Pursuit of Practical Rather Than Perfect
Photo credit: 2013 GTMO Office of VFM, Guantanamo Bay US Military Base
Upon the delivery of the unfortunate, it is not the unfortunate event that matters.
It is our response that matters.
Today, as I have for the last five years, I agitate for the practical rather than the perfect.
Quite simply, my practical intent is for those responsible for the death of my father and so many of his friends to be found guilty before I follow in the footsteps of Mom, my father's friends, and his siblings. I do not intend to die without witnessing a verdict.
I pursue the practical for the perfect is long gone. I pursue as follows.
August 26, 2021
Colonel Jeffrey D. Wood Copy to:
(Address deleted) (Address deleted)
Copy delivered via email
The Honorable Mr. Wood:
Please accept my congratulations on your April 2020 appointment as Convening Authority with jurisdiction over the Guantanamo Bay legal proceedings. Additionally, please accept my gratitude and admiration for your military, political, and legal service on behalf of our nation. Your varied real-world experience is a welcome addition to the trial of the perpetrators accused of killing my father, scores of his colleagues, and many family friends on September 11th, 2001.
I understand this trial serves many masters; our nation’s concept of justice, the military legal system, the rights afforded under the U.S. Constitution to involved parties, and the wants of those left behind by the attacks of September 11. With this understanding in mind, I share with you a request similar to requests shared with the Honorable Mr. Rishikof in 2017 and the Honorable Ms. Perritano in 2018.
As the son of a 9/11 first responder killed at the World Trade Center (WTC), I respectfully ask you to explore and apply the full authority of your position within the Office of Military Commissions as Convening Authority in the pursuit of justice.
Before detailing the reasoning behind this particular request, I ask for your indulgence as I share a bit of context.
My father, Richard Morgan, was Vice President of Emergency Management for Consolidated Edison (Con Ed) of New York and thereafter a consultant for Con Ed. In 1993, he responded to the first WTC attack. Following the 1993 attack, my father helped found Con Ed’s Biological Chemical Weapons Response Team. Thereafter, he worked on behalf of Con Ed to coordinate emergency response efforts with FDNY and the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM). For years, my father coordinated with the administration and FDNY in preparation for a potential attack on the city. On many occasions he shared stories of participation in OEM’s war games, a favored mechanism for preparation. When he shared such stories, family members chided him; suggesting in the event of an attack on New York he should hightail it to Connecticut where we’d pick him up, safe and unharmed.
On the evening of September 10th, 2001, I spoke with my father for the last time. During our final phone conversation, he explained that Tuesday morning (the 11th) his teams were scheduled to seal manhole covers as a precaution against a potential assault on the city. As our last conversation wrapped up, I surprised my father (and myself), by saying, “I love you.” Caught off guard at such an emotional affront (a reflection of his stoic Irish Catholic upbringing), my father stammered an awkward response. “See you on the big job.”
These were the last words we shared.
On the morning of September 11th, my father responded to the attacks on New York. He did not hightail it to Connecticut. He survived the collapse of the South tower and, after rallying at the second command center, was killed during the fall of the North tower. Scores of my father’s friends and colleagues were killed as were 11 residents of my family’s small home town, Glen Rock, NJ.
Among others, my father left behind his wife of 40 years, Patricia Morgan. Diagnosed with the return of breast cancer in May (or so) of 2001, she was left to fight cancer without the man she loved.
In the hours and days after the attacks of the 11th, my mother waited for my father to return home.
My mother then waited for a body. What was unearthed required a closed casket.
Thereafter, she waited nearly five years for justice. Succumbing to her illness, my mother died without witnessing the delivery of a verdict regarding the individuals accused of killing her husband.
The Guantanamo Bay proceedings continued and, years later, my father’s sister, Pat Morgan, died before the delivery of a verdict regarding the individuals accused of killing her brother.
This past year, my father’s brother, Kevin Morgan, died before the delivery of a verdict regarding the individuals accused of killing his brother.
Today, at 59 years of age, I stand as the oldest living member of my family.
Like those before me, I wait.
Like those before me, I wait with diminishing hope.
The passage of time and the application of some simple math accounts for the diminishment of hope for, if we assume the Guantanamo Bay wheels of justice will continue to turn at the current pace, and we estimate the trial proceedings to consume as much time as the pre-trial proceedings, and we anticipate a prudent process of appeals, and based on established expected life expectancy rates, we may conclude victim family members (VFMs) my age or older shall likely die before the rendering of a verdict for or against the accused.
