GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — Some Americans who lost loved ones on 9/11 oppose the death penalty for the accused terrorists facing trial at Guantanamo Bay. Glenn Morgan is not among them.
“They’re killers,” said Morgan, whose father, Richard Morgan, who died when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed while he was responding to the incident as part of Con Edison’s emergency management team. “I’m not going to be sad if these people are not alive.”
But Morgan says he also wants to rise above his own thirst for retribution. And in that spirit, he has been donating art supplies for use by Guantanamo detainees and guards alike. Earlier this month, military officials who run the prison accepted his latest batch of donated supplies, a small act of grace in one of the world’s most unforgiving places.
“Glenn’s commitment to sending art supplies to the high-value detainees and to the guard force is another example of how he cultivates humanity among those who can appear to be on opposite sides,” said Tammy Krause, who works as a liaison between victim family members and the defense team of the confessed 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
KSM, as he is known, appeared in court last week with four other accused 9/11 conspirators as the ninth year of pre-trial hearings resumed in a war crimes case that many legal experts say is a national embarrassment. A new judge in the case faces a steep learning curve as pre-trial motions over CIA torture and other matters have stacked up. No trial date is in sight.
The glacial pace of the military commission proceedings is a matter of deep frustration for Morgan and other relatives of 9/11 victims. Even though the accused terrorists are in prison, the families want their day in court.
“To me, justice is telling the world, in a trial, what these terrorists did to murder so many people,” said Paul Berry, whose brother-in-law, New York City Fire Capt. William F. Burke, Jr., died in the World Trade Center’s North Tower while trying to help a paraplegic man to safety.
“A trial is a place where not only family members of the victims, but the American public and the whole world can witness the truth and see America live up to its ideals,” said Terry Rockefeller, whose sister, Laura, also died in the North Tower.
“My mother died waiting for a verdict; my father’s sister died waiting for a verdict; my father’s brother died waiting for a verdict,” he said. “I’m 59, and I don’t want to die without a verdict.”
That, Morgan said, would be a victory for the accused terrorists.
But as he waits, he said, he also wants to make a positive difference. He got the idea to donate art supplies in 2018, he said, after talking to his daughter, who is an artist.
“I can either chose to do what’s right or I can choose to do what’s easy, and I choose to do what’s right,” he said.
He says he has spent “north of $1,000” on the supplies. Because of the blanket of secrecy that envelops the Guantanamo Bay prison, he has no idea which detainees, if any, have made use of them. U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Task Force Guantanamo, which runs the prison, did not respond to an NBC News request for information.
Detainees have been making art at Guantanamo for years. In 2017, the President’s Gallery at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City put on an exhibition, “Ode to the Sea,” featuring 36 works created by prisoners.
After that exhibition, the Pentagon launched a review of how it handles detainee art and issued a statement saying the art remained the property of the U.S. government, according to the New York Times.
After successfully donating supplies in 2018, Morgan decided to try again.
“It is hard,” he said. “A lot of people had to say ‘yes’ to this.”
It is difficult to overstate the culture of secrecy that pervades the military and legal bureaucracy surrounding the 39 detainees who remain in prison at Guantanamo. The Joint Task Force releases almost no information, and the security measures around their operations are remarkably intense, given that the prisoners are locked away on a military base in a remote corner of Cuba.
Defense lawyers, despite holding Top Secret security clearances, are not allowed to communicate with their clients by telephone or video conference, for example.
And on a recent, sanctioned media tour of the courtroom and surrounding facilities, a military guard confiscated a drawing by the approved courtroom sketch artist — and chastised a reporter for touching a chair in which one of the 9/11 defendants normally sits.
Regular observers of Guantanamo say the bureaucratic caution has gotten more suffocating over the years. So Morgan was somewhat surprised two weeks ago when he got approval to donate more art materials.
“I was told I had the opportunity to send them on the next trip, and so I scrambled and bought a lot of art supplies,” he said.
Morgan hopes it makes things a little better there for everyone.
“Maybe people that look at themselves as natural adversaries can look at themselves as standing across a bridge,” he said. “When you see someone’s art, you get to have a window inside them. Its’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, that person’s human. I may want to punish that person, but he’s still a human being.'”