Monday, January 19, 2009


Parents of five Sept. 11 victims on Monday called for the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to remain open and for the military commissions to try the five men accused of perpetrating the attacks.

“We demand that this camp stay open and that the process continue,” said Joe Holland, whose son was among those killed during the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon in Washington.

“Right here, right now, this is a good process, they are getting a fair trial,” Mr. Holland told reporters at the U.S. facility in Cuba, referring to the military commissions established by the Bush administration to try “war on terror” detainees held at the facility.

“Guantanamo has been described as a national embarrassment. Mass murder in America is embarrassing,” said Donald Arias, his voice trembling with rage. “Mr. Obama, it will be your job to take care of us.”

Barack Obama, who takes the presidential oath of office on Tuesday, likely will make good on his campaign promise and shutter Guantanamo as well as the Bush administration’s military commissions by issuing an executive order shortly after taking power.

Chosen by the Pentagon to witness the hearings, the five representatives of the Sept. 11 victims spoke after a day of pretrial hearings, where self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed appeared alongside four alleged co-conspirators.

“I believe the preponderance of 9/11 victims defend the death penalty,” Mr. Arias said at the press conference. “This is not an issue for federal courts.”

It could take several months to fully close the detention camp, as U.S. officials will have to transfer some of the 248 prisoners to other countries and then decide whether to try the remaining suspects in U.S. courts.

Mr. Obama has acknowledged that closing the prison will take longer than many of his supporters had hoped.

“We waited eight years, we had nothing. … This is an ongoing process,” Jim Riches said about the military commissions, whose fate hangs in the balance.

Mandated by Congress in 2006, the military commissions were established by the Bush administration to try terrorist suspects under separate rules from regular civilian or military courts.

The system allows convictions based on classified and hearsay evidence, and critics say it allows for verdicts based on testimony obtained through torture and abuse.

Of the 248 inmates still held at Guantanamo Bay, about 20 have been charged, including the five suspected Sept. 11 conspirators.

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