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Justice for 9/11 families at last: It’s time to finally resolve the Gitmo case

PT Members Elizabeth Miller and Barry Amundson wrote an opinion piece for the Daily News supporting plea agreements.

Read the full article here

For family members of 9/11 victims like us, a resolution to the 9/11 case at Guantanamo Bay

seems like a distant horizon that can never be reached. More than two decades after our loved ones were killed, the case against five men accused of planning and supporting the attacks is no closer to resolution with a broken extrajudicial military system hopelessly deadlocked and tainted by torture.

A year ago, the two of us were at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base where we expected to

observe a pre-trial hearing — now in their 11th year — of the five men accused of planning and supporting the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Barry, whose younger brother, an Army Specialist, died in the Pentagon, was a founding member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, in 2002. Elizabeth, whose father, a firefighter, died at Ground Zero, joined Peaceful Tomorrows in 2020. We never witnessed a moment of courtroom deliberation. Instead, at the end of the week, we learned of a stunning development in the 9/11 case: the prosecution had initiated negotiations with the defense for plea agreements. If the defendants would plead guilty, the government would no longer seek the death penalty.

A year later, these negotiations have stalled. Like other members of Peaceful Tomorrows, we

believe that plea agreements represent the best, and perhaps only, path to ending the 9/11 case and securing some semblance of justice. The Biden administration must urgently move them forward and bring the military commission system to a close.

September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows is a 9/11 family organization founded in 2002 to support nonviolent responses to the attack that break the cycles of violence produced by war and terrorism. Part of the organization’s mission is to bring those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to justice in accordance with the principles of international law. We are the only 9/11 family organization with NGO status to send observers to the Guantanamo proceedings.

When we met for the first time to head to Guantanamo, we talked about how our experiences and hopes were similar even though we represent different generations of Peaceful Tomorrows members. New 9/11 family members have come of age and joined our organization, dedicated to seeking justice for the loss of our loved ones, while also supporting the rule of law and advocating for accountability for torture.

Our members have a history of attending pre-trial hearings, observing years of seemingly endless legal disputes over discovery, overclassification, and issues of torture instead of hearing evidence against the defendants. Recognizing a change was needed, we started advocating for plea deals in 2017.

Our frustration turned to excitement when the prosecution informed us and other victim family members that they initiated plea discussions with the defense. In addition to ending the case, securing guilty pleas could finally allow 9/11 families to learn more about the details of the attack and its planning. Since March 2022, the prosecution and defense teams have assured us that they are working diligently on the terms of the plea agreements. In recent months, the proposal has gained momentum from across the political spectrum, including from a former top U.S. government lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, who also lost his wife on 9/11. However, there are certain “policy principles” that the prosecutors do not have the authority to decide on their own. Instead, the decisions, likely regarding conditions of confinement, have been outsourced to unaccountable governmental agencies like the Department of Defense. These decisions require a “complex interagency review,” and while lawyers in the Defense Department are coordinating this review, it is unclear just who is included.

The prosecution previously noted that there might be decisions made in advance of the scheduled January 2023 hearings. That time has come and gone, and still we have seen no progress or answers about these policy principles. Many family members wonder if we will ever see judicial finality in our lifetime. Some family members have already passed and never will. With the announcement of plea deals as a possibility, we felt as if we may finally see the horizon. That was short lived. It has been over a year since this announcement was made and these policy principles were sent to the Department of Defense, the horizon is again becoming distant as we wait for President Biden’s attention.

As a brother and a daughter of those killed on 9/11, we are forced to wonder: Will judicial

finality ever come, or will it be left to our children’s children?

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