Dem upset 9/11 families excluded from trial, only Bush loyalist was invited
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy is calling on the country's top law enforcement official to ensure access for 9/11 victims' family members to the military tribunal prosecuting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others charged as masterminds of those attacks.
For Mohammed's arraignment Thursday before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon secretly invited only one woman whose brother was a pilot killed in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon in the 2001 attacks. The woman, Debra Burlingame, was un-invited after the New York Daily News revealed she was a "GOP loyalist," who praised President Bush during the 2004 Republican convention and has savaged the 9/11 widows who have questioned the administration's actions.
"I had hoped we had achieved a level of respect for victims’ rights that would respect their dignity and interests," Leahy wrote to Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Friday. "I am writing to you to urge you to help remedy these matters without delay."
A Leahy press release distributing the letter noted reports that an "outspoken supporter of the Bush administration" was the only invitee to Mohammed's arraignment.
Victims' families had reportedly been kept in the dark after asking for the opportunity to attend Mohammed's arraignment, while the Pentagon surreptitiously proffered its single invitation. After the uproar, a military official apologized and promised to institute a lottery for future tribunal proceedings that families wished to attend.
Leahy said the government was not acting in the spirit of legislation aimed at providing victims' families prompt notification of legal proceedings or the opportunity to watch the proceedings either in person or via closed-circuit television.
"I write to you, our chief law enforcement officer, to ask what has been done to ensure that the 9/11 victims are being treated with respect and dignity," Leahy wrote, "and what accommodations were made to protect their rights, given that the Government has chosen to proceed before military commissions at Guantanamo."
With wire reports
Leahy's letter is appears below:
June 6, 2008
The Honorable Michael Mukasey
Attorney General of the United States
Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Dear Attorney General Mukasey:
This week the Government staged arraignments of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other detainees charged as perpetrators of the 9/1l attacks. I read that the victims’ families were excluded from the proceedings.
I have worked hard for many years to enact bipartisan victims’ rights and assistance legislation. I had hoped we had achieved a level of respect for victims’ rights that would respect their dignity and interests. I am writing to you to urge you to help remedy these matters without delay.
After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, we passed several measures to provide for the rights and interests of the victims and their families, including measures to help them attend the trial, and to watch the trial on closed circuit television. I do not understand why similar provisions were not made for the 9/11 families and victims.
We also enacted, as part of the Justice for All Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-405), federal rights for victims. In the Scott Campbell, Stephanie Roper, Wendy Preston, Louarna Gillis, and Nila Lynn Crime Victims' Rights Act, we expressly provided for the right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding; the right not to be excluded from any such public court proceeding; the right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding involving release, plea, sentencing, or parole; the reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case; the right to full and timely restitution as provided in law; the right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay; and the right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.
I write to you, our chief law enforcement officer, to ask what has been done to ensure that the 9/11 victims are being treated with respect and dignity, and what accommodations were made to protect their rights, given that the Government has chosen to proceed before military commissions at Guantanamo.
I look forward to your prompt response.