Guantanamo hearing another ordeal for Sept. 11 victims families
NEW YORK — Moans, sighs and exclamations erupted Saturday as relatives of Sept. 11 victims watched four closed-circuit TV feeds from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that showed the self-proclaimed mastermind of the attacks and co-defendants trying to slow their arraignment, a move that drew outbursts from viewers of “C’mon, are you kidding me?”
“It’s actually a joke. It feels ridiculous,” said Jim Riches, whose firefighter son, Jimmy, died at the World Trade Center.
Riches watched the hearing from a movie theater at Fort Hamilton, N.Y., one of four U.S. military bases where the arraignment was broadcast live for victims’ family members, survivors and emergency personnel who responded to the attacks.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other defendants were arraigned on charges that include terrorism and murder, the first time in more than three years that they appeared in public.
During the hearing, they generally refused to cooperate. At one point, one detainee leafed through a copy of The Economist magazine, then passed it to another. At other times, defendants knelt in prayer.
Like other family members, Riches expressed frustration about the proceedings.
“It’s been a mess for 11 years,” Riches said as he stood in the rain during a break in the proceedings and described the atmosphere inside.
And after his first glimpse inside the military courtroom, he said, “It looks like it’s going to be a very long trial. … They want what they want.”
Riches, a retired firefighter who worked digging up remains in the days after Sept. 11, said he carried with him dark memories of the days after the attacks, and he hopes that if convicted, the five men would be executed.
“I saw what they did to our loved ones — crushed them to pieces,” he said.
About 60 people representing 30 families were in the theater at Fort Hamilton, where the military provided chaplains and grief counselors, Riches said. The other bases providing feeds were Fort Devens, Mass., Joint Base McGuire Dix, N.J., and Fort Meade, Md., the only one open to the public.
At Fort Hamilton, Lee Hanson said he became deeply angry as he watched the delays being caused by men he blames for the death of his son, daughter-in-law and 9/11’s youngest victim — his granddaughter, 2-year-old Christine Hanson.
All were aboard United Flight 175, the second plane to crash into the twin towers.
“They praise Allah. I say, ‘Damn you!’ ” said the silver-haired retiree from Eaton, Conn.
Several people who viewed the proceedings said they had little sympathy for the defendants’ complaints about their treatment, given the brutality of the deaths of the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks.
Mohammed and the others could get the death penalty if convicted in the attacks that sent hijacked airliners slamming into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. The trial is probably at least a year away.
When it comes to justice, “it seems like it’s an afterthought,” said Eunice Hanson, 2-year-old Christine’s grandmother.