Marge Mathers, 75, is a 9/11 widow from New Jersey who “fled to Texas” in 2002 after her husband was killed in the World Trade Center.
When a neighbor called her that day in 2001, screaming to turn on the television, Mathers said she was counting the floors of Tower 1, the North Tower, because she knew her husband, Charles W. Mathers, was on the 99th floor. “It looked bad,” she said. The building soon collapsed and all Mathers could think was, “What am I going to tell the kids?”
The 15th anniversary this year has a special meaning for her: She wants accountability. Mathers and a group of victims’ families and survivors are pushing the House for approval of a bill, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act or JASTA. It would enable victims’ families to sue countries that funded terrorism that killed Americans on U.S. soil. The Senate, led by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the majority whip and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., approved the bill unanimously in May and victims’ families want the House to act this week – in time for the anniversary.
Nobody has been held accountable for the money.
Marge Mathers, 9/11 widow
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has taken a deliberative approach to the bill and wants it to go through the traditional legislative process, according to his spokesman Brendan Buck, and be considered and voted on by the House Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing on the bill in July.
The victims’ families are asking for a short-cut to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, although the House leadership did not approve their wish for a vote on Tuesday, when Congress returns.
The White House has threatened to veto the bill over concerns about sovereignty and that other countries would retaliate against U.S. citizens. In addition, the Saudis, ahead of the Senate vote, threatened to sell $750 billion in assets – a threat that Cornyn and Schumer dismissed as “hollow.”
The 9/11 families are adamant that Congress needs to pass the bill.
“I hope JASTA brings another chapter of accountability to those who sponsored and financed that act,” said Mathers in an interview. Now a Galveston, Texas, resident, Mathers travels to New Jersey to see a daughter, Marjory Kane, and often to Washington to lobby for the legislation. “I personally would like to know who was responsible for giving money to the hijackers,” she said.
Since she began working on the issue, Mathers said she’s been to Washington four times, visiting members’ offices with Terry Strada, a widow from New Jersey and the national chairwoman of 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism. Strada reached out to Mathers because she wanted someone from Texas to lobby for the bill.
Mathers said she calls and emails lawmakers and speaks often to her congressman, Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, who supports the bill.
The bill is known informally as the “Saudi bill” because 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. The Saudi connection re-entered the news recently with the release of “the 28 pages,” the portion of the first U.S. report on the 9/11 attacks that was classified when it was released in 2003.
Former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., had led the effort to release the 28 pages, which include connections between Saudi officials and hijackers, and he is now pushing the House to approve the JASTA bill.
“I hope that it will act during this session, ideally before the 15th anniversary of 9/11,” Graham said at a National Press Club appearance last Wednesday. He described the information in the declassified report as “removing the cork from the bottle” and that “there is a significant amount of information which, like the 28 pages, has been withheld.”
In a statement, the Saudi Embassy said, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expresses once again its strong disappointment at Senator Bob Graham’s continued advocacy of the idea that the government of Saudi Arabia bore responsibility for the attacks of September 11, 2001.”
Mathers is not planning on being part of any lawsuit, although she has spent years calling and visiting lawmakers, even overcoming her shyness about identifying herself to her Texas friends and neighbors as “a 9/11 widow.”
“I just want justice,” she said. “I don’t need to be part of a lawsuit.”
Mathers younger daughter, Marjory Kane, who had just found out she was pregnant when her father was killed, agrees. “It’s much more about accountability,” said Kane. “Our motivation isn’t to be included as part of a lawsuit. It’s been 15 years. I look at my son (born in 2002) and see the passage of time.”
Mathers felt she found a champion in Cornyn, whom she described as “wonderful” for his advocacy. Mathers and her husband first bought a Texas vacation home in 1998 near Brownsville when their youngest child, a son, was attending Rice University. In 2002 she moved to the home in the Lone Star State and in 2004 she settled in Galveston. “I love it,” she said. “I’m comfortable down there. You have to find a place so you can cope.”
Now she’s calling and writing House members in the hopes that the House will take a legislative shortcut by putting the bill on the suspension calendar – meaning a quick vote this week before Sunday’s 15th anniversary.
Ryan said last week at a New York fundraiser that the bill should go through the Judiciary Committee.
No matter what happens, Mathers isn’t giving up. “This is murder.”