vengeance. I certainly do want people to be held accountable, because I think if they have negligent and irresponsible behavior they need to be removed from their positions and reforms have to be implemented. I think the actions of creating that fund were very politically motivated.
Q. So basically you’re saying the fund was created to keep the families from –
Quiet. To keep the families quiet. Yes.
Q. And you are among a small minority, about a hundred families, who have decided not to take the government compensation so you can pursue litigation freely.
There really wasn’t any question in my mind that I needed to do that. One major concern was that there would not be attorneys who would be willing to take this on, because this is a David and Goliath situation. You’ve got everybody, every large corporation, every large insurance company, everything in the world in opposition to our goal, which is fact-finding, fault-finding and accountability. But we will proceed, it will be a very long and difficult process, expensive. But I hope some day through this mechanism we get some answers. I just want to compare litigation with – there is some fact-finding going on obviously through the 9/11 Commission. But as we’ve seen, they’re not subpeonaing people, people are testifying but they are not under oath. There is a big difference when you are under oath, in a witness chair, being sworn in, being deposed, with the element of being cross- examined. The Commission unfortunately has taken a very kid-gloves approach to their fact-finding. A courtroom is basically a battleground, and that’s what we need to get to the bottom of everything.
Q. As far as the Commission is concerned, the Family Steering Committee has in the last couple months released a series of really blistering statements, basically saying that the comission is going nowhere –
We gave them a report card, we gave them a just-above failing grade but not very good, I think it was a D. Exactly. They had a very short time-frame in which to accomplish their mandate. They started out slowly, not necessarily their fault, staffing up and getting in location. But once they had that, they really have not proceeded as aggressively as they should. They’re just playing by the rules that Washington plays by, gentlemenly, whatever they may be. But honestly, this Commission should have been like an inquisition. People should have been afraid of them, because of what they would find out and how they would go about finding it out. That’s their job, it was to ask every question and demand the answers. Not ask, demand. That was their responsibility, once that Commission was created. And they are letting opportunities slip by, time is slipping by. They’re making deals, they’re making compromises and they’re not going to do what we expected them to do, what we wanted them to do, what they owed us.
Q. The prospect has been raised that George Bush may decide to testify briefly before the Commission behind closed doors. In response the Family Steering Committe a couple of weeks ago issued a list of 23 questions you want Bush to answer in public testimony under oath, and these actually get into very specific items.
Well, he was president for many months before the attacks, from January to September. We know that the past administration, the Clinton administration passed along a warning that al-Qaeda and the threat of terrorism was the biggest threat being posed to the administration, to this country I should say. And that it was urgent that the administration address this. On Sept. 11, George Bush certainly did not act like a commander-in-chief. When he was told the United States was under attack, he continued with his photo opportunity, which was a kindergarden (second grade classroom) in Florida. We know that there are defense measures that are supposed to be taken, and you would think that this country would be prepared, especially since there was an elevated alert on Sept. 11. But our Defense Department didn’t respond, NORAD didn’t respond, the Secret Service didn’t respond as they would have. Donald Rumsfeld stayed at his desk in the Pentagon and was in the building went it got hit. You would think, we’ve all heard from the movies there’s a war room somewhere where people are supposed to gather and marshall a defense, a response. None of that happened. The fact that Sept. 11 was allowed to happen, the fact that the response afterwards was so incompetent. Yes, we have 23 questions for the president and many other questions for other people in the administration and in the government agencies, like the CIA and the (Federal Aviation Administration).
Q. One of the original commissioners was Max Cleland, former Senator from Georgia. He resigned in a way that I think normally would have been very big news, because as he went he said that the Commission was engaged in a whitewash. Did you meet with him?
We met with all of the commissioners as a group a few times, and tried to interface with them individually on an ad hoc basis. We miss Max’s presence on the Commission, because he was a very assertive member. His replacement, Bob Kerrey, also seems to be a skeptic in a healthy way, questioning what’s going on. I think Max and I think Kerrey are up against a huge, huge force, it can be overwhelming, the resistance and the politics. I think the Commission has a very difficult environment to work in.
Q. He said something fairly shocking as his last statements before he resigned. He said he didn’t want to look at partial evidence, because the Commission had agreed with the White House not to look at the full Presidential Daily Briefings, and even then only some of the Commissioners are allowed to see them. He said, “As each day goes by we learn that this government knew a whole lot more about these terrorists before Sept. 11 than it has ever admitted.” (New York Times, Oct. 26, 2003.) And also: “Bush is scamming America.”
