A 9/11 Reformer's Final Plea for Justice in Washington
Mr. Toth is an historian and writer living in Arlington, VA. For information on Beverly Eckert and the book project about her 9/11 reform work, visit http://notruerhearts.blogspot.com.
Beverly Eckert rose very early on February 6 to catch the 8 a.m. Acela train out of Stamford, CT, but she was eager to make the trip to Washington, DC, this time around. On past journeys, the doors of official Washington would too often slam in her face. But now, she and other 9/11 family members had an appointment to meet with President Obama himself. So Eckert was keen to deliver by hand a letter she had written the day before, which laid out her fervent hope for a resolution of one of the last questions arising from the 9/11 attacks: what should happen to the accused?
Dear Mr. President,
On 9/11 my husband was killed by terrorists. The self-confessed mastermind of the plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has been in US custody for several years. Along with other 9/11 families, I want to see him, and his alleged co-conspirators, face their accusers in a court of law.
The meeting had been arranged hastily, and came as a surprise to many of those invited: mainly relatives of the 9/11 and USS Cole attacks. There were phone calls from the White House just days before, and hastily arranged conference calls among family members. What started out as a small gathering of about 16 at the White House quickly grew to more than 30 at the more spacious Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door. And as the plans for the meeting unfolded, Eckert learned that she and other supporters of Obama’s decision to close the detainee center would be joined by opponents.
All of this was cause for both optimism and worry for Eckert. The meeting was “a good sign,” she had told me, because family members had been calling for one all along. But because of the large number of attendees, many with conflicting agendas, Eckert worried that a good chance to speak with the president would be wasted, and there wouldn’t be another meeting if this one turned out to be “too much of a free-for-all.” To ensure a positive outcome, Eckert’s priorities were to deliver a clear and convincing message, and to ensure that family members would be part of a continuing discussion about the detainee issue.
I had first met Beverly on March 24, 2004, when I interviewed her for an article for HNN about the testimony of Richard Clarke before the 9/11 Commission. She was a member of the Family Steering Committee (FSC) , a group of 9/11 family members who had become active in efforts to find answers and press for reform. A few months later, Eckert and I began to collaborate on a book about her government reform efforts and those of her FSC colleagues. Eckert had dedicated her tireless efforts to the memory of her husband, Sean Rooney, from ensuring that skyscrapers were safer to fixing a broken intelligence system. She was determined that some good would come out of her personal loss, this national tragedy. So the idea of leaving behind a balanced historical account of her work in Washington appealed to her. It would serve as a sort of “written memorial,” preserving on the printed page an improbable David-and-Goliath political struggle, and as another testament to her love for Sean. Through many conversations and emails, Eckert revealed details of her long, frustrating, but eventually triumphant odyssey of lobbying and reform, so that I could present the story to others.
When they first came to Washington, Eckert and the other 9/11 citizen advocates knew little or nothing about how to pull the strings of power and influence, but they learned quickly and put their knowledge to effective use. Not only had they succeeded in creating the 9/11 Commission, on December 17, 2004, Eckert and other family members attended the signing of the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004, which implemented significant recommendations contained in the 9/11 Commission Report. There were smiles and hugs and tears among those who had fought so long and hard for the moment. Eckert told me that one triumphant congressional staffer had pulled her aside after the political victory and said, “You rolled Washington!”
The intense emotional and physical strain of forcing the Washington bureaucracy to change had taken its toll on Eckert, and she devoted some time to recharging her batteries by taking time off from her political battles. But in the past year she came back, refreshed and eager to tend to what she saw as unfinished 9/11 business.
This past September 10, for example, Eckert joined other family members at a meeting organized by the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions, in order to lay out their plans for dealing with the Guantanamo detainees. Eckert presented the commission with a letter stating her opposition to the process. But afterward she had told me she didn’t feel this lone act was enough. In October she emailed me: “I’m feeling that I have to do something more effective about Guantanamo Bay than my private protest in DC....” And she thought of working with the ACLU and other, like-minded 9/11 family members.
It did not take long for Eckert’s efforts to bear fruit. On December 10, the ACLU released a statement signed by Eckert and 30 other 9/11 family members, including several who had been members of the FSC. The statement criticized the Office of Military Commissions for allowing preferential access to the hearings to 9/11 family members who supported the Bush administration’s policies. In addition, the statement called the commission hearings “secretive and unconstitutional,” and pressed for a “fresh start” for the detainee cases in US courts.
When Barack Obama was elected, he promised change, and his approach to addressing a variety of issues, including the detainees’ fate, differed markedly from that of the Bush administration’s. Whereas in the past the norm was to make policy in secret, consulting only with supporters and totally shutting opponents, President Obama has made a point of listening to a broad range of voices, and making an effort at transparency in his policy deliberations. This new approach made Eckert hopeful.
…When confronted with defendants accused of crimes against humanity on the scale of September 11th, the depth of our nation’s commitment to the principle of justice is severely tested. I believe, Mr. President, that under your moral guidance and with your profound respect for the rule of law, America can pass this test….
I beg you to proceed with urgency and determination where others have faltered. Let justice, not vengeance, at long last be served.
Widow of Sean Rooney, WTC
After the meeting, while waiting at the airport for her flight home, Eckert’s earlier apprehensions about the meeting seemed to evaporate as she chatted with one of her 9/11 colleagues, Rosemary Dillard. “Having a president who is willing to meet ordinary citizens like us,” said Eckert, “and make himself available for questioning even from those who were in opposition to his agenda made me very proud to be an American.”
