WASHINGTON – Marge Mathers, 75, is a 9/11 widow from New Jersey who “fled to Texas” in 2002 after her husband was killed in the World Trade Center.
When a neighbor called her that day in 2001, screaming to turn on the television, Mathers said she was counting the floors of Tower 1, the North Tower, because she knew her husband, Charles W. Mathers, was on the 99th floor. “It looked bad,” she said. The building soon collapsed and all Mathers could think was, “What am I going to tell the kids?”
The 15th anniversary this year has a special meaning for her: She wants accountability. Mathers and a group of victims’ families and survivors are pushing the House to approve a bill, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA. It would enable victims’ families to sue countries that funded terrorism that killed Americans on U.S. soil. The Senate, led by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the majority whip. and Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., approved the bill unanimously in May and victims’ families want the House to act this week – in time for the anniversary.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has taken a deliberative approach to the bill and wants it to go through the traditional legislative process, according to his spokesman Brendan Buck, and be considered and voted on by the House Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing on the bill in July.
The victims’ families are asking for a shortcut to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, although the House leadership did not approve their wish for a vote Tuesday, when Congress returns.
The White House has threatened to veto the bill over concerns about sovereignty and that other countries would retaliate against U.S. citizens. In addition, the Saudi Arabia, before the Senate vote, threatened to sell $750 billion in assets – a threat that Cornyn and Schumer dismissed as “hollow.”
The 9/11 families are adamant.
“I hope JASTA brings another chapter of accountability to those who sponsored and financed that act,” Mathers said in an interview. Mathers, who now lives in Galveston, Texas, travels to New Jersey to see a daughter, Marjory Kane, and often to Washington to lobby for the legislation. “I personally would like to know who was responsible for giving money to the hijackers,” she said.
Since she began working on the issue, Mathers said she’s been to Washington four times, visiting members’ offices with Terry Strada, a widow from New Jersey and the national chairwoman of 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism.
The bill is known informally as the “Saudi bill” because 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. The Saudi connection re-entered the news recently with the release of “the 28 pages,” the portion of the first U.S. report on the 9/11 attacks that was classified when it was released in 2003.
Former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., led the effort to release the 28 pages, which include connections between Saudi officials and hijackers, and he is now pushing the House to approve JASTA.
“I hope that it will act during this session, ideally before the 15th anniversary of 9/11,” Graham said at a National Press Club appearance last week. He described the information in the declassified report as “removing the cork from the bottle” and that “there is a significant amount of information which, like the 28 pages, has been withheld.”
In a statement, the Saudi Arabian Embassy said: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expresses once again its strong disappointment at Senator Bob Graham’s continued advocacy of the idea that the government of Saudi Arabia bore responsibility for the attacks of September 11, 2001.”
Mathers does not plan a any lawsuit, although she has spent years calling and visiting lawmakers, even overcoming her shyness about identifying herself to her Texas friends and neighbors as “a 9/11 widow.”
“I just want justice,” she said. “I don’t need to be part of a lawsuit.”
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