Well I hope some day we’ll know. I don’t know if the Commission’s report will contain any of the revelations that certainly Max is alluding to. Certainly Tom Kean, the chair of the Commission, said at times that (the attacks) could have been prevented. But then he back- pedals and says there is no smoking gun. So it’s all very contradictory. I think it’s all how you react to the information, how you react to (CIA Director) George Tenet saying and acknowledging that yes, he was given the name and phone number of one of the terrorists who plotted 9/11 – actually the guy who was the pilot of the plane that hit my husband’s building [allegedly: Marwan al- Shehhi]. (Tenet) said that we didn’t get enough information until after Sept. 11. But what he doesn’t say is that he didn’t go after it particularly. He says that then (after the attacks) we went back to the Germans, to German intelligence agencies and then they gave us more information. And what is missing from that equation is, did the German intelligence agencies have more information at the time they gave the name and phone number to George Tenet, or was that something that was developed later? That’s a question. It seems there are some inconsistencies there. But regardless, if you know anybody who has done any investigating, certainly the name and phone number is a good start. If the German authorities were concerned enough and thought this was significant information, it was not pursued aggressively enough by the United States. And how the Commission incorporates that in their findings, in their recommendations, I don’t know. I don’t know why George Tenet still has his job.
Q. What’s interesting is that in the German press, it came out at an early stage, already in Sept. 2001, that the Hamburg Cell was under observation by the German authorities. They also revealed that the CIA had been tracking the cell prior to their coming to the United States, but without informing the Germans, who only found out later. The Germans didn’t know that the CIA was following the Hamburg cell around in Germany before June 2000.
There’s so much information that all of us who are members of the steering committee try to keep up with, but when it comes out every day, it’s — I mean, that’s what the Commission is supposed to do, it’s supposed to sort through all this information – they have a staff of 60 people – and make some sense out of it, and make a timeline and connect the dots, if you will. That’s a huge job because their mandate covers a lot of areas, but if they don’t do it, I hope the press will, I hope investigative reporters, writers, think tanks and whoever else is interested in this will some day sort through all this and figure it out. I really don’t think the Commission’s report is going to be definitive. I think they don’t have enough time. I don’t think they’ve had enough cooperation, and perhaps the time right now is just too soon.
Q. Do you think there is an additional conflict of interest, for example the executive director of the Commission, Philip Zelikow, once wrote a book together with Condoleeza Rice–
Yes, I don’t know how there can be objectivity. I know Phil Zelikow is incredibly well-respected and talented and capable. The whole situation is that this Commission, which is made up of government employees and public servants, whatever, they all worked in the government. They all worked in the government and they’re investigating the government. And so, when we first envisioned this Commission, we did not envision it made up of ex-senators and ex-Navy secretaries and all of this other stuff. We thought it should be professors and writers, scholars and also people who are involved in the news, but not necessarily a part of it. These people are all a part, in many ways the government is part of the problem. Even now we are dealing with the idea of how the report is going to be, when it’s released, the classification process. The classification process is done by the White House and the intelligence agencies. They are the ones. They are a subject of this report. How can they not have a conflict in classifying it and editing it? They can edit at will. They can take out anything that’s unfavorable, if they so choose. We are going to be talking to the White House about a different classification process. It’s just an idea: Is there some other way that this classification process can take place that does not involve the very people who might have a conflict in trying to protect themselves?
Q. It’s like the 800-page report already issued by the Congressional joint inquiry (of 2002), with so many passages removed, including a whole chapter.
George Tenet, I’m sure got to look at that report and take out what he didn’t want. And the whole (matter) of this phone number and what information the CIA was provided was from a leak. It was a leak. And I’m sorry but the American public deserves more. This idea of over- classification, we are talking about something that went wrong. It didn’t work. These Presidential Daily Briefings, you know what? I guess they don’t work. Because there was no reaction to them. So who cares how they’re formulated, how they’re created and who gets to read them? It has to be one of those things where they say, this has to be redone. So just to protect the concept of Presidential Daily Briefings when they failed makes no sense to me. Let’s all look at them, and help find a different and better way to function. The whole classification process is an obstacle to evaluating performance and implementing reforms.
