Patricia Smith, 17, of East Hampton was in diapers when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 people — one of them her mother, an NYPD officer who was helping survivors escape the south tower when it collapsed.
This week, the college-bound high school senior is as close as she can get to some of the men who U.S. authorities say are responsible for the death of her mother, Moira Smith, the only female member of the NYPD killed in the 9/11 attacks.
Since Saturday, Patricia Smith and her father, Jim Smith, have been in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to attend pretrial hearings for as many as five detainees. The hearings took place Monday and will continue for the rest of the week. The end result could mean trials for members of the notorious al-Qaida terrorist network who took part in planning the attacks nearly 16 years ago.
“It’s important for my daughter to see these people, to see these detainees accused of killing her mother and to look them in the face and let them know they are where they need to be at this time,” Jim Smith said Monday night.
The father and daughter are among a limited number of victims’ relatives, as well as news media members, allowed by U.S. authorities to attend the proceedings. Smith said he and his daughter plan on returning to the United States on Saturday.
Smith, a retired NYPD officer himself, said he and his daughter also wanted to support the attorneys and military members responsible for the prosecution and detention of those alleged to have carried out Osama bin Laden’s orders on Sept. 11, 2001.
“She wanted to see what was going on and get a chance to thank the people that were fighting for us and to see the animals responsible for her mother’s death,” he said, adding that his daughter had already gone to sleep so she can be up early for Tuesday’s proceedings.
Smith said the hearings are at once similar to and very different from those conducted in the United States. Spectators sit behind layers of glass in a gallery, where they can observe but cannot hear what is said in real time.
A television monitor broadcasts audio and video of the hearings with a 40-second delay to allow authorities to censor classified information.
The hearings are the last step for some of the hundreds of detainees captured — including those plucked from the battlefields of Afghanistan, al-Qaida’s headquarters — and brought to the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay for indefinite detention.
While hundreds of detainees have been released through other proceedings, the trials Patricia Smith and her father will witness are being held for detainees alleged to have committed war crimes.
They include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Walid bin Attash. U.S. officials consider the crop of alleged terrorists as the masterminds of the nation’s worst terrorist attack — men who Jim Smith called “most culpable” for his wife’s death.
His daughter touched the nation’s heart as she was captured in images a few months after the attacks, when the 2-year-old walked with her father across a stage in Manhattan’s Carnegie Hall to accept an award. Then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani draped her mother’s gold Medal of Honor around the little girl’s neck.
Now, Patricia Smith is preparing attend the University of Alabama, where she plans to pursue a degree in sports medicine.
Jim Smith said he and his daughter are serving as witnesses for justice for their lost loved one. He added that they plan to place a memento of their visit, and a symbol of Moira Smith’s lasting presence, on the Guantánamo grounds by the week’s end.
“It’s been somewhat emotional for her,” he said of his daughter, adding that she has taken a constitutional law course and is following the proceedings closely. “We’re here to respect and to honor Moira’s memory . . . and make sure she gets the justice she deserves.”