GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — An angry group of victims and survivors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks lectured the media Friday, accusing the press of forgetting about them and neglecting to properly cover the ongoing war crimes commission.
The commission concluded a week of proceedings Friday afternoon, consisting of 21 hours of hearings and the discussion over 20 motions in the ongoing attempt by the U.S. government to convict five men for conspiracy in the 2001 attacks.
But for victims and survivors of the attacks, the judicial process has dragged on for far too long — leading some of them to believe that news media no longer cares about the trial.
"Where did you people go? There's no coverage in this case, of what is going on," said Patricia DeConto, whose son, Gerald, a U.S. Navy captain, was killed when one of the hijacked planes flew into the Pentagon. "You people have a mandate in a democracy to report the news ... not just to earn good ratings and money ... You have forgotten us."
Several other VFMs — victim family members — echoed those remarks during a 30-minute press conference immediately following proceedings this week.
Five victims and survivors of Sept. 11 are permitted to attend each set of proceedings, as determined by a lottery. This group argued that the press had unfairly painted Guantanamo Bay as a site of detainee abuse, or else had been disinterested in covering it at all.
"My imagination ran wild with thoughts of gulags and prisoners being beaten every day, but nothing could be further from the truth," said Raymond Costanzo, whose sister, Vicki, was also killed at the Pentagon. Costanzo said that the press should cover the positive sides of the naval base, "instead of leading Americans to assume that this is just one giant gulag."
In court Friday, lead prosecutor U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins proposed that the first aspect of the trial — the jury selection — take place by January 2015. Following that step, a trial could take just several more weeks. However, trial judge Army Col. James Pohl has yet to approve of that date, and it is likely that the defense team will attempt to push it back further.
The week's hearings featured juxtaposed narratives from the prosecution and the defense, who differ on the extent to which allegations of torture should be featured during proceedings.
The prosecution frames the case as about the "summary execution" of nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11; the defense views the subsequent treatment of their clients, after 9/11, as a cornerstone of their case.
"Half of the people came to see a proceeding about torture. The other half of the people came to see a proceeding about the death of their loved ones," argued James Connell, the lawyer for defendant Ammar al Baluchi. "Neither of those two groups are wrong."
The prosecution, on the other hand, believes that the issue of alleged torture should only be considered in certain, limited situations, such as litigation over whether statements made by the defendant were voluntary.
The military commission's next scheduled meeting in Guantanamo Bay is in December.