9/11 Families and the Military Commission Trials

We do not honor our loved ones memories by perpetuating injustice.

by John Leinung
June 4th, 2008

When the high-value prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are formally charged this week with planning the killing of nearly 3,000 people on 9/11, the only victim family member allowed to be present will be a secretly invited administration supporter, Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles died in the attacks. According to some press reports, she was invited to offer a political counterpoint to human rights watchdogs critical of the military commission system.

This is not the first time the Bush/Cheney administration has attempted to use 9/11 families to justify their policy decisions. No one knows better than we the effects of terrorism — the pain of losing a loved one to someone else’s political agenda. But we do not honor our loved ones memories by perpetuating injustice.

September 11th was indeed a crime against humanity, not just against the United States or the 3,000 individuals of many nationalities who died that day. At the end of the Second World War, the United States was in the forefront of cooperative international efforts to establish legal processes to bring justice to war crimes and violations of international law. But if the world is to demand that nations and individuals alike act in accordance with international laws and norms, how can we justify a military commissions system that ignores inconvenient American legal traditions and norms, and international treaties?

Many of us feel that, along with our grief came a responsibility and challenge to see that the disregard for the rights of other human beings evidenced on 9/11 not be imposed on anyone else. Whether we are in someone’s eyes lawful or unlawful combatants, noncombatants, or innocent civilians, the only protection any of us ultimately have is the willingness of other nations and individuals to follow the rule of law. This is behavior that can be encouraged only through leading by example. It can not be imposed by force of will, or by more lawless behavior.

Unfortunately, the Bush/Cheney administration has chosen to interpret international treaties, the Constitution, and legal traditions only in ways convenient to them. Displaying a single, hand-picked, 9/11 family member at a Military Commissions arraignment will not convey any legitimacy to fatally flawed policies. Neither will it convince anyone that the Military Commissions have the blessing, or confidence, of 9/11 family members.

John M. Leinung
Step-Father of Paul J. Battaglia, WTC Tower 1

Filed in: Voices of Peaceful Tomorrows

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