31 May 2011

9/11 defendents held at Guantanamo to be tried by military tribunal

Five men accused of planning and supporting the 9/11 attacks may at long last get their day in court. But instead of facing a criminal trial in the United States, they would be put in front of a military tribunal on Guantanamo, according to the New York Times.

The Department of Defense's Office of Military Commissions last night sent letters to the family members of 9/11 victims explaining the decision to refer charges against the defendents, the first step in a process that is expected to lead to a military tribunal proceeding. And this morning, the office issued a press release.

One of the last things Beverly Eckert did before her death was to join with other family members who lost loved ones in terrorist attacks who were meeting with President Obama. She wrote a letter to the president expressing her belief that the one way to ensure swift justice under the rule of law for the 9/11 defendents was to bring them to trial in the United States. She was never able to take part in the debate which arose around the issue, because she died a few days later. A partisan outcry by Republicans was instrumental in stopping President Obama's plan to bring the alleged plotters to trial in the United States.

27 May 2011

Beverly's many ways of remembering Sean

This is a weekend dedicated to remembering. A major part of Beverly’s life after 9/11 involved remembering Sean. Her efforts to support various measures to make the country safer were one way of leaving behind a lasting and positive legacy for Sean. But she also established a number of physical reminders of her husband’s life and loss. In January 2009, just a few weeks before she died, Beverly wrote a detailed description of the various memorials she had created in memory of Sean. On this solemn weekend, here is her account.


The first memorial was the grove of trees at Cove Island Park in Stamford. I started out with ten trees in October 2001. I was certain I would never get any of Sean's remains, so in the absence of having a traditional cemetery plot to visit, I decided a grove of birch trees (Sean's favorite) at a place we frequented would be the best alternative. I nurtured those trees (pruning, mulching, weeding, even watering) for five years. They grew rapidly, filling up the space along each side of the rollerblade path that Sean and I had once skated along hand-in-hand. I had a temporary brass plaque there that said:

To everything there is a season:

A time to plant, a time to reap;

A time to laugh, a time to weep;

A time to be born; a time to die.


February 15, 1951-September 11, 2001

I also planted four cherry trees at Daskam Park in Stamford in October of 2001. I wanted something I could see every day (I passed the park on the way to work), and I wanted something that would bloom. I also scraped and painted the three old park benches there because they were very dilapidated. They need painting again, but the Parks Department keeps telling me they are going to put new benches, there but they haven't done so to date.

My neighbors indicated they wanted to plant a tree in memory of
Sean, too, and so I selected the green spruce that is also in Daskam Park. That was dedicated in the summer of 2002.

I added ten more trees to the grove at Cove Island Park in August of 2006, but those trees, plus the original ten that I had planted, were all killed when Hurricane Ernesto came up the East Coast and caused a big tidal surge that flooded the park with salt water from Long Island Sound. The trees all turned brown within a few days. I had just added the permanent brass plaque, imbedded on a big stone. The inscription was a variation of the original, I left off Sean's birthdate this time and added "This Grove Was Planted In Memory of...”

The following spring, when it was clear the trees weren't going to sprout, I brought a dolly to the park, rolled the stone with the plaque imbedded on it onto the dolly and wheeled it up a hill over to the edge of the cliff and dropped it over the edge into the ocean. I couldn't think of what else to do with it – the plaque mentioned a grove of trees and I knew that I would never plant another one. Right after that I gave permission to the Parks Department to take down the dead grove. It is now a bare stretch of grass.

Also in 2006, I planted two more cherry trees in Daskam Park and had a permanent brass plaque installed there on a rock as well. It says:






SEPTEMBER 11th, 2001

The four original cherry trees, and the green spruce, are all doing well and the 2 new trees have survived and are doing OK, although this winter someone has broken 3 lower branches off one of the new cherry trees.

