"My Silence Cannot Be Brought"
Beverly Eckert holds a photo of her husband Sean Rooney
One of the loudest voices in the push to establish the 9/11 Commission to investigate the American intelligence and Bush White House failures surrounding the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, that killed almost 3000 people, was Beverly Eckert.
Her husband died in the attacks, trapped in one of the twin towers. She talked to him on the phone in the moments before his death. The experience, and her grief, drove her to join other 9/11 widows in establishing the support group Voices For September 11th, and forcing the Bush White House to actually investigate the deaths of more than 2800 Americans. She was also one of the few widows or family members of 9/11 victims who refused to take the $2.1 million pay off that was supposed to ensure that no widows or family members of victims sued the government, or airlines, or private and government security agencies.
Beverly Eckert chose to sue, not for money, but for the truth about what happened that day, and how intelligence and executive failures led to the greatest military and security failure of the modern age :
I am suing because unlike other investigative avenues… my lawsuit requires all testimony be given under oath and fully uses powers to compel evidence. The victims’ fund was not created in a spirit of compassion.… Lawmakers capped the liability of the airlines at the behest of lobbyists who descended on Washington while the September 11 fires still smoldered.”Beverly Eckert died today in a plane crash, along with 48 others, in Buffalo, New York :
One county official said he was not aware of any reports of trouble from the plane, a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400.The 9/11 Commission, or Keane Commission, never even came close to Beverly Eckert's original vision of an open, public set of hearings, where everyone had to testify on the record, including President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, to find out why her husband, and so many others, were killed :
"I was told the plane simply dropped off the radar screen," the official said. CNN showed burning wreckage in the centre of a residential neighbourhood.
The house the plane crashed into was damaged and twelve nearby homes have been evacuated.
"One structure has been seriously damaged and the aircraft is currently still burning - somewhat under control,'' David Bissonette, emergency co-ordinator in Clarence Centre said.
"We have multiple fatalities. The scene is secured by the state police and a long-term investigation is imminent."
A witness told CNN he heard a buzzing noise followed by a large explosion.
“It didn’t sound right and I couldn’t tell if it was a problem with the engine,” he said.
“I knew right away something was wrong … no more than two seconds later there was a large explosion, the foundations of the house shook.”
Commissioner Max Cleland, the former Democratic Senator from Georgia, objected strenuously to the deal restricting access to White House documents. In the course of autumn 2003, he issued a series of challenges to both the White House and his fellow Kean Commission members.Here's Beverly Eckert explaining why she was so insistent that the Bush White House establish a 9/11 commission investigation, when then President Bush said it was more important to "ignore conspiracy theories", focus on the future and pursue the 'War on Terror' :
"Bush is scamming America," Cleland declared. "As each day goes by, we learn that this government knew a whole lot more about these terrorists before September 11 than it has ever admitted.
"They had a plan to go to war, and when 9/11 happened that's what they did. They went to war."
I've chosen to go to court rather than accept a payoff from the 9/11 victims compensation fund. Instead, I want to know what went so wrong with our intelligence and security systems that a band of religious fanatics was able to turn four U.S passenger jets into an enemy force, attack our cities and kill 3,000 civilians with terrifying ease.Part of Beverly Eckert's testimony to the US House of Representatives in August 2004, after the release of the 9/11 Commission Report :
I want to know why two 110-story skyscrapers collapsed in less than two hours and why escape and rescue options were so limited.
I am suing because unlike other investigative avenues, including congressional hearings and the 9/11 commission, my lawsuit requires all testimony be given under oath and fully uses powers to compel evidence.
The victims fund was not created in a spirit of compassion. Rather, it was a tacit acknowledgement by Congress that it tampered with our civil justice system in an unprecedented way.
Lawmakers capped the liability of the airlines at the behest of lobbyists who descended on Washington while the Sept. 11 fires still smoldered. And this liability cap protects not just the airlines, but also World Trade Center builders, safety engineers and other defendants. The caps on liability have consequences for those who want to sue to shed light on the mistakes of 9/11. It means the playing field is tilted steeply in favor of those who need to be held accountable.
With the financial consequences other than insurance proceeds removed, there is no incentive for those whose negligence contributed to the death toll to acknowledge their failings or implement reforms. They can afford to deny culpability and play a waiting game.
By suing, I've forfeited the "$1.8 million average award" for a death claim I could have collected under the fund. Nor do I have any illusions about winning money in my suit.
What I do know is I owe it to my husband, whose death I believe could have been avoided, to see that all of those responsible are held accountable. If we don't get answers to what went wrong, there will be a next time. And instead of 3,000 dead, it will be 10,000. What will Congress do then?
So I say to Congress, big business and everyone who conspired to divert attention from government and private-sector failures: My husband's life was priceless, and I will not let his death be meaningless. My silence cannot be bought.
My husband Sean was trapped in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11th but was able to reach me by phone. When the smoke and flames drew near and Sean knew he was going to die, he remained calm, speaking of his love for me and for his family. I will forever be in awe of the way he faced those final moments. In the days that followed, I felt somehow infused with his courage and strength, and that helped me persevere through the difficult months that followed. So many other family members were similarly inspired. Despite our private anguish, we shared a goal- to make this country safer so that the deaths of 3,000 people would not be meaningless.
Too many of us lost someone we cherished on September 11th. Too many of us also lost our faith in a government we had blindly trusted to protect the people we loved.