9-11 survivors pawns in Gitmo controversy —others dissent

Relatives of 9-11 victims were brought to Guantánamo Bay to witness as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four co-defendants appeared before a US military tribunal. The five men told a military judge they intend to confess in full—an evident challenge to the government to put them to death. (NYT, AFP, Dec. 9) A Dec. 9 New York Times piece, “Relatives of 9/11 Victims Add a Passionate Layer to Guantánamo Debate,” explicitly states that the survivors are being played in a political strategy over the prison camp’s future under President Barack Obama:

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — After the detainees charged with the plotting of the Sept. 11 attacks discussed confessing this week, something unusual was heard here: a vigorous public defense of Guantánamo.

“Guantánamo Bay has gotten a bad rap,” said Alice Hoagland, whose son was killed in the 2001 attack.

Hamilton Peterson, whose father was killed that day, said the procedures of the much-criticized military commission tribunal seemed plenty fair. “The entire day,” he said, “was giving these defendants their due.”

The routine here has long included officials making their case for the detentions and trials at the Guantánamo naval base in muted bureaucratese about “fair and open” proceedings. They were outmatched by human rights groups and defense lawyers, with their inflammatory accusations about torture and secret evidence.

This week, the Pentagon brought victims’ families for the first time as observers. The half-dozen family members who spoke to reporters gave the Pentagon the counterpoint it had been lacking.

They also provided a sample of the emotional crosscurrents swirling around President-elect Barack Obama over Guantánamo. He has said he will close the detention camp. But its critics worry he may not carry through. He has said the military commission system has failed. But its critics worry that he may continue it, particularly with the Sept. 11 case now at a pivotal stage…

Officials insisted the family members had been selected randomly. But the chief military defense lawyer here, Col. Peter R. Masciola, said he wondered “what the government is trying to make you believe by only bringing the victims they want to bring.”

Thomas A. Durkin, a defense lawyer from Chicago who represents one of those accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks, said the display of the victims’ relatives was an effort to make it politically risky for Mr. Obama to close the military commissions by making it appear that abandoning the military commissions would be abandoning the victims too.

“This show trial is nothing more today than an effort to blackmail him politically,” Mr. Durkin said.

Fortunately, some 9-11 survivors are publicly dissenting from this kind of exploitation. From September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows‘ “Campaign to Close Guantánamo”:

President-elect Obama has said he will close Guantanamo. This is commendable, but as yet there is no indication how or when this will be accomplished. Those of us who realize the extreme damage Guantanamo has done to our country will be surprised to learn that a November 2008 poll finds 49% of US voters in favor of keeping it open. The numbers are dropping (the July poll found 56% in favor) but it will take a concerted public effort to push the administration into keeping Obama’s vow and going further to restore our moral and ethical standing by abolishing torture by any name, black sites and extraordinary rendition. The current detainees must be dealt with justly. We must restore honor in the first days of the new government.

To bring about these goals, Peaceful Tomorrows has formed a Close Guantanamo Committee in partnership with Witness Against Torture (WAT) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). We are also cooperating with the ACLU, Human Rights First, and other organizations that have vowed to see Guantanamo closed in the first 100 days of the new administration. We will be lobbying, writing articles and op-ed pieces, giving lectures and demonstrating with WAT. If you would like to support this effort, please email valerie@peacefultomorrows.org.

See our last post on Guantánamo Bay.

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  1. 9-11 pawns
    So the families who spoke in favor of the trials at Gitmo are pawns – and of course, those who disagree are of their own mind, “dissenters.”

    Here the facts: the family members were chosen by a random lottery. I submitted my name through email as did many others. No one from the Pentagon ever asked for my political views; they had no idea what they were.

    In other words, nobody was a “pawn.” Both Col. Masicola and attorney Thomas Durkin are full of baloney and misrespresent the truth. Everybody made up their own minds and formed their own opinions. Just because they are not your opinions does not mean they do not deserve equal respect.