“Thank you – everyone for being here and for your concern about these vital issues.
My sister Laura worked in the theatre in NYC. On September 11th 2001, she had a day job managing a seminar on information technology. When the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, sick Laura was on the 106th floor.
In the weeks following Laura’s death what I expected from my government was a commitment to discovering the truth about those who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks and an assurance that they would be brought to justice. I wanted everything about the hijackers investigated in transparent, public proceedings. I wanted their accomplices and financial supporters identified, captured, and tried in open courts.
But, 15 years ago, the dominant narrative was one of FEAR, VIOLENCE and REVENGE. Well-meaning people frequently said to me, “Don’t worry. We’re going to get ‘them’ for you!” That was not at all what I was thinking or feeling. My deepest wish was “Please, do not let this ever happen again to another person – not in the US, not anywhere.”
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows organized in 2002 hoping to counter the narrative of revenge. We believed that the facts about why and how 9/11 was carried out could help us prevent future attacks. We believed not only family members, but all US citizens, indeed the entire world – should watch the United States respond to this horrific crime with respect for the highest standards of law. We joined together because we rejected violence and we believed that the rule of law is one of the greatest forces for NONVIOLENCE that humanity has evolved.
As we began to learn about the black sites and torture, I realized that powerful people in my government did not agree that a fair and open trial of the 9/11 suspects was a priority. I felt profoundly betrayed. In 2009, our brief hope that the 9/11 proceedings would be moved to Federal Court was swiftly dashed. And so today, 15 years after 9/11 we have neither truth nor justice.
The slogan of the Military Commissions at Guantanamo, where five 9/11 suspects may eventually be tried, is “Fairness, Transparency, Justice.” Yet virtually no one is aware of the pre-trial hearings that have been going on for four years. There are profound tensions between the government’s claims concerning “National Security” and the requirements of a fair trial – discovery, attorney-client privilege, hearing evidence in open court. The issue of torture hangs over everything.
While no one can predict with certainty, we will likely observe the 20th anniversary of 9/11 before a trial commences.
Despite Congress having passed acts creating and then refining the Military Commissions, they are a judicial system that is still being invented. I want to tell one story – by no means the worst example of irregularity and unfairness but one that I found profoundly insulting. Last summer the prosecution proposed taking victim impact statements from family members, in open court with the press present, in advance of a trial or a verdict. It appeared that that most basic principle – “innocent until proven guilty” – did not apply and that family members’ pain was to be showcased to somehow compensate for the failure to conduct a trial.
Thankfully the judge denied this request by the prosecution. My colleague Julia Rodriguez is going to talk about the Commissions in greater depth. Let me just say, all of us should to be concerned that justice for 9/11 respects the highest standards of the rule of law because it is not about who the perpetrators are, it is about who we are and what we stand for.
Tragically, the US has not done any better at advancing the security of people around the globe. As early as October of 2001, the founders of Peaceful Tomorrows were expressing opposition to war in Afghanistan in our loved ones’ name because of the inevitable, civilian casualties. The invasion of Iraq – aggressively promoted on the first anniversary of 9/11 – attracted hundreds of new family members to our organization. We sent a delegation to Iraq in January of 2003 to meet with civilians and hear their concerns. Our initial contacts failed within months of the invasion, but since 2007, working in partnership with European civil society organizations, Peaceful Tomorrows has been supporting human rights defenders in Iraq. They include trade union leaders, women’s rights advocates, journalists, and Iraqis from all walks of life who are protesting their own government.
Amidst news of the Arab Spring, what is rarely reported here is that since 2011, Iraqis have held massive, nonviolent, street protests in Baghdad and elsewhere, to denounce rampant corruption and sectarianism in their government, failure to provide basic services (electricity and water), and the lack of security. There is a tension between the protests and current efforts to oppose ISIS. The Iraqi government and even US Vice President Biden when he visited Prime Minister al-Abadi say the protests should stop until ISIS is defeated. But the protesters argue that it is exactly the divisive and corrupt sectarian government that the US installed in Iraq that led to the rise of ISIS, and dismantling the discriminatory, sectarian system is part of what is required to ensure that ISIS can be effectively addressed and that another terrorist organization does not arise in its place.
The protests have not stopped. The Iraqis understand, what we all should. There is not a choice: security OR human rights; long-lasting security lies WITH human rights – in Iraq – here – everywhere.