By Chantal Valery AFP
Allegations by five accused 9/11 plotters that they were tortured in US detention have outraged many relatives of those who died in the attacks, who said their loved ones suffered a far worse fate.
Lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainees argued this week their clients should not face the death penalty because their rights were violated during alleged torture in secret CIA prisons.
But those charges have been greeted with indignation from the ten or so people at pretrial hearing here whose loved ones perished in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, or who died in the attacks in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.
“We’re not here to try to change America, but we’re here to get justice,” said Richard Costanzo, whose sister died in the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon.
“To listen to them put the US on trial instead of these five men is outrageous,” said Costanzo.
Defense attorneys at pretrial hearings this week for the men, invoked the United Nations Convention Against Torture, telling the judge that the death penalty should be taken off at the table because of their clients’ treatment in detention.
But Jim Jenca, who was badly hurt when hijacked passenger jets were flown into the World Trade Center causing the collapse of its twin towers, insists that he has been traumatized, too, by having lived through the horrors of 9/11.
“I have more (scars) on my body, I was tortured,” on September 11, said Jenca.
Jenca said the defense strategy deflects attention from where it should be — on the alleged criminal behavior of the five suspects who sought to bring about the undoing of the United States — and the deaths of their innocent victims.
“This case is not about… how they’ve been treated, this case is about the murder of nearly 3,000 people that were killed,” said Jenca, echoing other victims and survivors attending the trial.
Prosecutor Clay Trivett likewise argued that the case was about “the summary execution of 2,976 people,” not torture.
If the defendants felt they were “mistreated in US custody” they could file a complaint in federal court, he said.
US authorities have admitted that one of the defendants, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was subjected to waterboarding 183 times during CIA interrogations.
His nephew, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, also known as Ammar al-Baluchi, who allegedly arranged the financing of the operation, allegedly received a head injury while in custody, a medical report revealed on Wednesday.
And attorneys for two of three other defendants said their clients also were tortured prior to being transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006, but said they were unable to provide additional details because all information concerning the five men is classified.
Cheryl Bormann, an attorney for one of the defendants, said invoking the need for secrecy is a deliberate prosecution strategy to avoid having to discuss the alleged torture.
“We’re in front of this military commission solely because the US government wants to hide this evidence of torture,” she said.
Another defense attorney, James Connell, admits that the 9/11 families “suffered a terrible loss, but he insists that the government’s case is deeply flawed.
“If the public knew the whole story, so many holes in the narrative that the government has developed would emerge,” he said.
“It is a case about the death of 3,000 people and the traumatization of a nation,” said Connell. “It is also a case about the subsequent betrayal of our ideals in response to that trauma,” he said. “The families’ natural, human, understandable reaction… doesn’t mean that due process shouldn’t occur.”
Defense attorneys have appealed to President Barack Obama to declassify the program that allowed the operation of secret CIA prisons, where the five men were jailed for three years and subjected to harsh interrogation practices.
The attorneys also have asked to be allowed to submit pictures of the ankles and wrists of their clients to show signs of torture.
That request has been scoffed at by family members here.
“I can’t point to my sister’s wrist because I couldn’t find her wrist,” said Costanzo. “The only part of her that they found… is a bone fragment of her right leg.”
And the families at the hearing seethe at the notion that the men accused of killing their loved ones could, in their minds, receive more humane treatment than those who died in the terror attacks 12 years ago.
“The families,” said Patricia DeConto, who lost a son in the ruins of the Twin Towers [sic – her son was murdered in the Pentagon], “are tortured every single day.”