9/11 victims' families: Don't close Guantanamo

Miami HeraldJuly 20, 2009 

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Self-described "Mama for Obama" Judith Reiss sat in the spectator's gallery at the war court here last week clutching a photo of her bond-trader son Joshua, who perished in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. She then offered a painful observation.

"Justice moves very, very slowly," the 60-year-old Bucks County, Pa., mother of five said of the Thursday hearing that resolved very little. "I hope that I'm alive when this case is finally solved."

Then she offered advice to Barack Obama, the president she stumped for door-to-door in last year's election: Don't close the prison camps at Guantanamo. Don't abandon military commissions justice.

Heartbroken relatives of 9/11 attack victims have emerged as a key constituency in the campaign to stop Obama from making good on his Jan. 22 executive order to empty the prison camps and revise the controversial military trials within a year.

Obama argued that Guantanamo has become an anti-American recruiting tool in the arsenal of al Qaida. Moreover, he said military commissions designed during the George W. Bush years lacked fundamental U.S. guarantees of due process and were at odds with American values.

"There is also no question that Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America's strongest currency in the world," he said in a May 21 address to the nation.

But three times since the 2008 presidential campaign, the Pentagon has brought parents, siblings and children of Sept. 11 victims to watch alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and co-conspirators defend themselves at a court designed by the Bush administration to mete out military justice. Both Obama and rival Sen. John McCain pledged to close Guantanamo during the campaign.

Three times, the court watchers described the behavior of the confessed al Qaida acolytes as making a mockery of American justice.

And three times they held news conferences urging the White House to keep the prison camps open and the war court here intact as the speediest, safest way to close the books on the former CIA-held captives accused of mass murder in the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

"I did not come with a vengeful heart," said Pompano Beach mother Janet Roy, whose firefighter brother, William Burke, died saving others at the World Trade Center. "I came to see for myself. . . . I know the right thing is being done here, in a carefully thought-out manner."

Theirs is a powerful and emotional message from a sampling of victims' kin, chosen by lottery, escorted to this base gingerly and with sensitivity to the families of the 2,974 people killed in al Qaida's coordinated hijackings that sent planes plunging into the Pentagon, the World Trade Center towers and a Pennsylvania field.

When they left for last week's session Tuesday on a charter flight from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, the pilot pointed out a special sight — Air Force One awaiting its next mission.

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