My Husband Died on 9/11. I Am Still Waiting for a Trial of His Killers.

We haven't brought any 9/11 conspirators to justice, despite torture and decades of war.

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 23:  Colleen Ryan of New Jersey, holds a photo of an office staff in which all but two parished in the attacks on the World Trade Center including her brother John J. Ryan. Families of Sept. 11 victims gathered on Upper Senate Park, Tuesday, to urge Congress to set up a commission to investigate the events that led up to the terrorist attacks.  (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)

Colleen Ryan holds a photo of an office staff, all but two of whom died in the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, including her brother, to urge Congress to set up a commission to investigate the events that led up to the attacks, on Nov. 23, 2002.

Photo: Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images

After the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the U.S. Justice Department brought the co-conspirators before the federal court in the Southern District of New York for a criminal trial.

After the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed 12 Americans and more than 200 others, the U.S. Justice Department similarly brought the perpetrators to public criminal trials in downtown Manhattan.

Notably, both the World Trade Center bombing and the embassy bombings involved many of the same operatives, training camps, financial banking networks, communications facilities and hubs, methods of communications, sources, and methods of travel, travel networks, and travel “identifiers” as the 9/11 attacks. In fact, Al Qaeda was closely linked to the World Trade Center bombing and orchestrated the embassy attacks as well as the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000.

Of course, the number killed in the 9/11 attacks far eclipses the count of those injured and killed in the World Trade Center 1993 bombing, the embassy bombings, and the USS Cole bombing combined. Historically speaking, the 9/11 families are the largest group of terrorism victims for terrorist attacks carried out inside the country. And yet the U.S. Justice Department has never indicted and fully prosecuted one co-conspirator for the crime.

Quite inexplicably, the 3,000 homicides by hijacking and bombing on September 11 will go unanswered for in these United States. Even the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy for failing to prevent the attacks, was a debacle that for the 9/11 families only raised more uncomfortable questions surrounding the U.S. government’s abject and systemic failures. As the Associated Press reported, “The FBI agent who arrested Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 testified … [that] he spent almost four weeks trying to warn U.S. officials about the radical Islamic student pilot but ‘criminal negligence’ by superiors in Washington thwarted a chance to stop the 9/11 attacks.”

Without justice and accountability, the very dangerous message sent to terrorist murderers is that they may operate with free license to kill innocent civilians — not just in places far from Americans, like Afghanistan, but also closer to their home, in the streets of lower Manhattan on sunny, blue-skied mornings. With the consent of Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden; Attorneys General John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, Michael Mukasey, Loretta Lynch, Eric Holder, Jeff Sessions, William Barr, and Merrick Garland; Manhattan District Attorneys Robert Morgenthau and Cy Vance Jr. — all of whom, as the saying goes, could easily indict even a “ham sandwich” — and two decades’ worth of prestigious members of Congress vowing to “never forget,” a demand has never been made for full truth, transparency, accountability, and justice for the 3,000 dead.


Screaming Facts and Official Silence

I have studied this issue extensively, testifying twice before Congress and, with other 9/11 widows, forcing the creation of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known as the 9/11 Commission, and helping push through some of the national security reforms it recommended. I’ve had scores of communications over 20 years with presidents and members of their national security councils, members of Congress, the director of the FBI, heads of counterterrorism divisions and joint terror task forces, CIA officials, ex-CIA agents, FBI agents and ex-FBI agents, former NSA analysts, whistleblowers, and even terrorist defense attorneys. I believe it’s clear that the U.S. government has plenty of evidence and information in its files to refer enough incriminating facts and irrefutable evidence to a myriad of grand juries, secure indictments, and thereafter prosecute all of the living 9/11 conspirators who contributed to the homicide of 3,000 innocent people on the morning of September 11, 2001. And yet justice is simply not sought.

Rather pointedly, the 9/11 hijackers did not act alone.

