Feburary 12, 2009
Dear Families and Friends,
Last Friday, my husband Frank and I were honored to meet President Obama, together with forty other family members who lost loved ones in the attacks on 9/11, the U.S.S. Cole and the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania. The White House scheduled the meeting so that President Obama could discuss his plans to close the Guantanamo detention center and begin a dialogue with the families to hear their concerns, as well as answer any questions. This was the first time victims’ families have been invited to participate in an open forum with a sitting President.
As President Obama entered the room, he greeted each family member personally, shaking hands as he did so. He began the meeting by offering his condolences and thanking everyone for “serving as the nation’s conscience.” The President explained his reasons for closing Guantanamo and delaying trials for 120 days as he evaluates the current system, noting that his intention was to strengthen our legal and moral standing, so terrorists’ convictions will stand up to scrutiny, and so US counterterrorism efforts can proceed untainted. He assured us that his first priority is the safety of the American people and that he will ensure “swift and certain justice” for those found guilty of terrorist attacks.
Following his brief remarks, President Obama devoted the remainder of an hour to answering questions. Family members came with a wide range of opinions on this highly emotional topic. Many worried that closing Guantanamo will mean the terrorists responsible for thousands of deaths will escape justice or be free to commit additional crimes against our nation. Some families who attended the trials in Guantanamo supported the military tribunals and objected to a delay. Others talked about the benefits of federal trials and expressed concern about the violation of civil liberties. There was a shared opinion among the families that fair trials must be held as soon as possible, and that those found guilty must be held accountable. As the meeting progressed, families were reassured by President Obama’s transparency and his methodical approach to the challenges involved in closing Guantanamo.
We were very grateful to President Obama for engaging our families in a meaningful and productive discussion on this sensitive topic. While those in attendance held a variety of opinions as the meeting began, it was clear they appreciated the opportunity to begin a discussion, and were reassured that their concerns were heard and will be taken into consideration. As President Obama closed the meeting he said, “This is just the start of our dialogue...This is not a goodbye - it's a hello," and promised we would continue to meet with his administration.
As the meeting adjourned I had an opportunity to talk with the U.S.S. Cole families. It was heartwarming to hear their stories and see firsthand how they came together to support one another. The resiliency of their community underscored the unspoken bond between those directly affected by terrorism. We share so many common experiences and challenges as a result of our loss.
Please know that VOICES will keep you informed and do everything in its power to build on the momentum established during this important meeting, advocating for victims of terrorism and promoting the reforms needed to keep our nation safe.
Media coverage of the meeting was extensive. The following sites are but a small sample, which you might visit for additional details: The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Daily News, and the White House. The Commander of the U.S.S. Cole discussed the meeting on NPR.
Mary and the Voices Staff
VOICES Programs and events
9/11 Living Memorial Workshop Schedule
VOICES is putting together its workshop schedule for 2009. If you would like us to come to your neighborhood, please contact us so we can consider including it in our schedule for the coming year. For more information, or to register for the workshops below, contact Michelle Doherty at VOICES of September 11th, (203) 966-3911 or by e-mail to email@example.com. You can also schedule an individual Living Memorial appointment at our Connecticut office.
VOICES, New Canaan
Date: Friday, February 6th
Time: 10:00am to 3:00pm by Appointment
Location: Voices of September 11th, 161 Cherry Street, Second Floor, New Canaan, CT
KBW, New York
Date: Thursday, February 12th for KBW families
Time: 10:00am to 5:00pm by Appointment
Location: Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, 787 7th Avenue, Fourth Floor, New York, NY
Manhasset, New York
Date: Tuesday, February 17th
Time: 11:00am to 5:00pm by Appointment
Location: Manhasset Public Library, 30 Onderdonk Avenue, Manhasset, NY 11030
Bayside, New York
Date: Tuesday, February 24th
Time: 1:00pm to 5:00pm by Appointment
Location: Bay Terrace Public Library,
18-36 Bell Blvd.,
Bayside, NY 11360
In Person Schedule:
Tuesday, February 17th, Rockland County, In Person Parents' Support Group, 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
In the News
President Acknowledges 9/11 Families in First News Conference
President Barack Obama held his first press conference on February 10, 2009, during which he mentioned his meeting with family members who lost loved ones in the attacks on the U.S.S. Cole, the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, and the 9/11 attacks. To view the press conference, visit the White House.
9/11 Families Meet With WMD Chair
Last week, 9/11 family members met with former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism (WMD), for a briefing on the Commission’s research and conclusions.
Established by Congress in 2007 in accordance with 9/11 Commission recommendations, the independent panel, led by Chairman Graham as well as Vice-Chairman, former Senator Jim Talent (R-MO), examined evidence from more than 250 military, political and academic experts. Their report, released in December 2008, assesses “our nation’s progress in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism,” and provides “a roadmap to greater security with concrete recommendations for improvement,” according to the Commission’s website. It concluded that an attack utilizing unconventional weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear or biological weapons is likely to occur by 2013 unless urgent preventive actions are taken by the US and its allies. The US is a prime target. The bi-partisan Commission made 13 recommendations to address the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The 9/11 families expressed their desire to be helpful in promoting the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. To visit the Commission’s web site and view the report, click here.
Switch to Digital TV Delayed until June 12
President Obama has signed legislation delaying the transition to digital TV from February 17 to June 12. Additional airwaves are needed to improve first responder communications in an emergency like 9/11. While most Americans were ready to switch, as many as 6.5 million were unprepared. Delay proponents argued additional time was needed to educate the public, attend to reception issues, and provide coupons to purchase converter boxes. Both the major networks and local broadcasters were allowed to choose whether to proceed with the switch on February 17. While the networks will delay, many local stations will transition on February 17 as originally scheduled. To learn how you can prepare for the switch, go to the government’s DTV web site at: http://www.dtv.gov/. To read more on the issue, visit the NY Times.
Bill to Address 9/11 Health Crisis Reintroduced to Congress
Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Peter King (R-NY), and Michael McMahon (D-NY) have reintroduced bipartisan legislation to address the many health issues that emerged in first responders and others following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. To read their press release, and see the bill itself, visit Rep. Maloney’s web site.
Congress Moves to Protect Whistleblowers
The House of Representatives has voted to strengthen whistleblower protections for a variety of federal employees, including employees involved in national security and scientific research. Previous attempts at such legislation, which aims to root out abuses of authority and also misspending, were difficult to push through and faced veto by the Bush administration. The latest attempt is more likely to succeed. Read more at the Washington Post.
Should September 11th be a Holiday?
Lawmakers across the nation have suggested that September 11th be declared a holiday, in order to ensure that its significance will never be forgotten. However, to date, no state, not even New York, has done so. To learn why, visit the LA Times.
Columbia Identifies Risk Factors in World Trade Center Evacuation
Scientists at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health have studied the factors affecting the World Trade Center (WTC) evacuation on September 11. The findings are important to prepare for future emergencies, and the researchers have therefore issued recommendations for high-rise workers. Read
CDC Issues Report on Terrorism Preparedness
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has produced a report on Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response-Funded Activities. To read the report, which describes how public health will be protected in an emergency, visit the CDC.