9/11 families excluded from Guantanamo hearing

Source: http://uk.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUKNASU6040120080605

9/11 families excluded from Guantanamo hearing

Thu Jun 5, 2008 4:03am BST

By Jane Sutton

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - As the Guantanamo war crimes court prepared to arraign five prisoners on death penalty charges of orchestrating the September 11 attacks, a Pentagon official apologized on Wednesday for excluding victims' families from the hearing.

The U.S. military quietly invited one woman whose brother was an American Airlines pilot killed in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon in the 2001 attacks.

But the invitation to attend Thursday's arraignment at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba was rescinded when the New York Daily News revealed that lone invitee Debra Burlingame was an ardent defender of President George W. Bush who spoke in support of his administration at the Republican Party convention during his 2004 re-election campaign.

Relatives of other victims complained that the Guantanamo trials were being politicized and the Pentagon's legal adviser, Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, acknowledged the matter was mishandled.

"Out of good intentions, one of them was invited. It shouldn't have been done that way, it should have been done more comprehensively, more completely, more thoroughly," Hartmann told dozens of journalists who were flown to Guantanamo to observe Thursday's hearing.

"In the future, we will have a lottery system to make sure the victim families have equal access, equal opportunity to come, to visit, to see the hearings, any parts of the hearings that they like ... and we will be consistent in our practices from now on."

Accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other prisoners -- Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash -- are to appear before a judge at the remote naval base for the first time on charges of conspiring with al Qaeda to murder civilians.


They are also charged with 2,973 counts of murder, one for each person killed in 2001 when hijacked passenger planes slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

The suspects, who could be executed if convicted, were transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006 after spending about three years in secret CIA prisons.

They are among 19 prisoners now facing charges in the tribunals established after the September 11 attacks to try non-American captives whom the Bush administrations considers unlawful "enemy combatants" not entitled to the legal protections granted to soldiers and civilians.

The tribunals first convened in August 2004 and pretrial hearings have plodded along amid numerous and often successful legal challenges from military defence lawyers who call the process unfair and rigged to convict.

One case was resolved when an Australian prisoner pleaded guilty via negotiations that cut his sentence to nine months in prison, but no case has advanced to trial.

The Pentagon approved charges in May for the five accused September 11 plotters, who are the first Guantanamo prisoners accused of direct involvement in the attacks that launched the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

The military lawyers assigned to defend them have only recently met them and have accused the government of trying to rush the cases to trial in order to influence the November U.S. presidential election.

While no one group can speak for all of the families of those killed, seven women who lost husbands and sons in the attacks echoed those accusations in a letter sent on Wednesday to the Pentagon official overseeing the trials, Susan Crawford.

"We want nothing more than to see that justice is served in the prosecution of suspects," they wrote. "However, we know that no justice will come out of a system that has been compromised by politics and stripped of the rule of law."

(Editing by Eric Walsh)


I wonder why they would choose someone like Debra Burlingame to attend rather than someone like Lorie Van Auken. Could it be that Lorie might point out the ridiculousness of these show trials? Nah... that couldn't be it.

Do these people deserve to know how and why their loved ones were murdered? Do we deserve to know how and why 9/11 happened?