Sister of slain Sept. 11 firefighter: Guantánamo defenders waging ‘judicial jihad’

Theresa Corio holds up a photo of her sister Diane Marie Urban, who was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11, after a news conference Oct. 14, 2016 at the close of a four-day pretrial hearing at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Theresa Corio holds up a photo of her sister Diane Marie Urban, who was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11, after a news conference Oct. 14, 2016 at the close of a four-day pretrial hearing at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

A woman who lost her firefighter brother on 9/11 said she believes she won’t live long enough to see the whole trial of the accused plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. She accused their lawyers of “judicial jihad.”

Another woman pressed the photo of her lost sister against the war court’s triple-paned glass and hissed “bastards” at the alleged mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and his accused accomplices.

Families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on Friday accused defense lawyers for the five men charged in the worst terror attack on U.S. soil of heartless delays in bringing the men to justice. The emotional news conference, with case prosecutor Ed Ryan wiping away tears in a back row, capped a four-day hearing that focused on pretrial issues — from missing CIA health records to still delayed Constitutional questions.

What the hearing didn’t do was set a trial date for the complex conspiracy case more than a decade after the CIA delivered the five men to Guantánamo for eventual trial.

In fact, it ended just two weeks after prosecutors delivered to Pentagon-paid defense lawyers or the judge all the evidence the U.S. government thinks the accused terrorists need to defend themselves at their eventual death-penalty trial.

Now it will be up to the judge to sift through classified information the prosecution wants shielded from defense attorneys and to decide if substitute material is sufficient for a fair trial. The chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, called it “a period of undetermined length.” Next, the defense lawyers will argue for evidence they believe they need, and to suppress other material they believe would taint that military tribunal.

“I came down here looking for an answer. I came down here looking for a time frame,” said Elizabeth Berry, whose brother, New York Fire Capt. William Burke Jr., 46, died in the South Tower’s collapse. “I have health issues. They’re very serious. And it is very likely, I understand now completely, that I probably will not be alive to see the end of this trial.”

It was Berry’s second trip to watch the proceedings; her first was in July 2009, during an aborted Bush-era prosecution. She accused defense teams of “prolonging the pretrial phase, which is in their best interests — not in ours.” Berry also invoked the phrase “judicial jihad,” declining to say who coined it. “That is what I feel is actually going on right now.”

Teresa Corio brought a photo of her younger sister with her and, in her last moments in her last day at the courtroom where observers watch it live but listen on a 40-second, national security delay pressed Diane Marie Urban’s photo up against the glass. Yards away on the other side, the accused terrorists appeared to ignore it.

“I wanted her in the courtroom with me, as if she were there. She was my baby sister,” Corio said, adding that by holding it up she was “hoping that one of them, if not all of them, might look at it and be reminded of the 3,000 people they murdered.”

Urban, 50, died in the South Tower of the World Trade Center, where she was last seen comforting a gravely injured woman on the 78th floor, the “Sky Lobby,” before the hijacked United 175 decimated the floor.

“I didn’t realize I’d be behind glass. But to be in the same room with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, breathing the same air as him, was really going to be a very satisfying thing for me,” she said. Instead she was disappointed. “You know you look at them, they’re so insolent and brazen. They sit in their chair and they swivel around and they speak with each other while the court is in session.”

She expressed particular dismay that one defense team focused on rectal damage done to one of the accused, Saudi Mustafa al Hawsawi, during more than three years in CIA custody. Hawsawi wasn’t in court Friday morning when Corio held up her sister’s photo. He voluntarily skipped the session, his lawyer Walter Ruiz said, to rest up for reconstructive surgery Friday night to address a decade of “suffering with injuries inflicted from the CIA’s torture.”

Said Corio: “We look forward to a verdict and we look forward to justice because it’s 15 years and it’s really too long. The minutiae that we have had to listen to: Anal fissures and prolapse hemorrhoids? C’mon really? … If they had the chance they’d slaughter us all in this room.”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg