New Canaan's Voices speaks out about terror trial
Published 8:07 am, Thursday, November 19, 2009
Ralph Sabbag, 70, said he is angered that alleged Sept. 11 attacks mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is set to face trial in New York City. There, Sabbag said, Mohammed is likely to hold forth with unapologetic, anti-American speeches likely to trigger grief and unpleasant feelings in relatives of those killed.
Most galling for Sabbag is that Mohammed's trial will be held less than a mile from ground zero, where 2,606 people died in the collapse of the World Trade Center. Sabbag said the men deserve to be tried before a military tribunal as enemy combatants, a less-open process that would spare families some of the pain of reliving the catastrophe.
"This is exactly what the terrorists are looking for: publicity and attention," Sabbag said. "By having it in New York, they are giving this guy the opportunity to say, `This is what we did, and we are happy we did it.' He will become a martyr for sure after that."
Relatives of area residents killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were among those who expressed a split reaction to news that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had decided to try Mohammed and four other alleged co-conspirators in a federal district court in New York City rather than before military tribunals.
"There isn't a consensus," said Mary Fetchet, co-founder of the New Canaan-based Voices of September 11th. "There are families that believed that the trials should have remained in the tribunals and others who wanted more transparency and ability to participate and observe."
Fetchet, who lost her 24-year-old son in the attacks, said the Voices group, which provides counseling for those affected by the attacks, is concerned about the security and safety of survivors taking part in the trial. It is also worried about the effect media coverage will have on their privacy during the proceedings.
The trial is also likely to have a psychological effect on those not directly affected by the loss of a loved one, Fetchet said.
"One thing there is consensus on is that they want a swift trial, and if they are found guilty, they are brought to justice," Fetchet said about group members. "As this moves forward, we're finding that the needs of those impacted are evolving, and there is a broader group of people living and working in Manhattan who, in my view, are probably going to be very impacted."
In his announcement Friday, in which he also designated five terrorism detainees to face trial by military tribunal, Holder said assigning the case to the New York jurisdiction was an appropriate choice.
"They deserve the opportunity to see the alleged plotters of those attacks held accountable in court, an opportunity that has been too long delayed," Holder said of area residents.
The more public trial of Mohammed and the other conspirators will be controversial and difficult, and it will also be an opportunity for the United States to use its justice system properly on a world stage, said U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Greenwich, a former banker for Goldman Sachs who witnessed the attacks firsthand.
Himes said that military tribunals also have a place during war, particularly when evidence involves classified materials.
"Personally, I'm a little torn in as much as I'm thrilled to see these monsters finally brought to justice, I also understand the concerns that this will open wounds for those who are in any way connected with lower Manhattan," Himes said. "I lean to using the courts, because it makes a statement about how much better we are than these monsters and that we abide by due process even for the worst of the worst."
Susan Fisher, the widow of Bennett Fisher, a Stamford businessman killed in the attacks, also said the trial's location is less important than the ability to resolve the charges against the men in a democratic way.
"I guess the trial has to be somewhere," the 67-year-old Fisher said. "I don't think it is going to be pleasant, and it brings up a lot of thoughts for people like me. My emotional reaction is it doesn't really matter where."
Eight years after the attacks, Kathy Callahan has a personal concern about more grief for herself and other relatives of those killed.
Callahan, 46, of Greenwich, is the older sister of Thomas Edward Galvin, a senior vice president and bond broker for Cantor Fitzgerald who was killed in the attacks. He would have been 41 later this month.
"It is very painful to the families already, and bringing it back here opens up wounds for the families," Callahan said. "Obviously, New York City is one of the most targeted places in the world for terrorism, and I don't understand why they would think to do this."
Although Mohammed has confessed while detained in Guantanamo Bay to orchestrating the attacks, Callahan said she fears those statements could be inadmissible if the court finds interrogation techniques used by U.S. intelligence violated Mohammed's rights.
"It is very disturbing and difficult, and the biggest nightmare for me is the idea that he walks free," she said of the prospects of a Manhattan trial. "I don't understand what the rationale is to do this. I think it will be a big mistake."
Fisher said allowing Mohammed and the conspirators a trial will help familiarize and remind Americans about how, over time, the United States' policies in the Middle East have provoked hostility.
"It's important that justice is done, and at the same time, I think there is a lot we can learn," Fisher said. "Perhaps it will bring peace to some people, and perhaps it will disturb others, but openness is not a bad thing."