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9/11 victims oppose Gitmo closure
U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba | After attending a hearing of 9/11 terror suspects here, nine family members of victims killed in the attacks said they are furious at President Obama for trying to shut down the detention facility.
Judith Reiss, who lost her son, Joshua, in the World Trade Center collapse, said that she was a “Mama for Obama” during the campaign last year.
“I have the right to say, ‘Mr. President, you’re making a mistake. You’re wrong,’ ” she said as her husband, Gary, stood at her side, wiping away tears..
The Yardley, Pa., couple was joined by Gordon Habermann, whose daughter, Andrea, died on her very first business trip to New York.
“I’m opposed to the closing of this facility because of political reasons,” the West Bend, Wis., native said.
“I think the current administration spoke too quickly on this,” he said, noting that the military has built a state-of-the-art facility that some say is the most secure courtroom in the world.
The angry words from the family members came on a day when all five of the prisons “high-value detainees” were scheduled to be in the courtroom. Each is charged with 2,973 counts of murder - one for each victim of the attacks in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania - and each faces the death penalty.
The pretrial hearing on several motions was delayed when all five defendants refused to attend, in part because the judge refused to allow 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and two terror suspects to speak at the session.
After a two-hour delay, three defendants showed up, though one asked to leave just as the session opened because the judge refused to let him speak.
“I want to speak directly to you,” demanded Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi, who left, a guard bringing along a pillow that had been placed on his seat just before the hearing opened.
Walid bin Attash, who Guantanamo military commission prosecutors allege acted as a bodyguard to Osama bin Laden and helped in the preparation of the 9/11 hijackings and the USS Cole bombing, repeatedly disrupted the proceedings.
After folding a small paper airplane during the hearing, Mr. bin Attash demanded that the judge respond to several messages he has sent.
“If you do not have enough patience to take this case, just give it to another judge,” Mr. bin Attash said. He later tossed the plane toward Al Abdul Aziz Ali, who is purported to have been a moneyman for al Qaeda.
The hearing was delayed again when a reference to harsh treatment at CIA prisons prompted a military censor to set off a small siren light by the judge’s bench.
“The government can’t hide the fact that they used sleep deprivation,” said Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, a lawyer appointed by the Pentagon to defend 9/11 suspect Ramzi bin al-Shibh. The censor hit a switch and the sound of static filled a soundproof spectator section behind glass partitions in the courtroom.
Mr. Obama halted all military commissions now under way at Guantanamo on Jan. 22, just two days after he took office, and pledged to close the detention facility within a year. In May, though, he announced he would revive the Guantanamo military tribunals first set up in 2006 by President Bush with new rules. He has not yet done so, even though prosecutors are prepared to move to trail with at least 66 cases.
Although the president is trying to transfer some of the 229 detainees to other countries, lawmakers on Capitol Hill voted last month to ban the detainees from being released in the United States through Sept. 30. Family members of the victims say the Cuban facility should remain open to try the detainees in military commissions.
“To Mr. Obama, senators and representatives: Please keep Guantanamo Bay open and the commission hearings continuing,” said Mrs. Reiss.
The victims’ family members, also in the soundproof room, groaned when a defense attorney said he did not want “the guard force to continue to harass” his client to appear in court.
After the session, Mr. Habermann charged that Mr. Obama is seeking to close the camp because “it became a campaign promise.”
Brian Long of Leesburg, Va., choked up when he said, “The truth about what’s going on here is not being told. ”
“The world and the United States have a right to know what’s going on here,” he said as he defended the facility. “The only injustice is being orchestrated by our leader, making decisions about things he knows nothing about.”
Mr. Long lost his parent in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
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