The Moral Conundrum of 9/11
"Victim family members approach being down here in this dark place from all sorts of perspectives. They've all suffered and there's a full range of human reaction from, 'I'm so happy you're doing what you're doing, it's good for America', to famously, 'Go f--k yourself'."
"This case [trial of five defendants charged with accessories in the murder of 2,967 people] will have a huge impact on whether we [America] keep chipping away at democracy."
"Is this going to become normal, especially with this administration? Or is it going to remain this one weird footnote to history? Frankly, I hope it remains one weird footnote."
"There are [sic] a lot of unpopular people -- me as a defence lawyer, you in the media -- who in history were hauled before military tribunals for pushing back against whatever policy of the government was. The idea of substituting military tribunals for civilian justice, to me is the single most important precedent this case will set."
"I have often wondered why from such a young age I was interested in the ideal of liberty. I don't come from a family of activists or anything like that. But perhaps that experience of maintaining disconnect between people and politics led me [to] focus on the individual and their rights."
"You could be interested about the people who were the enemies of the United States at the time, without hating the people themselves."
James Connell III, death-row defence lawyer
|Sunrise over Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (MICHELLE SHEPHARD)|
As a high-minded principle of this man who has dedicated himself, along with a handful of other lawyers, to defending the civil 'human rights' of barbarians whose religious ideology caused them to declare war on defenceless civilians as symbols of a nation and a political system, a society and a religion that they detest and in the process conspiring to commit a horrendous mass slaughter, it's difficult for the less-inclined-to-be-fastidious about human rights and legality in such an unspeakable instance to be fixated on a focus on justice.
In the case of co-conspirators of the 9-11 attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, justice, as wan as it can be under the circumstances, would reflect the need to expunge such monsters from existence. They are human beings, yes certainly, but human beings who chose to ferociously commit to murder on a mass scale and in the process to terrorize those who failed to subscribe to their murderous theological commitment to death. If justice in the opinion of this American lawyer, is to be dealt with equanimity and equality on the basis of shared humanity, it is an opinion that extenuating circumstances such as these cause to ring hollow.
James Connell III prides himself on his reading of justice and the law. But he has chosen the career of death-penalty lawyer, to represent those accused of and found guilty of heinous crimes for which the penalty in some American states is administrative, institutional death as punishment for those crimes. His is a mission to uphold justice and the due course of the law. The prisoners whom the United States government finds responsible for involvement in the success of the 9-11 horrors are held at a place called Camp Justice which was built over a former airstrip.
This is an odiously unspeakable crime they are accused of. It happened fifteen years ago. The defence in each of the instances representing the five accused, is building the case for their defence, slowly and meticulously to ensure that justice is seen to be done. And although fifteen years have passed, those who are familiar with the proceedings anticipate that another fifteen years will pass before the cases will go to trial and be finalized.
Mr. Connell is representing Ammar al-Baluchi, born in Kuwait of Pakistani parents, the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man held to be the mastermind behind the attacks, while Mr. al-Baluchi is accused of being their financier. Once monthly the lawyer and his client meet for seven hours during the course of a day. Mr. al-Baluchi's arraignment in 2012 lasted 13 hours. The level of involvement for all five accused is held to be different, but Mr. Connell is of the firm opinion that his client knew nothing of the 9-11 attacks and he is prepared to fight to defend his client's life.
The venue of the prison where they are held, Camp Justice, sits on a runway long since abandoned where jet fuel was dumped. Around it are buildings containing asbestos. "This isn't a Guantanamo or not Guantanamo issue. This is an abandoned runway that contains toxins that are known to cause serious disease and death", asserts another of the inmates' lawyers, Michael Schwartz. He is defending Walid bin Attash whom the Pentagon claims operated an al-Qaeda training camp in Logar, Afghanistan, where two of the 19 hijackers had been trained.
On a previous occasion Lawyer Connell represented John Allen Muhammad of the Beltway sniper attacks that killed ten people in Maryland, Virginia and Washington in 2002. Mr. Connell speaks of meeting with family members of the 9-11 victims. "I want you to be completely honest with me; is there anything human or redeeming about these people" he says he is asked. "I tell them, 'Yes, they are very human with a full range of their own reactions'." Like defiance, anger, fear, hatred and the will to kill, doubtless.
A kind of legend of fear has grown around the place called Camp Justice. It is recognized as an environmentally hazardous site, and people claim it is having a dreadfully deleterious effect on their health. So far, at least seven people who have worked there and who have been exposed to what lies underground and is presumably dangerous, have been stricken with cancer. The former lawyer for Canadian Omar Khadr died in 2015 from cancer, at age 44.