Posted on Wed, Jan. 21, 2009
last updated: January 21, 2009 12:59:44 PM
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Families of the Sept. 11 victim s here to observe military commission hearings reacted with fury and frustration Wednesday to President Barack Obama's instruction to freeze the war court.
''Get this trial going,'' said retired New York City Deputy Fire Chief Jim Riches, who lost his firefighter son, Jimmy, in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Should the president decide the current war court formula is insufficient, "then let's get another system in place where they can prosecute it expeditiously.''
This week was the second time the Pentagon brought five family members chosen by lottery to observe the proceedings in a process open to parents, children, spouses or siblings of the 2,973 people killed on 9/11.
And, like those who visited before them, they cradled photos of their lost loved ones and urged the new president not to close the controversial prison camps here, which today hold some 245 foreign men, most as suspected terrorists.
''People should know that the safest place to hold these trials is at Guantanamo . . . not the homeland,'' Lorraine Arias Believeau tearfully told a knot of reporters.
Her stockbroker brother, Adam, perished inside the World Trade Center.
The five 9/11 accused allegedly trained, advised and financed the 19 hijackers who commandeered the aircraft that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
CIA agents captured the five abroad in 2002 and 2003 and interrogated them for years in secret custody until September 2006, when President Bush ordered their transfer here for eventual trial. The lead defendant, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, reportedly confessed to masterminding the attacks after agents waterboarded him.
Now, their prosecutions have been an on-again, off-again affair since their initial arraignments this summer, stymied by security issues, struggles over access to evidence and questions of how to proceed with the first war crimes trial since World War II that seeks military execution.
''They've already taken 3,000 lives,'' Arias said, urging the new president to continue with the congressionally approved commissions. "This was an act of war, not a traffic ticket. It should be in military court.''
For two days now, the five observers have sat in a special glass booth behind the 9/11 proceedings while Judge Stephen Henley, an Army colonel, questioned Mohammed and his fellow accused on procedural matters in the case.
Monday, two of the accused boasted of their pride in assisting in the mass murder. Wednesday, Mohammed said he opposed Obama's request for a delay and offered ''to confess,'' language he has used in the past that has been interpreted to mean he wants to plead guilty.
The family members said they felt as though the men were taunting them.