They had a substantial support network that was deeply embedded inside the United States and abroad for nearly a decade prior to, on, and after the 9/11 attacks. It is my understanding that this support network spanned several states including California; Arizona; Nevada; Washington; Minnesota; Oklahoma; Illinois; Florida; North Carolina; Virginia; Massachusetts; Maine; New York; New Jersey; and Texas. The support network also included several countries like Germany; Spain; France; the U.K.; Egypt; Kenya; Tanzania; Sudan; Yemen; Saudi Arabia; the United Arab Emirates; Qatar; Pakistan; Malaysia; Thailand; Iran; and Afghanistan.

Known and lethal terrorists openly and freely operated inside the U.S. for years before the 9/11 attacks, and yet authorities failed to prevent the cold-blooded murders of our 3,000 loved ones. More than 14 U.S. local and federal jurisdictions had law enforcement agencies that brushed up against the 9/11 hijackers and their supporters. Moreover, more than 18 foreign law enforcement counterparts also investigated some of those involved in the 9/11 attacks. They unearthed evidence, wrote reports, monitored activities, watched money wires, and investigated stock sales, arms and weapons shipments across borders, eyebrow-raising passports and visa documents, and lethal operatives roaming the world, planning murder, with impunity. These people remain fully aware of the truth and how their one part of the damning puzzle fits together. Yet none speak out.

Indeed, when a person looks at the facts and circumstances of the 9/11 attacks, taken as a whole, it would seem implausible that not one individual, entity, bank, or business has been fully prosecuted and found criminally responsible as a co-conspirator for the crime that took place. I say a crime, because my husband’s death certificate, like every other 9/11 victim’s, lists the manner of his death as “homicide,” not “war.” And yet our nation, a democracy based upon the rule of law, that supposedly protects and entitles all of its citizens with a Constitution and clear Bill of Rights (and certainly the most basic universal human right to live and not be blown up in a building) has not found, and will not ever find, it necessary to hold any co-conspirator of the 9/11 hijackers accountable in a court of criminal law. The typically exceedingly easy-to-meet thresholds for who and what qualifies as a criminal “co-conspirator” and “conspiracy” have never quite been met by the screaming facts and circumstances of 9/11 — and I’d argue that’s by systemic prosecutorial choice to look the other way for matters of political expediency, cover-up, or in the best case scenario, sheer embarrassment.

In this file photo taken on November 29, 2001 United States Marines from Bravo Co. of the 15th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unity) march into the barracks in full battle gear as they arrive very early morning at the US Marines forward base in southern Afghanistan. - Launched in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the war in Afghanistan claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Afghans along with around 2,400 US soldiers and saw trillions squandered in what has largely been deemed a failed nation-building project. (Photo by JIM HOLLANDER / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JIM HOLLANDER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. Marines arrive at a base in southern Afghanistan on Nov. 29, 2001.

Photo: Jim Hollander/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Hijacking the Bill of Rights

While not using the September 11 murders to prosecute the obvious crime and deliver justice to the 9/11 families, this country’s leaders have alternatively used the 3,000 homicides to do many other things — none of which have anything to do with serving and protecting the best interests of civilians and 9/11 victims, but everything to do with government overreach and the trampling of Americans’ constitutional rights. It wasn’t Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda that cracked the bedrock of our hallowed democracy; it was our very own leaders who carried out their own hijacking of our Bill of Rights in the wake of 9/11.

On the backs of the 9/11 dead, our leaders have chosen to start wars, some of which were illegal and based upon the shady unilateral decisions of presidents (both Democrat and Republican). These wars, which have lasted two full decades, cost trillions of dollars, the lives and physical and mental well-being of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians who were unlucky enough to be caught up in “American-made” war zones. All of these wars, interventions, and occupations have only further fomented terrorism and clearly inflamed global hostilities toward American foreign policy “objectives” that have little to do with what is truly in the best interests of citizens here or abroad.

On the backs of the 9/11 dead, our leaders have chosen to start wars, some of which were illegal and based upon the shady unilateral decisions of presidents.

