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Families watch as Guantanamo arraignment of self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind begins
NEW YORK (AP) ' Nearly 11 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, family members of some of the victims were to watch via closed-circuit TV on Saturday as the self-proclaimed mastermind of the attacks and four co-defendants were arraigned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"I want to bear witness that in fact these people are brought to justice," said Al Santora, whose firefighter son Christopher died at the World Trade Center.
Santora and his wife, Maureen, planned to watch the arraignment at Fort Hamilton in New York City. Others also gathered there Saturday morning for a live broadcast of the hearing for victims' family members, survivors and emergency personnel who responded to the attacks. The fort is one of four military bases where the proceeding was shown, along with Fort Devens in Massachusetts, Joint Base McGuire Dix in New Jersey and Fort Meade in Maryland, the only one of the four open to the public.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other defendants were being arraigned on charges that include terrorism and murder, the first time in more than three years that they appeared in public. They could get the death penalty if convicted in the attacks that sent hijacked airliners slamming into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. The trial is probably at least a year away.
Six victims' families chosen by lottery traveled to Guantanamo to see the arraignment in person.
Alan Linton of Frederick, Md., who lost his son Alan Jr., an investment banker, at the World Trade Center, said he and his wife put their names in the lottery for the Cuba trip but they aren't interested in watching a video feed of the arraignment.
"That's just not the same as being there to me," Linton said. "Going to Fort Meade, it's kind of like watching television."
Whether they plan to watch or not, family members expressed frustration that it's taken so long to bring the Sept. 11 conspirators to justice.
The administration of President Barack Obama dropped earlier military-commission charges against them when it decided in late 2009 to try them in federal court in New York. But Congress blocked the civilian trials amid opposition to bringing the defendants to U.S. soil, especially to a courthouse located just blocks from the trade center site.
Santora said he hopes the trial can proceed quickly once it starts.
"They have tons and tons of evidence and they've already admitted their guilt," he said. "So I don't know why the trial should be long."
Retired firefighter Jim Riches, whose son was also a firefighter who died at the trade center, said some of victims' parents did not live long enough to see the trial.
"We were promised swift justice by Barack Obama," he said. "And we're still waiting."
Associated Press writer Meghan Barr and Verena Dobnik in New York City and David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., contributed to this report.