Valerie Lucznikowska’s Speech at Friends’ Meeting House in NYC on September 11, 2018
Saturday I attended the funeral of an acquaintance’s 31-year-old son who had died suddenly last week in his sleep. He had not been ill, and was not a drug user. I had never met him.
I attended as a supporter of his mother, a lovely, intelligent, warm and compassionate person – the second in command of our local award-winning town library. It was a Roman Catholic mass, with loving eulogies given by his three older brothers and his partner.
Seeking out the mother after the service, I embraced her….and suddenly burst into tears. I could barely speak. We held each other tightly for a long time. As I walked to the parking lot I realized that my overwhelming (and unexpected) outbreak of emotion was caused by a deep empathy with her families’ loss – I felt a direct connection to a sudden loss 17 years ago at almost the same time of year – my nephew, Adam Arias, was killed in the World Trade Towers where he worked on 9/11.
17 years later I suddenly felt as I did back then. It was a flashback without imaging – it was all pure emotion.
Although the anniversary of 9/11 has been a time of sober reflection for me for the past number of years, I didn’t realize how much the original grief has persisted until it broke through last Saturday.
The shock of sudden loss is traumatizing. When people age or become ill and slowly fail, there is time to visit, discuss, and adjust in slow stages. The body and mind absorb the changes, and normalize the emerging situation. My sister, his mother, died four years ago, and I attended her funeral – she had been ill for a while, and she was 89 when she died. I was very sad, but not devastated – she had had a long, fulfilled life.
Sudden loss, particularly if it’s perceived as senseless, leaves those who remain with feelings ranging from acute anger and outrage to guilt, depression and grief. The level of outrage is often in keeping with the degree of horror or senselessness of the event. 9/11 was such an event – horrible and seemingly senseless. Many family members of those who were killed – the majority in my experience – became angry with all Muslims, falsely laying blame on 1.5 billion Muslims as the perceived perpetrators, rather than the extremist Wahhabee sect. And many are still looking for revenge.
My path to coping with the shock and loss was different. I was fortunate to meet a founding member of Peaceful Tomorrows in late 2001 and joined. My path was to follow the group’s motto, which is “Turning our grief into action for peace.” I channeled my grief and outrage into talking out – for peace and against prejudice, injustice and false blame. I attended many peace marches and have spoken out here and abroad at events and in media. Peace – and a concerted effort by Peaceful Tomorrows against the war in Iraq was the initial force. Our name, Peaceful Tomorrows, is taken from a quote of Martin Luther King Jr., “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”
My colleagues and I want justice for our loved ones who were so brutally ripped from us. About ten years ago I became interested in Guantanamo and the formation of the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) which oversees the prison and trials within the 45-square mile Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, leased from Cuba since 1903. Detention in GTMO – in Cuba – for those vacuumed up in the “War on Terror” began as a way to deny them Constitutional safeguards.
Hundreds of men from all over the world had been captured, imprisoned and held without charge in Guantanamo. Almost 800 prisoners have been held in Guantanamo since it opened on January 11, 2002. A few prison enclaves now exist scattered around a highly guarded section of the base, with most of the 40 remaining men in one camp, and the “high value detainees” – like the 5 men accused of the committing 9/11 — in another that is top secret. Maintenance of the prisons and court facilities cost the US taxpayer $445 million dollars in 2017. Only a handful of all the prisoners ever held there have been charged and the rest released, most of those releases coming under the Bush administration.
In 2014 I gave a speech in Washington DC on the anniversary of GTMO’s opening titled, “Who Are We?” essentially asking that we must examine ourselves as Americans and uphold our principles of fairness and justice. The War on Terror had become, to me, an internal war on our principles and collective morals.
From the onset, family members of PT have been interested in bringing those responsible for 9/11 to justice; we are not looking for revenge. We have always thought that the only place to try those suspects is in federal courts, which have tried and sentenced hundreds of terrorists since 9/11. The Congress has denied this in an act of political grandstanding.
The military commission has been hampered from the get-go by having no set precedents. The law is based on both military law and federal law, resulting in six years of pre-trial hearings, with no trial dates in sight, as the judges and lawyers battle out a new system of justice. The accused were arraigned in 2012 and had already been held for years before that.
Many prisoners were sold to American forces, either via Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, or else from Afghan warlords. US officials confirmed that bounties had been paid. But more importantly, many of them have been tortured in black sites around the world and at Guantanamo. Under the newly-evolving judicial system of the Military Commissions, the five 9/11 defendants are charged with capital crimes and face execution. In death penalty cases, mitigation of sentencing is allowed based on such things as torture. However, the prosecution has been holding back on medical records that can prove this –ostensibly to protect the CIA agents who committed the torture. So the motions drag on year after year. With the CIA behind the scenes.
The newest wrinkles in the pursuit of justice for the victims of 9/11 are hard to believe. To try to speed up the trials, many family members decided it would be good to take the death penalty off the table. Then the mitigation information would not be relevant, and the trials could continue based on a prospective outcome of life imprisonment. Last year, the Convening Authority, the individual who is over the military commissions and answerable to the Pentagon, was fired. It is now believed it was because he suggested taking away the death penalty. To add to the confusion, the judge who has been sitting in the 9/11 case for the last six years unexpectedly announced his retirement, and a new judge has taken the bench as of Monday morning, in this, the 31st pretrial hearing of the 9/11 trial. Startling all, the new judge has announced he is leaving in June of next year.
Defense lawyers immediately requested his recusal or abatement of the trial as he has worked previously with some of the prosecution lawyers, and it is impossible that he has read all the previous motions – some 20,000 pages and more. And…the defense sees the firing of the Convening Authority last year as an obstruction of justice through undue influence by the Pentagon.
It became clear to me some time ago that the trials were a “sham” in the words of Navy defense lawyer Walter Ruiz. The lead defense attorney in GTMO in the now abated Nashiri case of the Cole bombing always wore a kangaroo pin in his lapel
It becomes more evident as time goes on that no resolution is the aim of the government – the only new money given to the prison is not for an additional courtroom space which would speed up trials. It was for enlarging the cell doors to admit wheel chairs. The prisoners are aging out. And then, I wonder, will they ask for money to enlarge the doors so that coffins will fit through?
I would love to end my talk on a note of hope. You are my note of hope…that you have allowed me to tell you about reality. Without the knowledge of what is happening, we cannot deal with life advantageously. You have my gratitude for listening.
Valerie Lucznikowska – September 11, 2018