GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — A victim in the 9/11 terror attacks spoke out Thursday against what he views as unfairly sympathetic press coverage about conditions for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
"We cater to them. In the court of law, they don't even rise when the judge walks in. I find that disturbing. I don't believe they recognize our justice system,” said Jim Jenca, who was injured in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York. "I couldn't get this kind of defense if I committed a crime. I'd be in an American jail, [and] I wouldn't have as much due process as these five defendants have."
Jenca, 52, was a security manager for an investment banking firm in 2001. He was sent to Ground Zero after the first plane hit the Twin Towers. When the first tower collapsed, he was knocked to the ground, consumed by the dust cloud and trampled by terrified people trying to escape. The attack, he said, led to lung, knee and back problems — not to mention post-traumatic stress disorder.
He is frustrated about the coverage of Guantanamo detainees, Jenca told reporters at the detention facility where he was attending the military tribunal of five suspected terrorists tied to the 9/11 attacks. He said it made him "angry" to read complaints about alleged mistreatment of detainees in the media. The detainees receive high-quality defense counsel and their Islamic faith is respected, he said.
"These five defendants are being afforded the best defense that could possibly be given for people charged with any kind of a crime," he said. "I'm very disappointed in the negative news reports with regard to their treatment, their conditions."
Jenca is in Guantanamo Bay as part of a program run by the Pentagon for 9/11 survivors. The Defense Department notifies thousands of victims and surviving family members whenever the military commission is convened. Survivors interested in attending the proceedings enter a lottery. Five are chosen and flown, with a spouse or friend, to Guantanamo Bay.
“I needed to look them in the eyes. I wish there wasn't a wall separating us. I wish I had the opportunity to confront them,” Jenca said, explaining why he came to the military commission. "I don't think you could print what I would say."
Jenca didn’t catch the eyes of the five men now facing war crime charges in front of the tribunal, but some of the defendants have occasionally glanced towards the back of the courtroom. Because of the distance between him and the accused, Jenca said he tried to "make eye contact and give them some vibes about the way I feel about them."
Attending the legal proceedings, he said, left him with feelings of "rage" though also "a measure of peace." Closure remains elusive, even a dozen years after the attacks, he said.
"My closure," he said, "is to see them executed."