NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly 11 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, family members of some of the victims watched via closed-circuit TV on Saturday as the self-proclaimed mastermind of the attacks and four co-defendants were arraigned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in their first public appearance in years.
“I want to bear witness that in fact these people are brought to justice,” Al Santora, whose firefighter son Christopher died at the World Trade Center, said this week.
Santora and his wife, Maureen, planned to watch the arraignment at Fort Hamilton in New York City, one of four military bases where the hearing was broadcast live for victims’ family members, survivors and emergency personnel who responded to the attacks. The others were Fort Devens in Massachusetts, Joint Base McGuire Dix in New Jersey and Fort Meade in Maryland, the only one open to the public.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other defendants were being arraigned on charges that include terrorism and murder, the first time in more than three years that they appeared in public. They could get the death penalty if convicted in the attacks that sent hijacked airliners slamming into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. The trial is probably at least a year away.
At Fort Meade, about 80 people watched the proceedings at movie theater on the base, where “The Lorax” was being promoted on a sign outside.
One section of the theater for victims’ families was sectioned off with screens, and signs asked that other spectators respect their privacy.
Once the proceedings began, spectators in the public section laughed at times, including when a lawyer indicated Mohammed was likely not interested in using his headphones for a translator and again, briefly, when one of the defendants stood and the judge said that kind of behavior excited the guards. But the crowd was quiet when the man began to pray.
Six victims’ families chosen by lottery traveled to Guantanamo to see the arraignment in person.
Alan Linton of Frederick, Md., who lost his son Alan Jr., an investment banker, at the World Trade Center, said he and his wife put their names in the lottery for the Cuba trip but weren’t interested in watching a video feed of the arraignment.
“That’s just not the same as being there to me,” Linton said. “Going to Fort Meade, it’s kind of like watching television.”
Whether they watched or not, family members expressed frustration that it’s taken so long to bring the Sept. 11 conspirators to justice.
The administration of President Barack Obama dropped earlier military-commission charges against them when it decided in late 2009 to try them in federal court in New York. But Congress blocked the civilian trials amid opposition to bringing the defendants to U.S. soil, especially to a courthouse located just blocks from the trade center site.
Santora said he hopes the trial can proceed quickly once it starts.
“They have tons and tons of evidence and they’ve already admitted their guilt,” he said. “So I don’t know why the trial should be long.”
Retired firefighter Jim Riches, whose son was also a firefighter who died at the trade center, said some of victims’ parents did not live long enough to see the trial.
“We were promised swift justice by Barack Obama,” he said. “And we’re still waiting.”
Associated Press writer Meghan Barr and Verena Dobnik in New York City, David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., and Jessica Gresko in Fort Meade, Md., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.