9/11 Families Struggle to Forgive
More than eleven years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, claimed the lives of their family members, nine people traveled to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Oct. 15-19 to attend the pre-trial hearings of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and five others accused of organizing and financing the attacks. The defendants, arraigned May 5 in President Obama’s military commissions, face execution if convicted.
In traveling to Guantánamo Bay the family members had a unique opportunity to personally face the men accused of murdering their loved ones. Eleven years after that tragic day the emotions were raw as ever. “I wanted to walk past them when we came into the courtroom,” said Kathleen Haberman of Farmington, Wis., who traveled to Guantánamo Bay with her husband Gordon. Their daughter Andrea, 25, died in the World Trade Center. “I truly wanted to just look in their faces because, to me, these cannot be human beings. These are the devils. No human being would do this.”
Some family members expressed the importance of faith in carrying them through the darkest moments since Sept. 11. “The Lord will help you through anything in life. You just have to ask,” said Ms. Haberman.
Merrilly Noeth lost her son Michael, 30, a member of the U.S. Navy, at the Pentagon on Sept. 11. “I know [Michael] is with me. I believe very firmly, and I always have,” she said.
Yet for those who attended the hearings, forgiveness is hard – even unthinkable. Forgiveness “for them?” asked Ms. Noeth. “I’m not that good.”
Mr. Haberman admitted, “That’s a tough one for me. When I sit in court with these guys, can I forgive them? I have a hard time. I mean, they don’t want my forgiveness. I think justice is the word.”
Dorine and Martin Toyen of Avon, Conn., lost their daughter Amy, 24, in the World Trade Center. She was engaged to be married. “Her whole life was taken away from her,” said Ms. Toyen. “There is no way I could ever forgive them.”
Mr. Toyen concurred. “I want justice, not forgiveness,” he said. “I’m still very bitter. Rage.” If the accused “are found guilty, then I would have no qualms with the death penalty.”
Ms. Noeth said the death penalty would be too easy. “The people that we lost suffered a lot more than that. I think they deserve as much pain as can possibly be inflicted on them.”
During the week of hearings Army Col. James L. Pohl, chief judge of the military commissions, heard more than a dozen motions related to the defendants’ presence in court, what they are allowed to wear, how to treat classified information, calling and compelling witnesses, the applicability of the United States Constitution and whether the defendants should be able to, on the record, share details of mistreatment while secretly detained by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Human rights organizations contest that the military commissions, a special court system created to try terrorism suspects, are unnecessary. Instead the case should be moved to federal court, they argue, which has a proven record of trying and convicting terrorism suspects. Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization of 9/11 families dedicated to peacemaking, agrees. The military commissions “currently fail to guarantee the fairness and respect for due process that federal trials would,” the group said. “Justice will be served only if the highest legal standards are met.”
Alexandra Scott of Stanford, Conn., who lost her father Randolph Scott, 48, in the World Trade Center, shared her perception of the fairness of the current hearings. “There are different ways to gauge fair. Fair for who? Fair for us?” she wondered. “This is ten years in the making, but at the same time, it is also just the beginning. A matter of fairness is kind of hard to judge at this point. It’s really just the beginning.”
Luke Hansen, S.J.