Sept. 11 families: Keep Guantanamo Bay open

A guard talks with a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, earlier this year.
Families of September 11 victims visiting Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Thursday urged the Obama administration to drop plans to close the facility and to restart terror trials there.

“I am opposed to the closing of this facility because of political reasons,” said Gordon Haberman whose daughter, Andrea, was killed when terrorist planes struck the World Trade Center. “I believe that the current administration spoke too quickly on this.” Haberman said he thinks President Obama should not insist on carrying out his campaign pledge to shutter the detention facility. Haberman was one of nine people visiting Guantanamo this week who lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks. He and the others had the opportunity to observe pre-trial hearings for some suspects on Wednesday and Thursday. Several were critical of Obama’s decision to suspend military commissions at Guantanamo Bay while the administration reviews what to do with each detainee. “Our government’s current executive order to halt the military commissions makes us foolish and weak, and invites more attacks,” said Melissa Long, whose boyfriend was a first responder killed in New York. “What is fair and just is to continue the military commissions and punish those who have committed acts of terrorism against Americans, period.” Long later married a man who lost his parents when their plane slammed into the Pentagon on that fateful day.

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Brian Long acknowledged that some of the detainees may have gone through some inhumane treatment through the years, but he thinks they are being well taken care of now. “The only injustice is being orchestrated by our leader by making decisions about something he knew nothing about,” Long said. Other September 11 families have visited Guantanamo Bay for previous hearings and voiced support for using the facility for terror trials. The government uses a random process to select names of family members invited to observe. The family members said they think Guantanamo detainees have been provided with good attorneys, who, in many cases, are paired with clients who don’t want their help. Some of that was on display at a hearing Thursday for five detainees charged with orchestrating the September 11 attacks, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Mohammed and fellow prisoner Ramzi Binalshibh refused to come to the proceeding, after being told no detainees would be allowed to make statements. Three others did show up. But one, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, left quickly because he was not allowed to talk to the judge about problems he said he was having with one of his military lawyers.

All five September 11 suspects want to act as their own attorneys. Thursday’s hearing focused on discussions about the competence of al-Hawsawi and Binalshibh to stand trial and represent themselves. Mohammed and two others have been granted permission to defend themselves.