Survivors of people killed in New York City on 9/11 on Thursday criticized the current focus of pretrial proceedings on the torture of the five men accused of the worst terrorist attack on the homeland in U.S. history.
“Torture is living a life without your loved one,” said Terry Strada, whose husband Thomas was killed in the World Trade Center, leaving her 4-day-old son and his older brother and sister without a father. Thomas was an executive with Cantor Fitzgerald.
“What these five men did on 9/11 was inhumane,” said Jefferson Crowther, whose son Welles is remembered as a selfless Samaritan who saved people in the crumbling towers, then perished. “We talk about human rights. They don’t deserve human rights. Because they weren’t human. They were inhumane.” Welles was an equities trader.
Strada and Crowther were among eight people — relatives of the dead and one building collapse survivor — the Pentagon brought to the base to observe hearings this week ahead of the death-penalty trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged accomplices in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed 2,976 people in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.
The military judge has yet to set a trial date. An emphasis for some time has been the defense attorneys’ access to information about what agents did to the alleged terrorists in the CIA’s secret prisons before they were handed over to the military. Just before the victims spoke, attorney Walter Ruiz told reporters that his client Mustafa al Hawsawi, 47, “continues to bleed daily” as a result of rectal abuse in CIA custody.
“He continues to have to make a choice between eating and defecating, between taking in nourishment and undergoing the excruciating pain of a bowel movement,” Ruiz said, accusing the military of not providing Hawsawi, a Saudi, with adequate medical treatment at the secret Camp 7 lockup.
Ruiz also accused the government of withholding the names of people who worked on the spy agency’s black sites, as well as their locations — not for national security reasons, as the chief prosecutor Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins claims, but to cover up embarrassment.
“It is without a doubt clear that the rules of national security are being invoked simply to prevent accountability and the identities of the torturers and the identities of the foreign nations and partners in what really amounted to an international criminal enterprise,” Ruiz told reporters. “What we did was a crime. The United States agents that acted in concert with foreign agents perpetrated a crime.”
Ruiz recited a series of CIA tactics — sodomy, stuffing captives into cramped confinement boxes “for hours and hours and hours on end,” left to defecate on themselves, thrown into walls and being hung from them.
Martins had spoken to the media earlier. He told the stories of the men who died on 9/11 whose families had come to watch. “We can’t say precisely when this trial will go to trial on the merits even as the 15th anniversary of the deaths of their loved ones quickly approaches,” he told reporters. “What we can do is commit that the government will never lose interest in this and will pursue trial and justice under law for however long it takes.”
So the survivors of men killed on Sept. 11 got the last word. They called it an unusual accommodation that the court let Mohammed and the others wear traditional Muslim garb, in some instances topped by a camouflage vest or jacket. They expressed surprise that the Army judge scheduled breaks in court around Muslim prayer times.
“It’s a mass murder case. It’s not a human rights case,” Strada said.
“A lot of their requests are just annoying delaying tactics,” said Alison Crowther, mother of the Sept. 11 hero known as The Man in the Red Bandanna.
Earlier, defense attorneys for some of the men said the speediest path to trial was for the prosecutor to strike the possibility of the death penalty. A capital case means defense lawyers must prepare not just for trial but also arguments to try to spare their clients execution if they are convicted.
The Pentagon also provides each capital defendant with government-funded “learned counsel,” seasoned criminal defense attorneys with extensive background in death penalty cases.
None of the victims’ family members expressed support for eliminating the death penalty. “It shouldn’t be the defendants who decide if it’s a capital case,” said James Selwyn, whose father Howard worked for Euro Brokers on the 84th floor of the South Tower. “I think that’s something that the law determines, not them because they think it will speed up the trial.”