Luke HansenOctober 19, 2012

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.


Updated: Statement on the military commissions from September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. (Oct. 22, 2012)

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David Smith
9 years ago
Whether or not an individual forgives an offender has nothing to do with the offender or with society - it's just a matter of the individual's coming to terms with internal unresolved conflicts that are hurting him.

As a society, we would, I think, be healthier if we refrained from giving celebrity status to individuals who have been wounded in one way or another. A murder victim's mother should have no special claim on the murderer. How she feels is properly no one's concern but hers.
Barry Hudock
9 years ago
I agree with David (#2). That the families in these circumstances would have difficulty or even find it impossible to forgive should be obvious. For us to try to judge their failure/refusal to forgive would be inappropriate.  So the only other reason to air their struggles is the same compulsion that makes us gawk at wrecks on the highway: the grotesqueness of the tragedy (including the tragedy that forgiveness is nearly impossible) fascinates us. So I wouldn't say we're making them celebrities, as David did; we're just fascinated by their pain.  And that's not a good enough reason to include them on this blog or elsewhere. Unless we know them personally and are in a position to help, we should simply pray for them and leave them alone.
Bill Mazzella
9 years ago
"For us to try to judge their failure/refusal to forgive would be inappropriate."

Refusal to forgive is not acceptable in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not a suggestion. It is a command. Jesus equated anger with murder. "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

This is the problem with infant baptism. People are baptized into a discipleship they are not committed to. 
Beth Cioffoletti
9 years ago
Civil justice can restore the sense of security to a community.  We can carry on knowing that laws will be respected and those who break those laws will be held accountable.

Personal forgiveness, or asking for forgiveness, or coming to understand one's own involvement and participation in crime is not necessary.

Personal healing is another story.  I'm not sure why we intermix these stories, and justice often becomes another word for revenge.
Crystal Watson
9 years ago
The whole forgiveness/justice thing gets een eirder when you consider the theory of pergatory .... God forgives but he still punishes?
Vincent Gaitley
9 years ago
Forgiveness shouldn't come easily in this matter.  Of all the things Christ did, he didn't restore to life the murdered dead, I can't recall an example.  He forgave his killers, but after all, that is the divine power.  We share that power incompletely but suffer immensely when murder is the sin before us.  Frankly, I don't think any of these grieving folks should have to forgive anything-leave the big cases for God.  What's the old saying?  "Fiat justicia, ruat caelum" Let justice be done though the heavens fall.  Seems about right.
Bill Mazzella
9 years ago
The September 11 attack is the first one on American soil. Yet there are WORSE atrocities that occur every day and few care. We hear very little about the five million + children who die every  year before the age of five lacking basic food and medicine. We accept Indian and African priests as "missionaries" here while they leave extreme poverty in their homelands. They are brought here purely by the lure of money for their home bishops who irresponsibly prevent them from tending to their own downtroddent. 

As far as forgiveness, Jesus always said "mercy over sacrifice." Forgiveness is the essential Christian virtue. Jesus was wholly human. To forget that when we talk of forgiveness is to falsify our faith. Of course the hierarchical church has tainted itself since the fourth century when it chose empire over the spirit. Jesus always spoke of reconciliation. If we are warriors we can hav no part with him.  

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