Frustration simmered into suspicion Wednesday as relatives of Sept. 11 victims attending stalled hearings here accused a jealous Justice Department of conducting an FBI probe of 9/11 defense lawyers to derail the long-awaited war crimes tribunal.
“These things just don’t happen. It’s not some rogue FBI agent. This had to be approved from the highest level of the FBI to do this,” said Don Arias of Panama City, Fla., a former Air Force officer and New York City firefighter whose brother Adam was killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Some could even say that this was done purposely to derail these hearings and to force it back into federal court,” he told reporters. His sister Lorraine added: “It looks like a well-orchestrated snafu. We’re going to stall now for them to all be investigated. A reappointment process could drag it out another year or more.”
The 10th round of hearings stalled this week on the revelation that two FBI agents questioned a security officer on one 9/11 defense team, then had him sign a nondisclosure agreement, an incursion into attorney-client confidentiality that defense lawyers called “chilling.”
The war court was dark Wednesday after the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, issued a bench order to anyone who ever served on the defense teams of the Sept. 11 case, past and present, to admit if he or she was “contacted or interviewed by agents of any federal government agency,” regardless of any nondisclosure agreement.
At issue for the FBI, apparently, is who gave The Huffington Post and a British TV channel an unclassified 36-page jailhouse commentary “Invitation to Happiness” by the alleged 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed. It skewers American values and society.
The military has held nine rounds of pretrial hearings since the five accused were formally charged in this case two years ago. Defense attorneys and prosecutors are still haggling over what law applies to the death-penalty case and what will constitute trial evidence against the five men who spent years in secret CIA prisons.
The judge has yet to set a provisional trial date and, a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday, the Defense Department had yet to designate a site on this 45-square-mile Navy base to carry out any death sentences.
Charlie Clyne of New York lost his wife Susan, an insurance executive, in the World Trade Center, leaving him to raise their four kids. He declared the proceedings, “a farce.”
“These parasites did it,” he told reporters. “Why the dog and pony show? They’re guilty. Let’s try them, fairly. And then kill them. Take them out to the Bronx Zoo — no, I’m serious — feed them to the lions.”
Clyne also urged the media to ease off rebroadcasts of the Trade Center towers tumbling as too painful for some survivors. Other victims’ family members lamented the lack of coverage of these proceedings that this week drew eight news organizations to Guantánamo, half of them American.
The next step in the hearing was unclear as defense lawyers reached out to perhaps as many as 100 past and present team members — from private contract translators, security officers and consultants to military paralegals and co-counsel — both at this base and on assignment across the globe.
The 10 victims brought here as guests of the government — men and women who lost a wife, son, sister, brother, mother and aunt — passed the day in meetings with reporters and lawyers.
“It’s frustrating to have a day off today. I want to be in court, I want to see what’s going on,” said Amanda Snekszer of suburban Atlanta who accompanied her mother Gloria to the base representing Gloria’s sister, Vicki Linn Yancey, killed in the plane that struck the Pentagon.
“Within the ranks of the FBI they knew what this was going to do,” she said. “I have no trust in our government. There was no way they didn’t know what this was going to do.”
Bill McGinly, who lost his 26-year-old son Mark — a precious metals trader — at the World Trade Center, invoked the episode when radicals attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing the ambassador and four security contractors, as reason enough to distrust government.
There’s no timetable to the Sept. 11 trial, he noted. “We know it’s going to be a long time. But it’s still equally frustrating to us. It’s already been 13 years.”
Suburban Bostonian Claudia Jacobs, whose brother Ariel was killed in the attack, didn’t necessarily buy into the conspiracy but did describe the less than three hours of courtroom drama before the FBI probe froze the proceedings as eye-opening.
As she sat in the courtroom watching the alleged 9/11 plotters through thick glass, and listening to the proceedings on a 40-second delay, an old adage came to mind:
“What you should never see made is sausage and legislation,” she said. “I would add 9/11 hearings to that.
“It’s frustrating and long and I understand it has to be the process,” Jacobs said. “But it is also at the same time quite painful not to have this thing resolved before now.”