Government Lawyer's Error Upsets Families of 9/11 Victims

By Timothy Dwyer and Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Yesterday was another day of frustration for families of the victims of Sept. 11, 2001.

They have waited more than four years through delays and appeals for Zacarias Moussaoui's trial to begin. Satellite courtrooms, established by Congress, have been set up in Boston, Manhattan, Long Island, Newark and Philadelphia so they could watch the government make its case that the only person convicted in the United States in the terrorist attacks should be executed.

Although the families might disagree about what role Moussaoui played in the attacks and what his sentence should be, many have said that they looked forward to the trial as a vehicle to gather information, heal wounds and, for some, seek some closure.

Some family members said they were upset that the actions of a Transportation Security Administration lawyer, Carla J. Martin, could potentially derail the government's case. U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema decided yesterday to exclude all aviation security evidence after Martin violated a court order by e-mailing trial transcripts to seven witnesses and coaching them about their upcoming testimony.

"I am furious," said Rosemary Dillard, whose husband, Eddie, was killed on the plane that was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon. "Aviation is a big part of this case. Aviation is what killed our loved ones. It was planes. You take aviation out . . . where do they go from here?"

Where the trial goes after the events of the past two days is a question that many family members were asking yesterday.

They differ on whether Moussaoui should get a life or death sentence. But many were hoping that the penalty phase of the admitted al-Qaeda member would be an opportunity to learn more about what the U.S. government knew regarding terror threats before Sept. 11, 2001, and what it did with the information.

"How are we supposed to get any new information now?" said Fiona Havlish, formerly of Buck County, Pa., whose husband was killed at the World Trade Center. "I think what all of us are looking for is the truth, and the truth has not been forthcoming out of Washington. I mean, I can only speak for myself, but I do not feel that the truth has come out no matter how hard we as family members have tried. And this was just one more avenue to find a particle of truth, and that is being thwarted."

Havlish recently moved to Colorado and has been following the case by watching television news. She said she is morally opposed to the death penalty but wants the trial to go forward to serve as a conduit of information for the families.

Some family members questioned how Martin could have blatantly disregarded a court order -- or not been aware of it.

Some wondered whether she was being used as a scapegoat for other government officials who did not want the aviation security evidence to be made public.

"I don't think she is alone," Dillard said in a telephone interview last night. "I just don't think she could have gotten away with that. Somebody helped her or prompted her. It just makes me wonder whether this is one more thing where no one is going to be held accountable. . . . It's almost too clean. I wonder if there is more to the story than we know."

D. Hamilton Petersen said he would like to hear Martin's side of the story before he makes any judgments. "We need to give Carla Martin an opportunity to explain herself," he said in a telephone interview. "While it was a gaffe, it was not nefarious, and it was not done by the darkness of night. To err is human, and we need to get the facts, in fairness to Miss Martin." Peterson's father, Donald A. Peterson, and his stepmother, Jean H. Peterson, were killed when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in western Pennsylvania.

Some family members saw some irony in the judge's decision because, on the surface, excluding aviation security testimony would appear to favor the defense, but the family members said it would hurt their quest to get as much information made public as possible about the circumstances of their loved ones' deaths.

"I felt the government wasn't telling us all that it knew, and I do know that feeling is shared in the Massachusetts circle of families within which I travel," said Blake Allison, of Hanover, N.H., whose wife, Anna Allison, was killed on American Airlines Flight 11. "We talked about this the first day of the trial, the hope that the trial would bring some clarity to some of the circumstances leading up to 9/11."

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