Sept. 11 families say War, not in our names

NEW YORK – “We do not want the war in Afghanistan or other parts of the world, wherever it might spread, to be conducted in our names or in the names of our lost loved ones,” David Potorti told the press. The Feb. 14 press conference was called to announce the founding of a new peace and justice organization, “Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.” Potorti, who lost his brother in the World Trade Center (WTC), spoke on behalf of 17 family members of those killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in the Flight 93 crash in Pennsylvania.

Colleen Kelly from the Bronx, who lost her brother in the WTC, told the World, “I do feel for better or worse that right now families of Sept. 11 are in a unique position to speak out and have their voices heard. I would trade that in a heartbeat to have my brother back but I can’t ... so I feel this is the way to go.”

The initiating members of Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows found each other when they began to speak out against the Bush administration’s bombing of Afghanistan. “We believe in seeking justice, not revenge, for those crimes against humanity. We do not condone nor accept the killing of other innocent civilians in other parts of the world,” Potorti continued.

“I do believe there are people out there who do not support Bush’s policies. Even a cursory look at the letters to The New York Times reveal that there are people who oppose Bush’s policies but haven’t been provided with an alternative,” Robin Theurkauf told the World. Theurkauf is an instructor at Yale who lost her husband in the attacks.

Potorti, who has done national TV interviews, said, “A lot of people feel the way we do but they are kind of afraid. The media and their support of this war serves to frighten people just enough so that they are afraid to speak out. If we can let them know that in a small way they can come out ... and that there are people like them who feel the same way – we’ve succeeded!”

Some of the families have begun to reach out to families in Afghanistan. Four Sept. 11 family members went to Afghanistan recently. Kelly Campbell from California said, “One of our concerns is what is happening to innocent families in Afghanistan who are being injured by our government’s actions. We saw people who are suffering the loss of their loved ones, their homes, caretakers or their children. They cannot rebuild their homes or feed their families. We met children so traumatized by what they saw in their neighborhoods when the bombs fell that they are not able to speak.”

Rita Lazar, who lost her brother, sat in the home of Amin Said, who also lost his brother, as he told her, “He was your brother, but he was also my brother. We are all brothers and sisters.”

One of the first projects the group is working on is a fund for the families of Afghan victims similar to the funds established for families of Sept.11 victims. As a first step in this campaign, they are asking President Bush to set up a U.S. government study on civilian casualties.

Peaceful Tomorrows has set the goal of promoting dialogue on peaceful alternatives to counter terrorism. Theurkauf said, “Much of the international community is quite alarmed by the rhetoric coming out of the Bush administration. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is one instrument that could be used internationally. The U.S. has not indicated any willingness at all in ratifying or participating.” She advocated exerting political pressure on the government to support the efforts in the United Nations to establish the ICC.

Peaceful Tomorrows’ families have been touched by the international response to their loss. Phyllis Rodriguez and her husband wrote letters to Bush and The New York Times expressing their indignation over a war being waged on behalf of their 38-year-old son who was lost in the World Trade Center.

“Another result of the miracle of the internet is that my family has received hundreds of letters from around the world ... people in Japan were reminded of Hiroshima. They were so happy to hear that there were Americans who don’t follow the governments policies,” Rodriguez said.

The starting point for the activism is personal for Colleen Kelly. “I have a brother-in-law who is a Marine being sent to Guantanamo Bay next week,” she said. “The spectrum of my family is the spectrum of the American public. We run the gamut of viewpoints. One of the great things about my mother is that there is room enough for everyone in her family, and for everyone’s viewpoint. If President Bush was more like my mom the world would be a better place.”

The author can be reached at jleblanc@pww.org