Speech at the panel discussion: “Five Years Ago: 9/11 Survivors and Families” in Ann Arbor, MI

My name is Adele Welty. I am a member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group that was founded by family members of those killed on September 11th who have united to turn our grief into action for peace. By developing and advocating non violent actions in the pursuit of justice, we hope to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism. We acknowledge our unity as human beings with all those of every nation affected by violence We are reaching out to them in the spirit of common humanity and stressing the experiences we share, we are working together to create a more peaceful and secure world.

The week before last, thirty people from countries around the world were convened by Peaceful Tomorrows  in Garrison New York. These are people, who were directly affected by terror attacks from Bali to Beslan;  South Africa to Northern Ireland; people who lost family members in the train bombings in Madrid and people from Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq who continue to suffer under occupation and the terror of war. They exchanged ideas with each other about their work, for all of them have created organizations in their own countries that seek peace and reconciliation. During those three days they elected an interim steering committee to work toward the formalization of an international network of organizations for peace and reconciliation. Following the private meeting, they appeared  in New York City for five days at fourteen different sites, including universities and churches, meeting halls and parks, to deliver their messages of peace.

My son, Firefighter Timothy Matthew Welty was lost in the line of duty at the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. He was killed while trying to save the lives of those trapped in the burning towers, regardless of race, color, religion, political affiliation or immigration status. Since his death, tens of thousands of innocent civilians, most of them women and children, have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. These people have been killed in the name of my son and in the names of all the precious souls who died in the attacks of Sept. 11th in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

In the United States, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we received messages of support from Libya and Syria, Germany and Israel; flowers and candles were placed at the gates of American Embassies from London to Beijing; flags flew at half-staff across Europe; in Iran, a candlelight vigil was held to honor those killed in the attacks. In France and Italy the newspaper headlines read: “We are all Americans”. The ambassadors of the nineteen members of NATO invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that an attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all. This was a crisis.

In Chinese, the word for crises is represented by two symbols: one is the symbol for danger and the other is the symbol for opportunity. September 11th  was a crises, a moment in history when the United States of America had an opportunity to stand together with other nations of the world to form a steadfast coalition that would oppose all terrorist attacks on civilian populations. The danger was that the government would respond in a way that would exacerbate world tensions, destabilize the regions of South Asia and the Middle East and bring about a new cycle of violence.

On October 7, 2001, the U.S. bombed Afghanistan killing hundreds of civilians, wiping out entire families and leaving behind thousands of cluster bombs that continue to this day to blow up in the fields killing and maiming farmers and children, who are attracted to their bright colors.

I visited Afghanistan in 2004, and met many families who had lost their homes and family members  in the American bombing. I saw small children with artificial legs or arms, some were blind and all were scarred – not only physically but emotionally. Yet, these people embraced me as a grieving mother, not as the enemy, as Muslims are often viewed in this country. They, like the families of 9/11, understand the true impact of the term civilian casualties.

In this country, in the wake of 9/11, the FBI began rounding up immigrants and detaining them without Due Process of Law. Hundreds of bias crimes against South Asians occurred nationwide. Men were beaten, businesses destroyed, children tormented in schools. (The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) reports – 1,972 incidents of anti-Muslim violence, discrimination and harassment in 2005.) Thousands of immigrants have been deported without a formal hearing, many of them heads of households, leaving families without a safety net of support. Many had lived and worked in this country for up to 20 years years. The vast majority committed no crime and are guilty only of having an expired visa. These people include vulnerable asylum seekers, torture survivors and over a thousand unaccompanied children, for whom there is no legal mechanism to protect their interests. Children, born in the United States, saw their immigrant families torn apart. At the present time there are an estimated 22,000 immigrants in detention around the cournty. Reform of our immigration laws continues to be debated in terms of national security rather than human rights.

In March of 2003, the U. S. invaded Iraq. The reports from the media embedded with the troops showed an easy and almost bloodless enterprise for all Americans to cheer as we watched Iraqis happily bringing down the stature of Saddam Hussein.

In 2005, I was part of a humanitarian delegation to Amman, Jordan, arranged by Global Exchange, where we met with Iraqi doctors, journalists, and families of slain Iraqis. We encountered only compassion for our losses and immense sadness for the horrors they must endure every day, because for them, every day is like September 11th.  There, the Iraqis told stories of early morning raids on their homes, the shooting of all young males in a household, the rape of teenage girls, all before the eyes of their parents. We heard of coalition tanks rolling over cars filled with people. We saw pictures of bodies in the streets of Falluja being eaten by dogs. Some were covered in a fine, yellow/white dust, which we were told was phosphorous. Phosphorus bombs are outlawed by the Geneva Convention. Doctors told of patients being dragged off gurneys in the Emergency Room and shot. Sixty percent of the population of Iraq consists of minor children, and as the death toll rises, the future of that country is lost in the rubble. Their eyes see a different face of terror.

Because of the overwhelming cost of the war on terror, Americans have seen jobs, the environment, education, health care and the lives of our sons and daughters sacrificed. We should be focusing our resources to find those who have come here to hurt us, not on decent, hardworking immigrants who have only come to enjoy the freedom we hold out as our guiding light. If we do not defend and uphold the principles upon which our country stakes its claim to the moral high ground, we have defeated ourselves.

Would having a Department of Peace have avoided all of these horrors? In the words of Dennis Kucinich, “A Department of Peace can be an effective counterbalance, redirecting our national energies towards nonviolent intervention, mediation, and conflict resolution on all matters of human security…..He goes on to say: Its work in violence control will be to support disarmament treaties, peaceful coexistence and peaceful consensus building. Its focus on economic and political justice will examine and enhance resource distribution, human and economic rights and strengthen democratic values.”

September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, stands in solidarity with those who hold dear the idea of justice, liberty and peace defined in this legislation.  We believe the cycle of violence and human trauma perpetrated in the names of our loved ones, must end, not only for ourselves, our own children and grandchildren, but for all generations to come on the face of the earth.

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