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Victims' families seek 'death, nothing less' for 9/11 defendants

May 04, 2012|By Richard A. Serrano
  • The Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility is shown in a 2009 file photo. Trial begins Saturday with arraignments for five alleged plotters behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility is shown in a 2009 file photo.… (Brennan Linsley / Associated…)

U.S. NAVAL BASE, GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA -- Cliff Russell lost his brother, a fireman who rushed to the first tower that was hit. Tara Henwood Butzbaugh lost her brother too, a bond trader on the 105thfloor of the same tower. For more than 10 years they have waited for this.

“I wish the worst possible death for them,” Russell said, speaking on the eve of the opening in the military commission trial for the five top ringleaders in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

 Butzbaugh could not agree more. “Death,” she said. “Nothing less.”

Saturday morning, the military trial opens for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four of his inner circle when they appear at an arraignment here at the detainee prison and enter their pleas in the worst terrorist strikes in America. The hearing will formally launch the long-awaited military tribunal, and though the process could last two years or more, they ultimately could face the death penalty.

The family members were among 10 chosen by lottery out of 250 who asked to witness the arraignment. Some 3,000 people died in the attacks.

Russell said his brother Stephen Russell, 40, was a member of Engine Co. 55 in New York’s Little Italy. After climbing atop Ladder Truck 20, he became one of the first to die after the World Trade Center was struck in Lower Manhattan.

Cliff Russell said he also rushed to the scene, and helped in the recovery and rescue. A total of 67 of his neighbors in Rockaway Beach, N.Y., were among the dead. He still anguishes over what he saw, he said, and he hopes the deaths of the five plotters will bring him closure.

“This was the most disgusting, hateful, awful thing that I could think of,” he said of the attacks.

Butzbaugh’s brother, John C. Henwood, 35, was on the 105thfloor working for Cantor Fitzgerald when the plane smashed a few floors below him.  “I am seeking justice for my brother,” she said, holding a large photograph of his smiling image.

Another person here for the trial’s opening, Blake Allison, was opposed to the death penalty before his wife, Anna, 49, died on the first airplane to hit the towers. Though he misses her dearly, and has remarried and tried to put his life back together in Lyme, N.H., he remains opposed to capital punishment.

“It’s not a productive or appropriate way to resolve something,” he said. “It just perpetuates the idea of needing revenge.”

Also Friday evening, James Connell, one of the defense attorneys for Ammar al Baluchi, aka Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, sharply criticized the military court system, calling it a “blight on America’s international reputation and her commitment to the rule of law.”

Connell complained that normally private attorney-defendant meetings are being “monitored” by the military officials under the guise of seeking “intelligence,” and that almost everything a defendant has ever said is being treated as classified “to prevent them from revealing information embarrassing to the United States government.”

Army Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor, defended the military tribunal system and how the five accused terrorists are being handled. “I am confident this one will achieve fairness and justice,” he said.

Martins said defense lawyers have been given unfettered access to their clients, with 80 flights made available to Guantanamo Bay over the last year alone. He also noted that under the Obama administration’s changes to the system, nothing from coerced confessions can be used against the defendants.

“This is a system worthy of the nation’s confidence,” Martins said.

richard.serrano@latimes.com

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