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Prospect of 9/11 plea deal divides families of victims, prompts lawmaker pushback

By Kevin FreyWashington, D.C.

PUBLISHED 9:10 PM ET Sep. 08, 2023


Monday marks 22 years since Blake Allison’s wife Anna boarded American Airlines Flight 11, which struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

“She was a very gregarious and outgoing person. She loved gardening,” Allison remembers.

In the decades since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Allison has been pushing for justice, even going to Guantanamo Bay for the arraignments of the five men charged in connection with the 9/11 plot.

But the trial has not yet happened. The case has been beset by numerous legal and pandemic-related delays.

“There’s a certain amount of frustration that we don’t seem to be very far along,” Allison said.

Just recently, news came that a potential plea deal was in the offing. That news has divided the families of victims and rattled lawmakers in Washington.

Allison said he was in favor of a possible settlement, noting it could bring the case to a conclusion in a “reasonable” amount of time. If a trial ever happens, he notes, it could stretch on and likely go through a lengthy appeals process.

“I’d be well into my 80s before any resolution was reached in all probability, and we’re already losing family members who won’t see any outcomes,” said Allison, who is currently in his 70s.

But his opinion is by no means universal in the community of 9/11 families.

Members of Congress are likewise voicing concerns, especially amid reports that any such deal could take the death sentence off the table for the defendants.

Rep. Mike Lawler, a Republican representing the lower Hudson Valley, recently led a bipartisan letter to President Joe Biden, urging the government to pursue the most severe consequences against the five defendants.

“In my conversations with a wide variety of 9/11 families and first responders, the vast majority of people believe that anything less than the death penalty would be unacceptable,” he said.

Staten Island Republican Nicole Malliotakis and Hudson Valley Democrat Pat Ryan also signed the letter.

“They admitted to these crimes. They took credit and bragged about it. And we can’t allow them to not receive the ultimate punishment,” Malliotakis said.

“Let’s get a moment of justice for the families and the victims and we can move forward,” Ryan said.

The fate of any plea deal, though, is very much in question. This week, the Associated Press reported that Biden refused to approve some of the conditions defendants were seeking, including sparing them solitary confinement.

Allison said whatever happens to the five defendants, he doubts he will ever truly experience closure.

“This is seared into my soul, regardless. It’s always going to be there,” he said.

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