Families Of 9/11 Victims Confront Painful Memories At Gitmo War Court
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
For several years, we've been reporting on what some have billed the trial of the century. It's unfolding in a war court on the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others face the death penalty for allegedly orchestrating the 9/11 attacks. But the actual trial hasn't even start. It's been delayed for years by thousands of pre-trial motions, many related to charges that the accused were tortured in secret CIA prisons.
NPR's David Welna covered the latest court hearings in Guantanamo, and he sat down there with some who are weary of all the talk of torture. They want justice, and it's personal. Here's David's report.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: We sit in a crumbling airport hangar, a place that the military calls, perhaps hopefully, Camp Justice. Outside, iguanas sun on a road between us and a modular, spy-proof courtroom surrounded by high, razor-wire-topped fences. Five Americans whose loved ones were killed on 9/11 have just, for the first time, spent several days in that courtroom. One by one, they introduce themselves.
LLOYD GLICK: Lloyd Glick - my son Jeremy was on flight 93.
VERA MURPHY-TRAYNER: I'm Vera Murphy-Trayner. My husband Patrick Sean Murphy was in the north tower.
SEAN MURPHY: I'm Sean Murphy. My father, Patrick Murphy, was in the north tower.
JOE CONNOR: I'm Joe Connor. My cousin Steve Schlag was in the north tower, and I witnessed the attacks.
JEAN SCHLAG NEBBIA: I'm Jean Schlag Nebbia, and my brother was in the north tower.
WELNA: And even though Jean Schlag Nebbia currently inhabits the same remote patch of Cuba as the five men who allegedly helped kill her brother, she insists she does not want to leave.
NEBBIA: I've never felt safer anywhere in my life, and that's great because, you know, your relatives are like, you're going where? Why are you - you know, you're - that's crazy; that's - you have to be safe. I've never felt safer since 2001.
WELNA: That's because this teacher's aide from New Jersey feels members of the military who are everywhere in Guantanamo have her back. For others, the experience has been more unsettling. Nineteen-year-old Sean Murphy is convinced Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, spotted him sitting at the back of the courtroom from about a hundred feet away.
MURPHY: The man that orchestrated my father's murder - I just - I don't know how else to get this through. He was waving at me and smiling at me and looking in my eyes.
WELNA: But no one this group admits to being intimidated. Joe Connor, who lost his cousin, has only scorn for the five defendants.
CONNOR: They're not special people. They are murderers. And I think that we all kind of - once we got over the first few seconds of seeing them and realizing that they're nothing, I think we went on with our business.
WELNA: Connor, who blogs on several conservative websites, says if ever there were a case for imposing the death penalty, this would be it. And he wants a hand in such an outcome.
CONNOR: Our family members were victims. They were murdered, but we're not. And we're here because we believe in taking some control. We want to be part of the justice that's being brought.
WELNA: It's the Pentagon that flies relatives of the 9/11 dead down to these court sessions. Previous groups met with lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense. This one would meet only with the prosecution. This legal proceeding, they say, should be about convicting and executing the accused, not about how the defendants were interrogated. Vera Murphy-Trayner is Patrick Murphy's widow.
MURPHY-TRAYNER: Enhanced interrogation is something that is a military thing, and this is a trial to prove innocence or guilt.
WELNA: But it is also an opportunity for the defense teams to do what they can to spare the accused from capital punishment. During the previous day's court session, a defense lawyer had played an excerpt from the film "Zero Dark Thirty." It was an accurate depiction, the lawyer said, of his client being water tortured by a CIA interrogator.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ZERO DARK THIRTY")
JASON CLARKE: (As Dan) Where was the last time you saw bin Laden? Where was the last time you saw bin Laden, huh? When you lie to me, I hurt you.
WELNA: And the family members' reaction...
GLICK: I saw the movie. Watching it again really had no impact. It's a movie.
WELNA: New Yorker Lloyd Glick does not see the film's relevance.
GLICK: Why? I mean, what were they trying to do, elicit some sympathy from the judge? I don't think that's going to happen.
WELNA: For Jean Schlag Nebbia, the film clip's brutality makes the wrong point.
NEBBIA: Did anyone consider the torture that our loved ones went through? How would you have felt if your limbs were being torn, your body parts caught on fire, suffocating, burning, the pure terror and torture of knowing you're going to die.
WELNA: It's a point that Vera Murphy-Trayner makes personal.
MURPHY-TRAYNER: It made me think about my husband, who was 36 years old, sitting at his desk as a technology vice president, running for the door after the plane hit the building and, you know, thinking that he really didn't, you know - he didn't have a choice; he didn't have a defense.
CONNOR: Joe Connor - I'm not sure what happened was torture. I don't know that everyone - anyone has a real definition of that. But whether things happened that we're not proud of in that way does not change their guilt.
WELNA: But Connor says proving that is taking far too long. The recently revamped military commissions system being used has never reached a single verdict. Connor says things need to move quicker.
CONNOR: We want to try this while people are still alive, and I think that's a problem right now.
GLICK: It's Lloyd Glick again. Yeah, we'd love it over.
WELNA: Although Glick, who's 76, says he would love it to be over, he has no expectation that it will be either short or easy.
GLICK: Our desire is to get through this process as expeditiously as possible, and let's see where the dice fall. I happen to believe personally that the defendants are guilty as sin, all right? But that's my belief. It has to be proved by the weight of evidence, and I think it will be.
WELNA: When that might happen, no one seems to know. As one prosecutor told the military judge, we hope to get the case done during the lives of living men. David Welna, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.