Q. No doubt you are aware that around the world, many people have begun, already long ago, to wonder whether there is something behind all this than merely incompetence, whether there are actually more sinister motives. It’s been a big story in Europe, though it hasn’t been here, here it’s officially unthinkable. I’m wondering if you’re aware of the lawsuit by Ellen Mariani (who is suing members of the Bush administration under racketeering laws for intentionally allowing the attacks).
Q. Can you tell us what you think about that?
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I have not gone that far I guess in my analysis of the situation. I know that incompetence can be very great. I work in a field of insurance where I handle claims, accidents, negligence, and it’s downright stupidity at times, what people do and causes harm to others. It can seem, there’s something called willful, reckless, wanton. It is just so close to intentional, yet it is not intentional, reckless wanton behavior. So I guess I’m used to the distinction: that it can be so bad, and seem like they actually wanted it to happen (but it’s not).
I think the most sinister thing that I ever read was the PNAC, the Project for a New American Century, and the fact that they alluded to the need in some way for a Pearl Harbor event to happen, before the American public would be mobilized in supporting some of their agenda. That’s a very frightening thing to say, and to hear, and to know that those people are in this current administration. I think that is something that they need to explain. I think everybody who participated in that at a high level, in PNAC, need to be called by the Commission and asked to explain their line of thinking and their expectations, given the suggestion that this would be a good thing. This would be a good thing!
Q. Of course if they were to call the leading members of PNAC that would be Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Jeb Bush…
Q. You are involved in a lawsuit against Saudi Arabian elite defendants.
And the terrorists themselves. I certainly have not lost sight of who plotted to do this and why.
Q. Can you tell us about the lawsuit? Who are the defendants, who are the plaintiffs?
It’s not the Saudi government per se. It’s individuals, and from other governments as well. We call it the Saudi lawsuit, it’s an overall umbrella, but there are many defendants and the idea behind it is that you can stop terrorism in different ways, and one of them is that if you take away the money, then they can’t operate. They need money to come here and to live and do all kinds of things. They (the Sept. 11 hijackers) had hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions at their disposal. This lawsuit, “lawsuit to bankrupt terrorism” is how it’s known among the family members. That’s our goal, to stop terrorism in a very practical way. Instead of dealing with ideologies, which is very difficult to change, you can certainly stop somebody from doing something defensively, aggressively, militarily. But you can also stop it economically, by depriving them of their funds. So it’s following the money trail. We do know, it’s accepted now, that there were Islamic charities that contributed to terrorist organizations. And it’s the responsibility of people who contribute to those charities and it’s the responsibility of people who disseminate the money certainly, that it’s being used for proper purposes. I hope that this lawsuit brings to light all of those avenues.
Q. What is the status of it at the moment?
They’re consolidating suits now and it’s a very laborious process. We’re very concerned that our government’s going to intervene and stop it from moving forward for national security interests. Now once again, is that national security? Is it to protect the Saudis, is it to protect certain government officials because of their connections to the Saudis? All I know is Bin Laden’s whole family was flown out of the United States when nobody else was allowed to fly. Nobody else. Family members could not fly from wherever they were, to be with their loved ones. No (flights) were allowed commercially. I suppose there were some very limited number of military flights, but Bin Laden’s family was allowed to leave the country. What kind of – we haven’t seen mobs in the street very often in this country, killing. I guess that is what our own government expected? That the Bin Laden family would be attacked by their neighbors or something? It’s very disrespectful to Americans, to say they (the Bin Laden family members) had to be flown out of the country for their own protection. I think we’re law-abiding, we have civil rights. I don’t think anything was going to happen to them. Other than that they would be questioned – rightfully so – if they had any connections. And we were entitled to that. It’s incomprehensible to me.
Q. How many families are involved in the Saudi suit?
Oh, thousands. You know there are roughly 3,000 families involved in Sept. 11, but other family members are plaintiffs as well, so it’s I think 4,000 or so.
Q. So they’ve all signed on, all the families –
Oh, sure. Like I sent the suit papers to my husband’s mother, she could sign on as a plaintiff as well as me. It doesn’t have to be just one person.
Q. And in this case it’s not prohibited by taking the compensation.
Correct. That’s right. You could not sue anybody, but you could sue the terrorists, is the provision in that law.
