Newsweek Magazine has put a criminal justice conundrum in my head.
In a piece called, “Remains of the Day” Correspondent Eve Conant writes in detail about how forensic scientists in New York, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia painstakingly went about identifying what was left of the human beings caught up in the worst crime in modern American times – The attacks of September 11th, 2001.
Now, wait. Before you stop reading, thinking this is just another tearjerker tale that you’ve read about before – it isn’t.
It’s all about the science of getting justice.
In forensic labs in the three cities where the planes went down there was a massive effort to collect human fragments so families could have something to grieve over. In Pennsylvania and near the Pentagon site in Washington, D.C. the identification went faster. The remains were badly damaged but enough was left to make positive matches for all those lost souls. Newsweek says the Somerset County, Pennsylvania coroner now reveals he even found definitive DNA proof in a single silver capped tooth he happened to spot after catching a sun-glint from a hemlock tree 20 feet above where the plane crashed.
The depressing task of identification was much more difficult in New York. There were many more victims and they were oftentimes nearly disintegrated under the massive weight of the long burning twin towers. But the scientists soldiered on. Some tiny bone fragments were found months and years later on rooftops of nearby buildings and were matched to the missing.
All of the recovered DNA has now been matched to people who lost their lives that awful day because their families provided hair, nail clippings or other DNA control samples for comparison. Yet, 87 months later the families of 1,126 of the 2,751 victims from the World Trade Center and 5 from the Pentagon have no resolution. There is simply nothing left of their loved ones to test.
And the conundrum: These brilliant scientists, working with local evidence, and with some brought in by the FBI, have also now identified what’s left of the 13 terrorists.
1,131 American families get no answer while the terrorist’s families know for certain.
I have to admit I never gave a thought to what might have been left of those dreadful men, who cared about them?! But it turns out many of the victim’s families cared. From the beginning they implored authorities to make sure the remains of their loved ones were nowhere near those of the 13 madmen who caused the calamity. The scientists set about to see if that could be done.
Working from discarded cigarette butts and used tissue tossed into hotel room wastebaskets, hairbrushes, clothing, anything known to have been touched by the monsters, these lab wizards were ultimately successful in separating out the terrorist’s remains.
None of their family has come forward to claim them. In fact, which of the 13 is which is unknown as aren’t any control samples to use. The few pounds of collected human remnants are referred to as Terrorist A, B, C, D and so on. They are individually stored in an undisclosed government controlled location.
So, as a human rights based society what do we do with them? Do we give them a proper burial? Will a Muslim cleric anywhere in America step forward to perform such a ceremony? Do we leave them in isolation for eternity in our government vault? Do we want them on American soil forever?
One New York man who lost his younger brother when the South Tower collapsed says he suggests “stomping on them.” New York’s Governor suggests “finish burning them.”
Our justice system forces us to remember none of the 13 was convicted of anything in a court of law, yet they surely would have been had they survived. They likely would have faced the death penalty. And we routinely make sure those we execute are provided with burial or cremation.
But what about the remains of these 13 foreign born men who left a scar on history that will long be remembered?
I’d honestly like to hear reader’s suggestions. Americans have always come up with creative and legendary solutions to problems. This is something the terrorists hated about us. Our free will and determination to chart our own course – not the course set out by a group of so-called “religious” men – is what they feared most. They couldn’t understand the concept of freedom, individuality and independent problem solving and so they tried to wipe us, the infidels, off the face of the earth.
Their actions almost seem tiny now because we survived. But so did parts of them – and now – what do we do with what’s left?