In the summer of 2002, I commissioned a mural at the train station. It's a stylized version of Sterling Farms Golf Course, the public course in Stamford where
Sean loved to golf. In the summer of 2006, I painted a rock on the wall and had an imitation brass plaque affixed to it. It says:

Mural of Sterling Farms Golf Course

Commissioned in Memory of

Sean Rooney (Died 9.11.01)

Artist Jesse Mann

In 2003 the City of Stamford and the Keep America Beautiful Foundation's Stamford office decided to create a memorial for
Sean at the train station. It is a tree, a bench, a short brick path, some low evergreens and a flagpole. This past summer, in 2008, I planted two cherry tree saplings there. There is a rock with a brass plaque on it. I was there today, brushing the ice and snow off the plaque. It says:

Sean Rooney

Died September 11, 2001

Neighbor, Commuter, Friend.

There are three trees at the Amherst Memorial Grove in Amherst, NY that are dedicated to Sean, with plaques – one from me, one from my family and one from Sean's family. They were planted during the summer of 2002. My plaque reads something like:

The beauty of nature quiets the soul
And lessens the pain that man's inhumanity
Inflicts upon man.
In Memory of
Sean Rooney
2/2/15/51- 9/11/01

The original tree I bought for Sean died and was replaced. All three trees, plus most of the other trees in the park there, were all damaged in an ice storm in October in 2007. My tree now looks more like an umbrella than a Crimson King maple.

Last summer an engraved paving stone was installed along the walkway of the Roycroft Campus' "Appian Way."
Sean hand I were married in my sister's backyard, within walking distance of the Roycroft Inn, and we stayed there on our wedding night. Sean had also worked there as the restaurant manager at one time in the 1970s. The plaque doesn't mention September 11th. It says:



There is a small paving brick with Sean's name and date of death on it at Hope Park in Stamford, which is a large traffic circle with trees on it. The Glenbrook Neighborhood Association sponsored the laying of memorial bricks for anyone who wanted one there.

24 May 2011

On tourists and pilgrims and worries about the country's newest sacred ground

A small, news-cycle sized, manufactured brouhaha has arisen once again in the conflict-obsessed media. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal announces: "9/11 Outreach Effort Criticized." It seems that some (perhaps only two?) 9/11 family members had raised their voices because Joe Daniels, president of the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum was travelling to a major tourism conference to do his job: tell tour operators about the memorial/museum, and encourage them to bring visitors once the site is open to the public.

So controversial, right?

But some family members heard the word "tourism" and unreasonably assumed that the sacred ground of the memorial will turn into a commercial free-for-all, like Times Square. But these concerns seem baseless. There are many examples of similarly hallowed sites where the promotion of tourism has not done harm. I recently went with a friend to Gettysburg National Military Park, the final resting place for many more thousands than died on 9/11. After visits by millions of tourists, it continues to be a place of solemnity, quiet reflection, and peaceful respect. People come because they know this is hallowed ground. The place itself -- the rocks and fields and forests -- along with the many monuments raised in the memory of the fallen, are woven forever into the history of our country.

I live a couple miles from Arlington National Cemetery, another place preserved for the purpose of honoring the departed and reflecting on their great sacrifices. Like the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, it is the resting place for remains as well as a monument and a living lesson. People come as pilgrims, to pray, to lay a flower or plant a flag, to revel in the memory of loved ones, or shed tears in the pain of their passing. Others come, tourists, to see the Iwo Jima memorial, watch the changing of the guard by the Tomb of the Unknowns, or marvel at the monumental vistas across the Potomac. But they also learn about the battles fought by the Marines, and grasp the scale of sacrifice by our service members when they see the thousands and thousands of white headstones and crosses, stretching for too, too long on this peaceful Virginia hillside.

The same will happen at Ground Zero. People will come, as they have since September 11, 2001. To merely look and say they'd been there. To touch the sacred ground where the towers once stood and their loved ones fell. To contemplate the horrible wages of hatred. To rejoice in the love and hope that can rise like an eternal light above the darkest void.