I can say this with unimpeachable authority since I speak, firsthand, as one small piece of the collateral damage of four decades’ worth of this nation’s bad foreign policy decisions, starting in the 1980s with the Iran-Contra affair and the arming of the mujahideen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan; both President George H.W. Bush and the younger President Bush overlooking their oil-rich Saudi friends before and after 9/11; Obama’s inexplicable veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act that was meant to hold terrorists and their co-sponsors accountable; Trump rubbing magical orbs with Saudi leaders prior to Jamal Khashoggi getting sliced into bits; and ultimately bookended by Biden’s horrifying, grossly mismanaged withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Our government passed legislation in the name of 9/11 that has eviscerated our constitutional rights based upon the premise that such legislative action (the Patriot Act, Titles I-X, and subsequent reauthorizations by all presidents, Democrat or Republican) was needed to keep us safe from terrorists, when the truth is that all the information, evidence, and legal authorities the U.S. government needed to prevent the 9/11 attacks was readily available and at its fingertips beforehand. If only it had chosen to use that information to stop bin Laden and his operatives before they very successfully blew up my husband Ron’s building.

As the former chair and vice chair of the 9/11 Commission — Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, respectively — have alarmingly confirmed, the 9/11 attacks were preventable because everything needed to prevent them was there before the attacks occurred. It wasn’t an intelligence wall that stopped information from flowing before 9/11; it was purposeful (and I’d argue criminal) withholding of evidence and information by foreign and domestic intelligence agencies that enabled Al Qaeda operatives to carry out their attacks unhampered. Chillingly, such purposeful withholding of information continues to this very day, since with no further executive or congressional demand for responsibility or accountability for 9/11, there is simply no incentive for our intelligence officials and policymakers to alter their toxic patterns, including repeated cost-benefit analyses in which the cost is only ever paid by the innocent — known as “collateral damage” — both here and abroad. Truly, is it any real surprise that former CIA Director George Tenet provided bad intelligence on weapons of mass destruction that led us into a war with Iraq, when just a few years before he had carried out poor intelligence decision-making (and cherry-picking of information) that left us vulnerable to the 9/11 attacks? Incidentally, Tenet was given the Medal of Freedom. He should be in jail.

During the past 20 years, extrajudicial drone strikes, illegal renditions, unlawful and inhuman torture, and indefinite detentions have become the norm — all done, as well, in the name of our loved ones and to prevent another 9/11. Sadly, these inhumane and unlawful methods do not make any of us safer; they just allow presidents to unilaterally act outside the law, without oversight. Moreover, in addition to being a stain on the legacy of America, these unlawful methods have also further robbed the 9/11 families of our right to justice and our ability to hold terrorists accountable. None of the people detained at Guantánamo Bay with direct links to the 9/11 attacks (including the mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and alleged co-conspirators like Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Walid bin Attash, known as Khallad) are likely to ever be tried and brought to justice. Congress blocked their transfer to civilian courts in the U.S., and even within the military commission system at Guantánamo, trials are going nowhere because they were tortured by the CIA.

Theresa Regan (2nd L), who lost her husband and FDNY firefighter Donald Regan at the South Tower of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 terrorists attacks, listens with her son Peter (L) and daughterJill (3rd L) during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill November 18, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Theresa Regan, second left, who lost her husband during the 9/11 terrorists attacks, listens with her son Peter, left, and daughter Jill, third left, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Nov. 18, 2009, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Lonely Fight for Truth

So without being able to hold the known 9/11 terrorists in custody accountable, and without any standing indictments or prosecutions meted out by the Department of Justice against the other identifiable co-conspirators, the job of seeking out accountability and justice has fallen on the shoulders of the 9/11 families, who were left to take matters of justice into our own hands through the second-rate route of civil litigation. Unlike the embassy bombing and the 1993 World Trade Center attack victims, who were able to use evidence brought forth during the government’s public trials and prosecutions of the perpetrators of the killers of their loved ones, the 9/11 families have never been given such help, assistance, access to evidence, or prosecutorial favor. This leaves us alone and with a stark disadvantage as we try to hold terrorists and their co-conspirators accountable for the murder of our loved ones in federal civil court. For a country that invokes 9/11 so freely to start wars and attack terrorists and innocent civilians around them with drones, and expands executive branch powers beyond anything our Founding Fathers would have ever felt comfortable with, such use of the 9/11 tagline abruptly halts at the courthouse steps.