Today, like the family members before us, we – the VFM sons, daughters, husbands, wives, lovers and friends – expect to die without witnessing conclusion to the murder trial of our loved ones.
Our well-intentioned application of justice has become an end to itself.
Respectfully, Your Honor, this is not justice.
This is process.
And, if life expectancy tables prove erroneous and I live to enjoy my 100th birthday, the perpetrators will likely not live to witness a verdict. I suspect a man born in the Middle East in 1970 or so and incarcerated for many years will likely not outlive VFMs in my age bracket.
Should the accused die prior to verdict, we VFMs will again be left wanting; never witnessing the full potential of our judicial system.
Should the accused die prior to verdict, the perpetrators shall go to their graves without a finding of guilt or innocence. In such an event, does our judicial process’s banner of legal precedent held aloft in opinions such as Coffin v. United States presume them to die as innocents?
With the prospect of so many VFMs and/or the accused dying prior to a trial conclusion, I respectfully ask you to act within the powers afforded the Convening Authority of a Military Commission.
I respectfully ask you to charge your legal advisor and the prosecution team reporting to you to explore options regarding a pre-trial agreement or non-trial conclusion. I acknowledge the potential implications of such a request on a capital case, however a less than desirable outcome is better than no outcome. Any verdict is better than the eternal presumption of innocence imposed by the arrival of death.
I am not an attorney and recognize I am ill-equipped to interpret law. That said, it appears your authority to initiate such an exploration is grounded in existing U.S. law. Below, I share a layperson’s initial reading of your authority to shape the application of the judicial process.
Section 2.3.a. of The Department of Defense Regulation for Trial by Military Commission notes the responsibilities of the convening authority to include, among others, the ability to: (#9) approve or disapprove plea agreements with an accused.
2020 United States v. Chandler “authorizes an accused and the convening authority to enter into a pretrial agreement, and the parties may condition the pretrial agreement on a promise to enter into a stipulation of fact concerning offenses to which a plea of guilty or a confessional stipulation will be entered.”
Though not a primary legal source, the Office of Military Commissions web site’s Organizational Overview (https://www.mc.mil/ABOUTUS/OrganizationOverview.aspx) indicates the Convening Authority is responsible for the military commission’s process. The same source indicates the Convening Authority is empowered to (among other things) negotiate pre-trial agreements.
I recognize you are aware of the above and I do not wish to impart insult or to imply otherwise. I also recognize I am unfamiliar with the mechanics of law as well as the complicated nuances of the Military Commission and the associated power of the Convening Authority.
However, to a layperson, it appears you have the authority to frame the parameters of justice.
If my understanding is correct, it appears the wait of my mother, the wait of my father’s siblings, and the current wait of surviving VFMs like me is a function of a human decision rendered and upheld through actions by a judicial process controlled by the Convening Authority.
Is this our nation’s best application of a legal system forged over two centuries of hard-earned rights and a proven body of precedent?
My father died responding to an attack on our nation. He did not wait; he acted. When he acted, he did not rush to Connecticut in search of process. He sought solution. He paid with his life.
Thereafter, my mother died waiting for our nation’s wheels of justice to gain traction.
Going forward, shall I and other VFMs die waiting as well?
For days, we VFMs waited for the return of our loved ones.
Then, we waited for the return of remains; for something to bury.
Now, we wait for justice.
It is not my place to ask for a specific verdict; guilty or innocent. Nor do I wish to burden you with my desire for a specific sentence; either leniency or the death penalty.
I want to trust in our legal system’s ability to deliver a verdict during my lifetime.
I hope this trust is not misplaced.
Today, it is with great interest, and a modicum of hope, that I look forward to your application of hard-earned, real-world, experience to the wants of justice, the protection of rights under the U.S. Constitution, and the hopes of VFMs left waiting.
I have an interest in this trial for the individuals on trial are accused of killing my father and scores of his friends.
I have an interest in this trial for I have paid a heavy price to witness the best of America; as reflected in the application of a battled-tested (sic) legal process and judicial system to even those accused of the most heinous of crimes.
With these interests in mind, I hope you will explore and apply the full authority of your position within the Office of Military Commissions in the pursuit of justice.
With respect and admiration,