Published February 28, 2011
Two years ago this month, President Obama met with the families of Sept. 11 victims and other victims of terrorism at a special meeting in Washington, D.C., and promised “swift and certain justice” for the perpetrators. But the high expectations of that meeting have given way to frustration for many who met with Obama.
“One of the first things he told us was that we were the conscience of the country and he wanted to give us swift and certain justice,” Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot on Flight 77 on 9/11, told Fox News. She was one of about 30 people at the meeting.
That same phrase "swift and certain justice" was used by the White House in its own press release after the meeting.
But with no timetable for a trial for those charged with being behind the attacks, Hamilton Peterson, who lost his father and stepmother on 9/11, says the families feel betrayed.
“Unfortunately, I would say, at a minimum, we were misled, “ Peterson said.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the complaints of the victim’s families. But outside groups say that part of the problem for the administration has been the ongoing legal and political fight over the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. The president wants to close it, but a bipartisan coalition in Congress has adamantly refused to allow him to bring the inmates to facilities inside the U.S.
“Congress has imposed these restrictions irresponsibly on the administration. The Guantanamo detainees need to be tried in federal court,” said Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch. But while Pitter blames Congress for the delay, she and her group maintain that the president should have acted before the congressional action was taken.
When the second plane hit the second tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11, Lee and Eunice Hanson, now both nearly 80, lost their son, Peter, daughter-in-law, Sue, and granddaughter, Christine. Like Burlingame and Peterson, the Hansons also attended a meeting for the 9/11 families. Their meeting was at the Justice Department in June 2009. Now the Hansons fear they will not see a trial in their lifetime.
“A lot of people come up to me say, when's something going to happen? When are they going to be tried? And I have to sit there and say, I really don’t know,” Lee said as he sat next to his wife.
Eunice was even more direct than her husband. “I don't know how many years I've got left. I would like to see justice before I pass on,” she said.
Retired New York City firefighter Robert Reeg, who was injured on 9/11, says the Obama administration is putting the rights of terrorists ahead of the victims, like those who leapt to their deaths from the burning towers.
“If I close my eyes I can still see those people jumping, “ Reeg said. “Their rights are being superseded by the rights of war criminals. To me, it’s outrageous.”
The families recently took their frustrations to Capitol Hill, where they met with a half dozen lawmakers including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. After one meeting at the Rayburn House Office building, the families had a chance encounter with the Attorney General Eric Holder, who had promised in November 2009 that the 9/11 case would go to federal court.
Melissa Long who lost her boyfriend, a New York City firefighter, described the curbside confrontation.
“We challenged him on the fact that nothing was happening and that we were ready for the commissions to happen,” Long told Fox News, adding the meeting was polite but “forceful.”
“(Holder) tried to tell us that it was the roll of the dice to go to military commissions and that the trial was the right way to go. We severely disagree, and he said that we should trust him because he had information that we were not privy to,” Long said.
Melissa’s husband Brian Long witnessed the discussion. He said Holder claimed the verdict in the case of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the Guantanamo detainee who was only convicted on one count of conspiracy in New York federal court for the 1996 U.S. embassy bombings was a victory.
“He told us to watch the sentencing that day and that was a victory,” Brian Long said. “It’s hard to believe he was only convicted on one of 285 charges and none of those were for murder.”
Asked twice for comment on Holder's conversation with the 9/11 families, a Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.