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We 9/11 victim families still don’t have answers. The death penalty won’t fix that | OpinionRead m

By Bill Tammeus Special to The Star September 10, 2023 5:03 AM

When the 9/11 terrorists murdered my nephew, Karleton Fyfe, and nearly 3,000 other people 22 years ago this week, the families of victims had no immediate idea who had done it or why. In many ways, we still don’t. Once the plot leaders were captured (and sometimes tortured), we learned very little about what motivated them and who exactly did what. Today, the five plotters still held in the prison at Guantanamo Bay have yet to be brought to justice in a setting in which such questions could be resolved.

My hope — and the hope of many 9/11 families, especially those of us connected with September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows — has been that plea bargains, called pretrial agreements, would provide answers by allowing the perpetrators to plead guilty and to describe their roles and motives in exchange for the removal of the death penalty as their punishment. That possibility seemed to edge closer and closer until a few days ago, when President Joe Biden elected not to go along with certain aspects of the agreements. As first reported by The New York Times, Biden “accepted a recommendation by the secretary of defense to decline the additional conditions” of the agreements. But, as Carol Rosenberg and Charlie Savage reported, “an offer by military prosecutors, made in March 2022, that would spare them death sentences if they admitted to their alleged roles in the hijackings, remains on the table.”

Biden should find a way to get the plea deals done and should ignore such vengeful voices as that of Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, who, in one of his typical pro-death-penalty rants, declared that accepting plea deals “would have been outrageous.” Information about CIA torture still classified No. What’s outrageous is that after all this time the case still is in pretrial hearings. Mostly that’s because our government classified what’s known about how the defendants were tortured at so-called Central Intelligence Agency “black sites” before they were imprisoned at Gitmo. What’s outrageous is that people like Cruz imagine that the death penalty will solve anything or provide any answers about exactly what happened on 9/11 and why.

What’s outrageous is that when I recently visited Karleton’s parents (my sister and her husband) and one of Karleton’s sisters and her children in the Boston area, our family still had received nothing that looks like justice for the spectacular death of a wise, loving, young husband, father, son, brother, nephew. . . Beyond that, the continued operation of the Gitmo prison has stained America’s soul. As I wrote recently on my “Faith Matters” blog, “What has happened — and continues to happen — at Guantanamo in our name as Americans has been a stream of flagrant violations of basic human rights and a repudiation of almost every good thing American citizens think our country stands for — the rule of law, basic human rights, humane treatment of prisoners, a rejection of torture as a tool and simple human decency.”

pointed readers to a recently released report from a United Nations special investigator that described in horrifying detail what I called “the profound human rights violations that have occurred there and their reparable harms to the lives and health of the 780 Muslim men who have been detained there, including 30 men who remain.” Ted Cruz’s bloodthirsty howls only hurt What the world knows now about the 9/11 hijackings and the deaths that resulted is that a small group of men claiming to be followers of Islam followed, instead, a radically twisted version of that ancient and honorable religion that was spoon-fed to them by the late Osama bin Laden. But we deserve to know exactly who did what that malevolent day and why. Biden’s rejection of conditions for potential plea agreements is not helping. The bloodthirsty howls of Cruz and others just make things worse.

Karleton’s widow, their two now-adult sons (one born some eight-plus months after his father’s death), other members of our family and thousands of other families deserve to know the detailed truth about why our people were murdered and who was responsible. Now. Not another 20-plus years from now when many of us also will be gone. Bill Tammeus, a former Kansas City Star columnist, now writes for Flatland, KCPT-TV’s digital magazine. His latest book is “Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9-11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety.” Email him at

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