So bring the people. Let them learn, pray, reflect and grow. And one thing is certain: many will come as tourists, but leave as pilgrims.

20 May 2011

The 9/11 fringe exposed: Jonathan Kay's new book, "Among the Truthers"

As I write No Truer Hearts, I will be dealing briefly with the conspiracy addicts who lead the 9/11 "truth" movement. Very Briefly. They have infected cyberspace especially with their unsupported and fanciful ideas like a bad strain of the flu in a daycare center. Anyone who is interested in what these deluded people peddle is welcome to learn more online. My book, is interested in the facts, just as Beverly Eckert was.

Fortunately, I do not have to spend time de-bunking the various fake scenarios imagined by the conspiracy crowd. Others have done this superbly, and I have blogged about their efforts already. But I did want to mention a new book: Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America's Growing Conspiracist Undergroung by Jonathan Kay. The author analyzes some members of the 9/11 "truth" movement, noting, rather frighteningly, that among their psychological characteristics is a detachment from large portions of reality. The internet, where anyone can say anything, has made it possible for these people to build a mental world utterly dependent on the views of other similarly deluded people.

There have been for millenia struggles between those who use reason, and those who don't. One of the great drawbacks of the digital age is that it makes it easy for people to disguise falsity as truth, and to peddle it to the innocent masses at the mere push of a button.

17 May 2011

Love, memory, history, and Beverly Eckert's video time capsule

Beverly Eckert's life after 9/11 centered on just a few core principles. First, she took great pains to keep the memory of Sean Rooney ("my beloved," she called him) alive in dozens of ways. Second, Beverly devoted years of her time, talent and treasure to making the United States safer than it was before September 11, 2001. After the lion's share of this 9/11 reform work was complete, she focused on a third area of action: serving others, by teaching, building, and promoting peace, cooperation and understanding. Finally, Beverly had a keen desire to leave behind an accurate record of her life with Sean, and her new life with only his memory. Her work with me on this book was the principle way she hoped to preserve this legacy.

Another way was to create historical records in other forms. I have already written about Beverly's detailed recording for StoryCorps, which provides a detailed and personal account of what she saw as the significant chapters of her life. Beverly also left behind a video record, a compilation of television footage dealing with her life with Sean, the attacks of 9/11, and her efforts along with other family members in the days, months and years that followed. She spent weeks collecting the footage and having it edited and recorded on three DVDs. I am in the midst of transcribing information from this source for use in the book.

Beverly gave copies of these DVDs to family and friends. This is the message she wrote to accompany this video compilation that meant so much to her:

January 29, 2005

I completed the enclosed compilation to commemorte Sean's birthday on February 15, 2005. Editing these stories was a difficult and time-consuming process but, as with everything I have done in my life since September 11th connected to Sean, it was a labor of love.

Although I dreaded reliving the events of that day and its aftermath, I wanted to ensure that the story of Sean's life, courageous death and the journey on which those events propelled me would be preserved.

Everything depicted by these stories, I did for Sean.


14 May 2011

Sean Rooney's place on the National 9/11 Memorial

The National 9/11 Memorial and Museum recently unveiled its digital guide to the memorial. Those who lost a loved one can see where the name will be placed on the completed bronze plaques that will surround the sunken fountains at the center of the memorial. Beverly Eckert devoted a great deal of effort, along with others in the 9/11 community, to ensuring the memorial would properly preserve the place where so many perished on that day in September 2001.

The names of those who died are grouped according to their location at the time of the attacks. (Names of the victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing also will appear on the plaques.) The name of Beverly's husband, Sean Paul Rooney, will be on plaque S-57, right on the corner of the South Memorial Pool. His name is grouped with colleagues at Aon Corporation.

The memorial and museum is scheduled to open in time for the tenth anniversary of the attacks. Before the public is allowed in, family and friends will be able to trace the letters that spell out the names of those they lost. They will be able to leave flowers, photos, notes, personal mementos. The will be allowed to return to the last place on this sweet earth where thousands of Sean Rooneys were taken way.

