Those scarred by 9/11 hope trials bring justice -- and peace

Sally Regenhard still sobs at the thought of the price her son, Christian, a New York firefighter, paid trying to save those inside the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

''I feel that the 9/11 families have had no justice, no accountability, no responsibility from anyone -- from either terrorists or local people in New York City who failed this city to national governmental agencies that failed the American people,'' she said.

On Thursday, a new chapter opens for Regenhard and other family members of 9/11 victims who have been seeking justice for their loved ones: Alleged al Qaeda kingpin Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four others will formally be arraigned as co-conspirators at a military commission in distant Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.


''There's no closure for parents. Ever. At least we'll get an idea of what a modicum of justice looks like, seems like, tastes like,'' said Regenhard from her home in the Bronx. ``There's a thirst for justice.''

No homogenous group, the families left scarred by Sept. 11 include the thousands of spouses, orphans and parents of the 2,973 adults and children killed that day.

Add the survivors -- those who escaped injured, both physically and emotionally -- and the number can't be quantified.

They include Alice Hoagland, whose son Mark Bingham fought the hijackers of United 93, bringing it down in a Pennsylvania field rather than perhaps on Pennsylvania Avenue.

She welcomes the Guantánamo trial of Mohammed, who allegedly confessed in CIA custody, ''and I do hope that he is found guilty,'' she said. ``I'd like to see him justly punished . . . for his ugly crimes every day of his life.''

And they include the children whose parents perished -- and who are still grieving, says Candy Cucharo, director of programs at Tuesday's Children, a nonprofit family service organization founded by family and friends of 9/11 victims.

''This is going to be a trauma trigger for them,'' said Cucharo, who works with the orphans of 9/11.

"For many kids, this is going to be a very traumatic event, reading it in the media, seeing it on television -- it's going to bring them back to their loss.''

Thursday's arraignment is the first public appearance of the alleged organizers, financiers and trainers of the 19 hijackers, among them Mohammed -- the man called KSM who has reportedly bragged to U.S. military officers that he masterminded the mass murder by airplane hijacking ''from A to Z.'' They are charged with a series of war crimes whose conviction carries execution as the ultimate penalty.

No one knows what KSM will do when he is led before a Marine Corps judge.

He and his alleged co-conspirators have been shielded from the public since their capture across the globe in 2003 and subsequent time in secret overseas CIA custody.

But the arraignment surely will thrust that dark day back into the headlines.

The Pentagon airlifted dozens of media members from Washington to the remote U.S. Navy base Wednesday on the eve of the arraignment, which typically includes a formal reading of the charges.

With no provision for photography or Court TV-style coverage, journalists will be left to describe what they see and hear.

No family members will be in attendance. The Defense Department is still developing a lottery system to choose observers from among the Sept. 11 families, and considering a closed-circuit feed to U.S. military bases in the United States.


The senior U.S. officer overseeing the trials was asked Wednesday how the Pentagon could take the first step toward seeking 9/11 justice, and not include the people most profoundly harmed.

''That was a mistake,'' Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann replied. ``We make sure that doesn't occur again.''

Some 9/11 victimes regret that the trials will be held in Guantánamo, to be tried by U.S. military officers and not at the federal court in Manhattan where other alleged terrorists have been tried and convicted.

Others say they don't want to put New York at risk -- or through the pain -- by bringing the alleged senior al Qaeda terrorists there.

Deputy Fire Chief Jim Riches, who led search and rescue operations at Ground Zero, carried his 29-year-old firefighter son's remains from the rubble.

Now he wants America to see the trial and the evidence and know what was done.

''They committed the crime in New York, where these people died, the murders occurred,'' he said. "They're making a commission on a military base. Well, I would like to see it at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, where I live.''

So what, he said, if the alleged mastermind boasts like he did in a Pentagon transcript that he orchestrated the plot and later, in Pakistan, beheaded Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl "with my blessed hand."

''Taunting America will be their final act,'' Riches said. "Let's see how strong they are when they put that rope around their neck. I would pull the trigger. Or push the button. Or inject them and look right in their eyes -- if these guys are guilty.

"I would tell him, `There's no 90 virgins up there, buddy. You're going down to see Satan.' ''