For a country that invokes 9/11 so freely to start wars and attack terrorists and innocent civilians around them with drones, such use of the 9/11 tagline abruptly halts at the courthouse steps.

For 20 years, the 9/11 families have only faced a Department of Justice that spends more of its time covering up for terrorists and terrorist co-conspirators, errant intelligence community agents, and officials’ bad (arguably criminal) decisions that either directly killed or in many ways strongly contributed to the mass murder of our innocent loved ones. Year after year, Department of Justice lawyers, attorneys general, and prosecutors willfully choose to not help the 9/11 families as we fight the terrorists in court; they nastily refuse to share or declassify the information and evidence they have in their files so that we can nail terrorists and terrorist supporters. Instead, horrifically, some U.S. prosecutors literally sit on the side of the defendants (in this case, Saudi Arabia) and help the key evidence we need stay secret.

Two decades down, it is now enough. We believe it is time for our families to have closure and truth.

We believe that all information surrounding 9/11 should be made public. Using the Khashoggi case as precedent, we want all members of Congress to be fully briefed on the 9/11 case files. Moreover, we want members of Congress to pass meaningful legislation that will achieve the same transparency, accountability, and justice that they called for immediately after Khashoggi was killed.

We want Biden to release the 9/11 files to the American public just as he released intelligence from the Khashoggi files. And just as sanctions were assessed against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Tiger Squad” for Khashoggi’s murder, we want sanctions to be brought against those Saudis implicated in 9/11. If the powers of the Magnitsky Act applied to the gross human rights violation that occurred when Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered with a bone saw, then it should also apply to the gross human rights violations that occurred when thousands of people were crushed to death on the morning of September 11.

Most pointedly, the Khashoggi reports and evidence were used to publicly incriminate a sitting Saudi crown prince. We, too, believe that the 9/11 evidence should be used to incriminate any Saudi, be they a member of the royal family, part of an intelligence service, a diplomat — anyone, regardless of privilege. Please note that in the Khashoggi matter, information from wiretaps of a Saudi royal’s private communications, which implicated him in Khashoggi’s murder, were leaked, and an intelligence summary was officially released, openly stating that Salman approved the killing. Such highly sensitive information clearly collected through secret sources and methods was somehow breezily declassified and made available to the public. And yet the 9/11 families cannot get basic wiretap information surrounding an Al Qaeda communications hub in Yemen from 1998-2001 or NSA intercepts for the 9/11 hijackers’ phone calls from inside the U.S. — cases that don’t involve the surveillance of a sitting Saudi crown prince, just the private communications of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda operatives planning attacks like the embassy bombings, the USS Cole Bombing, and 9/11. So why can’t Americans read the transcripts of those conversations and know what the NSA, CIA, FBI, Saudi intelligence, and other intelligence agencies heard about those attacks before they happened? Why can’t such information be used by the 9/11 families so that we can hold terrorists and their co-conspirators accountable?

Jamal Khashoggi was not an American citizen. In fact, he was a close friend of Osama bin Laden’s and said he wept when he was killed, adding that he wished bin Laden had not “succumbed to anger.” Our loved ones were Americans. And their cold-blooded, brutal murders in broad daylight should be given the same transparency, accountability, and justice. On the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there should be nothing left to hide. As Biden has directed in a more recent context, all terrorists and their co-conspirators should be “hunt[ed] down and made to pay” for their crimes.

Join The Conversation