Six days later, Eckert and 49 others perished in the crash of Flight 3407 in Clarence Center, not far from Buffalo, NY. Her meeting with the president was the last episode of her life as 9/11 reformer.
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James Brody - 3/20/2009
There are two big problems with this post: a casual disregard for the facts, and an blindingly unremitting ideological bias.
1) Mr. Burke seems to want to set the record straight, but then goes far to distort it in a number of ways.
2) He implies that Ms. Eckert would have preferred no opposing voices at the meeting. Perhaps he did not reach the part of the article in which Ms. Eckert said she was proud to be an American precisely because President Obama made "himself available for questioning even from those who were in opposition to his agenda..."
3) Burke talks about Ms. Eckert's "9/11 family organization." She did not have one, and it was the White House that issued invitations to the meeting, not the family members. If Burke feels slighted at not getting invited, then he should take it up with the president's staff.
4) Perhaps most amazingly, Burke asserts that President Obama is closing the Guantanamo detention facility because he does not want to bring the 9/11 suspects to justice. Huh? Which article was he reading? This is precisely what he and Ms. Eckert wish to see: justice. And it is precisely what President Bush and his misguided policies utterly failed to deliver.
But it seems that in Burke's fantasy world, Bush could do no wrong and Obama can do no right. People with such politically justified blinders are the ones who got this country into such a mess in the first place.
sandy rayman - 3/17/2009
the september eleventh attacks were flaseflag terror events conspired by our own government in order to launch a war in the middle east and fearmonger us into relinquishing our freedoms. look into it:
i encourage you to do your own research and formulate your own opinion.
Rodney Huff - 3/17/2009
McWilliams is right. The more one independently researches 9/11 and the events surrounding that day, the more one realizes that our government has lied to us (again).
In my experience I have found that most people who believe in the official 9/11 story have also never heard of Sibel Edmonds, Coleen Rowley, and the Phoenix memo. I've also noticed a correlation between belief in the official story and the belief that the twin towers were the only skyscrapers that suffered total collapse that day in Manhattan. It seems many people are still in the dark regarding the collapse of wtc building 7. For a concise, devastating critique of the nist report devoted to "explaining" that unprecedented building failure, see these 3 short videos:
For good measure, see also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUKLOlIhang&feature=channel_page
If you can offer an alternative theory explaining how 4-ton steel girders ended up 600 feet away from the builidings to which they once belonged, feel free to share.
HNN - 3/17/2009
Let me correct some of the story's misrepresentations with the facts: there was no "preferential access" to Guantanamo Bay hearings given to families who supported Bush's policies. They were chosen by randem lottery which all had an opportunity to enter. I did. There were no questions asked of your political leanings; they had no idea who you were. Of the families that I know that did go I have no idea, before they went or now as to whether they support Bush's policies. I know some of them were harshly and publicly critical of Mayor Giuliani, a Bush supporter.
The picks were totally random. Which evidently upset Ms. Eckert as family members with a different point of view than hers would get to go and express those points of view. As she made clear was her fear when meeting Obama. Now if only families who agreed with her could get to go, then the meeting would not turn into a "free for all." Everybody would speak with one voice: hers. Of course, the other way to avoid a "free for all" would have been to invite only families who held the "opponets" point of view. But then, that of course would have been "preferential access."
And controlling access was very much what she wanted. On 01/25/09, the New York Daily News, NYC's most widely read newspaper published my op-ed, "Obama's 9/11 Betrayal." As you can guess from the headline, it did not endorse the late Ms. Eckert's point of view. The following Sunday Lorraine Arias-Beliveau, sister of Adam Arias, killed in WTC 2 wrote "Face to Face with Evil" also critical of the decision to halt proceedings at Gitmo.
Somehow I never received any word from Ms. Eckert's "9/11 family organization" when the invite to the White House came. I am sure Ms. Arias-Belivue did not also (though an estranged sister-in-law of hers who had no blood relation to Adam and was a well known arch critic of Bush did). And, of course, as did several other of the well known "Jersey Widows" and long time Bush critics.
All 9/11 family members are equal; just some are more equal than others.
The defination of justice is not deciding things exactly as I think they should be done and manipulating the facts to support that. President Obama has demonstrated a careless disregard for and utter lack of understanding of the 9/11 attacks (in the days after two places exalted in the deaths of those innocents; the Muslim street and Obama's church). And while huge Wall Street bonuses draw his outrage, the attack upon America and the murder of some 3,000 innocents? Well, though the "past is not even past" that, in order to appease the Muslim street is best forgotten.
The Left and Obama want to close Guantanamo Bay not for justice's sake, but because they believe America has no business rendering a verdict on those that attacked us. Though it is a favorite slogan of theirs, they disregard it at their convenience: without justice there is no peace.
Michael Burke, brother, FDNY Capt. William F. Burke, Jr., Eng. Co. 21
BILL COLEMAN - 3/16/2009
DOES ANYONE REALLY BELIEVE THAT OBL WAS STUPID ENOUGH TO LEAVE EVIDENCE THAT HE WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR 911?(OR THAT HE DOES NOT KNOW THAT HIS CAPTURE WOULD MEAN DEATH FOR HIMSELF?)
Bill McWilliams - 3/16/2009
President Bush promised the world that he would provide proof that OBL was the mastermind behind the 9 1 1 attacks.
No evidence was ever provided. Indeed, the FBI has never put OBL on its Most Wanted List because they don't have any evidence to warrant such a listing.
Most people who have actually studied the facts about those attacks have concluded that the Government's version of what happened that day isn't credible and moreover, it is far more likely that 9 1 1 was an inside job.