Obama meets with families of 9/11 victims
By Joie Tyrrell
February 7, 2009
President Barack Obama assured relatives of 9/11 victims that he wants swift and certain justice for the detainees at Guantánamo Bay prison, according to a family member who met with the president in Washington Friday.
"He said that after eight years of uncertainty, he wants to look forward, not back," said Sally Regenhard, mother of New York City Firefighter Christian Regenhard who died in the World Trade Center attacks.
Obama met with the families of the 9/11 victims and those from the bombing of the USS Cole in the executive office building as his administration considers what to do with detainees at Guantánamo prison in Cuba. Some family members had feared closing Guantánamo would lead to a delay in prosecution of detainees. About 50 family members met with Obama for about an hour.
The president pledged to continue a dialogue with the families and said he would designate a staff member as a point of contact, Regenhard said.
"He promised us his staff is going to review the cases and look at the law so they can get justice and prosecute the people who need to be prosecuted," Regenhard said.
Obama, in his first week in office, ordered the Guantánamo Bay prison closed within a year, CIA secret prisons shuttered and abusive interrogations ended.
A letter the families sent to the president in January stated that Obama declared a 120-day cooling-off period to study how to proceed with trials of those suspected of taking part in terrorist acts against the United States.
The families' attorney, Norman Siegel, has said former President George W. Bush's administration failed to provide swift and effective prosecution of the Sept. 11 terrorists, in part by creating a military commission to try the suspects. The Supreme Court subsequently ruled the commission unconstitutional in some respects.
Siegel said Friday he was hopeful a liaison group could be formed between the president and the families.
Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot of the hijacked American Airlines plane that crashed into the Pentagon, said she hoped to convey how concerned the families were about Guantánamo prison closing.
"The bottom line is that shutting down Guantánamo and bringing these men to America would put this country in grave danger, and we are very grateful that we are finally getting a chance to present that point of view to President Obama," said Burlingame, a Westchester attorney.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he was impressed that the president was meeting with the families, but opposes closing Guantánamo and the president's order to ban certain interrogation practices, such as waterboarding.
"If on Sept. 10, 2001, we had captured Mohammed Atta and knew he was the mastermind [behind the 9/11 attacks], are we really saying now: 'We wouldn't have held his head under water for 20 seconds?'" King said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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