By Mark Schweiker
Two decades ago, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was plotting the terrorist attacks that would murder thousands of Americans on Sept. 11, 2001. Terrorist cells were inside our country. America had no idea what was to come when they boarded airplanes that morning.
These terrorists would become possibly the most hated criminals in our nation’s history. Yet, as we head toward marking the 20th year since the 9/11 attacks, the loved ones of those Americans killed still await justice. In fact, the wheels of justice are not turning at all. They’ve stopped. Mohammed and his co-conspirators still await trial. In summer 2019, a military judge finally set the date for January 2021, but as COVID-19 shut down the nation, the trial was yet again postponed. A new date has not been set.
So much time has passed that we’ve now reached a point where college-aged students were born after 9/11. Working with Rider University’s Department of Political Science Homeland Security program as an executive-in-residence, I’ve worked to educate our future leaders about this important part of America’s history. It’s the only way to ensure we are doing everything we can to prevent future wide-scale attacks.
But that educational experience for our college students won’t be complete until politicians do the right thing. That this delay in justice has been allowed to happen across multiple administrations is stunning when you consider how the attacks marked the last time our nation was truly unified. It was a time that tested the very resolve of our nation’s fabric, but political partisanship and regional divides were largely set aside.
We became dedicated to fighting back against terror to protect our freedom and way of life. We were unified in our determination to seek justice for the more than 3,000 Americans, who died that day. Since then, we’ve inexplicably delayed justice.
I can still remember meeting with the families of the great Flight 93 patriots in the days after the attacks. Indeed, their loved ones died as heroes, fighting terrorists who were determined to kill. As I would come to learn in the years after I served as governor, these families were emotionally broken yet, somehow, they resolved to carry on the memory of the heroes they loved and lost. The Families of Flight 93 inspire me, and countless Americans, to this very day.
As the years passed, 10,000 first responders who responded to the emergency at the World Trade Center have been diagnosed with cancer, and more than 2,000 have died from 9/11-related illnesses. All of these brave Americans are our heroes. That’s why for so many of us who experienced the front lines of 9/11, the date is something that conjures a sense of dread and loss. Once upon a time, we made a promise that we would seek – and secure – justice.
Now, as we approach the solemn 20-year mark of these attacks (I cannot call such an occasion an anniversary), our work remains alarmingly incomplete.
Justice and closure can only happen when the Biden administration finally does what its predecessors did not: bring to trial the mastermind of these attacks. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and accomplices Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd Al-Aziz Ali and Walid bin Attash must be prosecuted for their crimes.
In James E. Mitchell’s book, Enhanced Interrogation, Mohammed proclaimed, “We will win. Americans don’t realize this. We do not need to defeat you militarily; we only need to fight you long enough for you to defeat yourself by quitting.” A cold-blooded killer who has admitted his guilt, this monster must be brought to a final justice in our court system. The time for a trial is now. The time for needless delays is over.
We owe justice to the Americans who died on that day nearly two decades ago at Ground Zero.
We owe it to the Americans serving our nation that day at the Pentagon, the very symbol of our country’s defense.
We owe it to the patriots who died above the rural skies of Pennsylvania when they fought terrorists and brought down Flight 93, potentially saving thousands of American lives.
We owe it to the courageous members of our military, who have fought the War on Terror around the globe.
We owe it to the thousands of first responders who died from cancer after working at rescue sites, and the thousands more who are sick and continue to suffer.
We owe it to the families who lost loved ones and who still carry with them an immense pain that will never subside.
And we owe it to every American who still lives with that day seared into their hearts.
It’s been nearly two decades. It’s time for justice. ••
The 44th governor of Pennsylvania, Mark S. Schweiker is the only person to assume the office of governor as a result of the 9/11 attacks. He is Executive-in-Residence of Rider University’s Department of Political Science Homeland Security program.