And then the site will open to the world. It will be a place for all to touch names, to hear the sound of water falling into deep square footprints where the tall towers once stood. It will be a place to reflect, to remember.

09 May 2011

Another 9/11 family member's take on the death of bin Laden

Beverly Eckert had fond memories of the time she spent working on 9/11 reform with other members of the Family Steering Committee. Kristen Breitweiser was an FSC colleague who joined Beverly during difficult lobbying battles in Washington, DC. She blogs at huffingtonpost.com, and here is her thoughtful reflection on last week's news from Abbottabad.

05 May 2011

Beverly's voice on NPR's "Morning Edition"

9/11 is on the front pages once again, thanks to the killing of Osama bin Laden, and now the visit of President Obama to the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero today. National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" news program had a segment about Beverly Eckert. I have been hearing her voice a lot lately, as I've been transcribing many hours of interviews with her. And I had heard the recording they played on "Morning Edition" before. It is a segment of a longer recording Beverly had done for StoryCorps five years after 9/11. But the emotion in her voice and the poignancy of the story still has great power. I'll be blogging excerpts. Stay tuned.

02 May 2011

Some of Beverly Eckert's thoughts on Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 terrorists

In the summer of 2005, Beverly embarked on a long sailing voyage on her tri-maran sailboat, Never Land, captained by Shawn Monks. In all, they traveled about 1,200 miles, from Florida to the Bahamas and back, and then up the Atlantic seaboard to Stamford. Along the way, Beverly kept friends and family informed of her progress, excitedly telling of whale-sightings, nautical mis-haps, and relaxing anchorages in the Caribbean sun.

On July 18th, Beverly composed a description of the final leg of the journey. It was one of the few instances she mentioned Osama bin Laden.

As we entered NY Harbor, we passed the Statue of Liberty and then the section of Manhattan where the World Trade Center towers once stood. Sean is always with me in spirit, and he felt especially near at that moment. It's always painful to be at Ground Zero, but sailing past the location of the attacks while standing on the deck of my own boat, knowing that in contrast, bin Laden was hiding in a cave, made me feel something of a sense of triumph over terrorism.

In late 2008 and early 2009, Beverly and I worked intensively on recording her recollections about her work as a 9/11 activist. There were many hours of interviews, and thousands of pages of documents to go through. At one point I came across a series of unusual documents Beverly had produced on her computer: several pages containing the names of the 9/11 hijackers, repeated page after page. In an email, I had asked her what was going through her mind when she created this calligraphic composition. She responded in her typically thoughtful manner:

i honestly think that i wrote out their names as a way to exert control over their essence, their beings, as if i had captured them in some way. it seemed very ritualistic when i was doing it, very primitive. i could make them large and confrontational, and then shrink them to near insignificance. i could fill a page with them and then delete them. i could make them repeat themselves over and over, monotonously and endlessly, like an eternal punishment. i played with them, and then i put them in a photo frame, and locked them under glass where i could watch them but they couldn't get out.
Each one of us has had to find a way to cope with the aftermath of 9/11, and how to view the band of thugs who planned and carried out the attacks. The response of those who lost a loved one that day was shaped not only by the pain of grieving, but also by their own background and personalities. Some became motivated by hatred; others by love. Beverly saw this range of responses among the many family members with whom she worked and came in contact.

Beverly chose love. She focused on remembering the good times with Sean Rooney, the love they shared and the warm memories they made over many years. Beverly also devoted her energies to making a positive change in the world, helping others, promoting peace, finding solutions to the many failures that led to 9/11. By the force of her brave and generous heart, she in essence placed Osama bin Laden and his minions under glass, isolating them from her new life of service and remembrance, and condemning them to an eternity of insignificance and impotence.

We all have the power to deflect the emotional harm wished by others. Love and courage are invincible.