Q. Is this the suit in which the Baker Botts firm is involved in defending some of the defendants?
Yes, they have, James Baker’s firm. Honestly I don’t question that as much as some people because we’re in a country where everyone is entitled to a legal defense. And they have to find somebody to do that, and they can find highly paid, highly competent lawyers. If the U.S. government was funding their defense, I’d have a problem with it. But I assume that’s not happening.
Q. Right. A lot of people when they hear (Bush I Secretary of State) James Baker’s name, they immediately associate that with the present U.S. government and the Bush family.
Sure. But lawyers play – their job is to make sure the process works, which is you’re innocent until proven guilty, basically. Or you need a preponderance of evidence in a civil lawsuit, so that you can in fact be held liable. I think that’s a good system, and I just wish it had been used more universally after Sept. 11. But the victims’ compensation fund interfered with that.
Q. I’m sure you probably won’t want to speculate, but the 28 pages – the entire chapter of the Congressional inquiry that’s been wiped out – everyone seems to think and Senator Graham, who led the inquiry, has clearly implied that these deal with Saudi Arabia.
I’m not privy to what was in the redacted pages, but from what was implied, certainly. It had to do with Saudis and I think we’re all amazed to find how much interface there was. The deals there were, political, social and economic. I mean we’re in bed with these people. We’ve made deals with the devil before. This is not the first questionable alignment that the United States has had. I think we have a history of endorsing certain regimes for our own benefit, no matter how nefarious they are.
Q. You are also working with the Skyscraper Safety Campaign.
I just testified last week in a public hearing by (New York) City. Even after the attack happened, there were people who were killed at the point of impact and in the immediate aftermath, but so many people died because the buildings collapsed and the evacuation was so difficult, and it was because of the way that the buildings were constructed. There’s never been a building like that before, designed or constructed in that way, it was done for purposes of cheap construction as well as high rental, maximizing floor space, which made it a very unstable building for fire, not for other things like wind and impact. It did stand up over the years and it did stand up to the impact of the planes. But it was very vulnerable to fire, very vulnerable. And there’s an entity called the Port Authority (of New York and New Jersey) which oversaw that, which endorsed all this questionable construction and maintenance. And they’re still out there, operating, and they’re going to be landlords again and they’re building buildings again. And the purpose of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign is to make sure the Port Authority is subject to building codes. They’re not, right now. Not subject to any building codes. They can build whatever they want. And they say, we meet code, we meet or exceed code. They said the World Trade Center met or exceeded code and it did not. Sometimes the government can be very abstract, but it’s not an abstract thing. Those buildings are going up. The reforms are needed immediately, they need to be built safely.
Q. There are still questions about how the buildings fell. One thing that went unnoticed is that the firefighters, Fire Engineering magazine was protesting that there wasn’t an adequate reconstruction of the affected areas of the building to actually figure what the cause of the collapse was.
Well, of course the evidence was disseminated, I mean they sent the steel away, and by the time people realized what was being done – that (Ground Zero) was being treated like a recycling of garbage – (then) they tried to salvage some pieces and look at them and look at the steel, look at the construction, the fireproofing, evidence of lack of fireproofing and all of those things. You know the structure itself, the open truss is something that’s never been endorsed by the city of New York, there’s no other building that’s made of that construction because it’s inherently less resistant to fire…
The floors were supported by something that’s called open truss, long pieces in N-shapes and they’re thin. They’re very hard to cover with fireproofing, you have to spray it on but there’s all these angles, so many angles you can’t get it on and one tiny weak spot – if you have a sixty-foot support beam, any spot that’s weak makes the whole thing vulnerable. Very hard to apply fireproofing to it and once the fireproofing isn’t there, it goes, like that. Very short period of time. I mean wood is stronger than steel truss. In a fire it will last longer, it is more fire resistant. And never before had they used 60-foot spans. When I was at the public hearing, a representative from the organization that makes these steel trusses was there protesting, and she said a couple of things that I thought were interesting. For one thing, it’s not supposed to be used in 60- foot spans, it’s used in shorter spans. And second, they made their own composites (for the WTC buildings) so who knows what was actually constructed of it. The Port Authority determined what the consistency of these trusses was going to be.
