By Kate Schuler
Washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
A group of families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks called on members of Congress today to set up a $20 million fund to aid Afghan victims of the U.S.-led bombing campaign.
“My brother happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Colleen Kelly, 39, whose brother died in the World Trade Center attack. “There are people in the same situation in Afghanistan — in the wrong place at the wrong time. A demonstration of our love and support to those people is one of the most powerful weapons we have in this country.”
Kelly and three other family members of Sept. 11 victims said at a Capitol Hill press conference that they hope to spur creation of a federal fund like the one set up for victims of the terrorist attacks. That fund offers compensation to anyone injured or to the relatives of anyone killed, as long as the recipients waive their right to sue.
The Pentagon has said civilians were never deliberately targeted during the bombing in Afghanistan, but has acknowledged that some bombs caused civilian casualities. The U.S. bombing came in response to the attacks that killed more than 3,100 people in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
The speakers said their appeal was the result of a nine-day trip to Afghanistan taken by four family members of Sept. 11 victims. The visit was sponsored by Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based organization active in human rights and globalization protests.
Eva Rupp, 28, whose step-sister Deora Bodley was aboard the United Airlines flight that crashed in Pennsylvania, said she has mixed emotions about the war in Afghanistan.
“I remain really conflicted because I don’t believe the Taliban was a regime that was legitimate. The people that I talked to were grateful they were gone,” Rupp said.
“All politics aside the trip was about looking at people who were suffering and wanting to help them,” she said.
Kelly Campbell, a 29-year old environmental activist from Oakland, Calif., recalled that the bombing of Afghanistan began on the same day as a memorial service for her brother-in-law, 28-year-old Craig Amundson, who was killed in the Pentagon attack. “I knew that day was someone else’s Sept. 11,” she said.
Campbell showed a picture of a 25-year-old woman whose house, she said, had been destroyed by a U.S. bomb. “It killed her mother and seven members of her family. We met so many families who are suffering,” she said.
Family members also talked about the trip as a healing process and as a way of remembering the lives of their loved ones.
Rupp said she was inspired to make the trip to Afghanistan by the life her step-sister led. She recalled her step-sister as a “helper” and said Deora, a 20-year-old junior at Santa Clara University, had planned to be a child psychologist. “She was someone who wanted to help people who were suffering.”
Rupp said that a poem Deora wrote in her childhood journal, which her family found after her death, cemented her decision to go to Afghanistan. The poem reads “People ask who, what, when, where, how and why. I ask peace.”