Editorial: Possible plea deals one more blow for 9/11 families

On Sept. 14, 2001, just days after planes commandeered by terrorists destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, killing almost 3,000, then-President George W. Bush stood at Ground Zero and picked up a bullhorn.

“I want you all to know that America today, America today is on bended knee, in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn. This nation stands with the good people of New York City and New Jersey and Connecticut as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens,” he said, surrounded by police officers, firefighters and other first responders.

Some rescue workers shouted to him “We can’t hear you!”

“I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you,” said Bush. “And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

A little over two decades later, is anyone still listening?

It must not seem that way to the many families who lost loved ones that day and who’ve fought for years to bring the guilty to justice.

The Herald has kept up with the struggle of some 1,600 whose loved ones perished on 9/11 as they sought civil actions designed to reveal Saudi Arabia’s role in the attacks.

They’ve pursued cases against the Saudi government for allegedly supporting two hijackers who came to California in 2000, and sought to sue the Saudis for backing charities that supported the al-Qaeda terrorists.

While these families have been fighting, the suspected architect of the craven attacks and his fellow defendants have been sitting in a Guantanamo Bay detention center, their day of final reckoning put on hold with legal delays and arguments.

There can be no closure, no sense of resolution until Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and company are finally brought to justice.

But the pain is not over for the 9/11 families: the defendants may never face the death penalty under plea agreements being considered by military prosecutors and defense lawyers.

“The Office of the Chief Prosecutor has been negotiating and is considering entering into pre-trial agreements,” or PTAs, the letter said. It told the families that while no plea agreement “has been finalized, and may never be finalized, it is possible that a PTA in this case would remove the possibility of the death penalty.”

Plea deals are commonplace in our criminal justice system. But the 9/11 attacks were no commonplace crime. They were the worst attacks on American soil since the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Lives were lost, families shattered, and America’s sense of security shaken to its core.

Do the interrogations under torture the defendants underwent while in CIA custody warrant plea deals? Defense lawyers may view them as such, but some 9/11 families expressed outrage.

It’s about “holding people responsible, and they’re taking that away with this plea,” said Peter Brady, whose father was killed in the attack.

Military prosecutors have vowed to take the families’ views into consideration.

“The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,” said Bush in 2001. It’s vital that the military prosecutors listen now.

Editorial cartoon by Gary Varvel (Creators Syndicate)
Editorial cartoon by Gary Varvel (Creators Syndicate)
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