It fell like a house of cards. When did you see a building do that, unless it was being intentionally demolished? I heard the floor fall beneath my husband. I’m not going to rest until the people responsible acknowledge what they built and how deficient it was and that it caused death, it caused misery. And that they will never do it again, that somehow they’re stopped. So Skyscraper Safety was started by two remarkable women, Sally Regenhard and Monica Gabrielle. They’ve got to the point now where there was a building code task force by Mayor Bloomberg and they’ve got recommendations, and there’s also an incredible lawsuit with Sally and Monica to try to get the Port Authority to be subject to building codes. And that’s all they can do. Another lawsuit.
[Q. Beverly Eckert, thank you very much for this interview.]
And from the NYTimes :
Roused by 9/11, a Tireless, Clear-Headed Crusader for Truth in Government
By Jim Dwyer February 14, 2009 New York Times
One morning last week, Beverly Eckert settled into an early Amtrak train in Connecticut and called her friend Carol Ashley to tell her what car she was in. They were quasi-sisters, and since both were heading to Washington, it made sense that they would ride together. Ms. Ashley boarded at Penn Station in New York, and tracked her down. They caught up on each other’s latest.
“She was volunteering at a school, and was very interested in helping some of the little kids with their reading, and was looking for some tips,” said Ms. Ashley, who was a teacher for 31 years.
They also talked about their date in Washington later that day. They were on their way to meet with President Obama, an occasion that might put the jitters in some people. But they had been to Washington before, and symbols of power did not make them go weak in the knees. Ms. Ashley’s daughter, Janice, died in the north tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11; Ms. Eckert’s husband, Sean P. Rooney, died in the south tower.
Late Thursday night, Ms. Eckert died in a plane crash near Buffalo. Her public life ran between two calamities, seven and a half years apart. But that life hardly was defined by them. What distinguished Ms. Eckert … and many of the other 9/11 families … was a civil refusal to settle for platitudes from government.
Ms. Eckert’s penetrating gaze fell on everything from building codes that left the skyscrapers without enough stairways for emergency evacuations, to a system of national intelligence that seemed to have a hard time passing e-mail messages from one agency to another. It was truth-seeking, in service to the nation.
That work began in the final minutes that the towers stood, when Mr. Rooney called and told her the roof doors were locked and the three stairways seemed to be impassable. “They had plenty of time to get out,” Ms. Eckert said in 2002. “If there had been fire escapes in the corners of the building, they would have.”
They had met when they were 16 years old and spent the next 34 years together. They had no children. They celebrated their 50th birthdays in 2001 with vacation trips. “He knew how to be in the moment,” Ms. Eckert said of Mr. Rooney in 2002. “He wasn’t looking to the future to find happiness and contentment. We’d talk … if we die tomorrow, it wouldn’t be such a bad deal.”
Still, she and her husband both worked in the insurance business, and understood the mechanisms of accountability. “I don’t like the idea that someone has to pay for every human accident,” she said, but by the summer of 2002, it was clear that official Washington was ducking a public inquiry into what had gone wrong.
With a group of other relatives of people who had been killed, Ms. Eckert traveled to Washington for a meeting with elected officials. They heard all the reasons why a country at war should not lay bare how its defenses had failed.
“I’ll never forget it,” Ms. Ashley remembered. “Beverly said, ‘Are you going to stand here and look me in the eye and tell me we are not going to have an investigation into the death of my husband and the relatives of all the other people in this room?’ ”
A commission was created. Ms. Eckert and other family members went to the White House for the announcement and to learn who would be running the investigation.
“We were just so relieved,” Ms. Eckert told Washington Monthly. “And then Bush brings Henry Kissinger into the room. I couldn’t believe it.'”
When the families and others demanded that he disclose the foreign clients of his international consulting firm, Mr. Kissinger withdrew.
The government stalled the commission’s investigators, balked at permitting testimony from officials like Condoleezza Rice, and tried to cut short the inquiries. In every instance, the commission, stiffened by the nonnegotiable insistence of the families, forced the administration to retreat. Ms. Eckert attended just about all of the sessions.
“She had this rare ability to separate the part of her that was grieving from the part that was rational, objective, analytic,” said John Farmer, who served as senior counsel to the commission.
With other families, she kept going back to Washington to press for enactment of the 9/11 Commission reforms. Last month, they met with the chairman of a commission on weapons of mass destruction.
In early 2005, she sent an e-mail message from a boat in Florida. “Somehow,” she wrote, “I feel more at peace with Sean’s death, having had the opportunity to help change our government … hopefully, for the better.”