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There has still not been a trial against 9/11. Give families overdue peace with a plea deal.

“Unacceptable,” said the victim’s relative sitting across from me, deliberately interrupting the prosecution’s presentation. It was May 2023 and the prosecution’s team on the case was meeting with 9/11 relatives across the country. It’s been 22 years since the murder of our loved ones, including my brother Bill. And it’s been eleven years since the five men accused of the September 11 plot were charged.

So this man, presumably of few words, need say no more. It is unacceptable that to date no one has been held responsible for the deaths of Bill and nearly 3,000 others on September 11, 2001.

One solution that would provide legal finality is a plea deal in the September 11 case. It is also very likely that the 9/11 families have the best chance of getting the information and truth we deserve. Let me tell you why.

Most people I speak to believe that Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four accomplices were convicted and jailed years ago, if not dead. This assumption is common given the scant public information available and little willingness to seek it out. It’s understandable that the public doesn’t know.

Two wars — one in Afghanistan in response to the September 11 attacks, and the second in Iraq — provided tragic distractions. And since the five suspects were held incommunicado at CIA black locations until 2006, their whereabouts were purposefully unknown. When these men were transferred to the U.S. Naval Base Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it took years for legal teams and the news media to gain meaningful access. And although the suspects were arraigned in May 2012, no trial has yet taken place. Unacceptable.

Torture in Guantanamo Bay is also costing families justice

In a summer full of subsequent indictments, it’s not surprising that an indictment from 11 years ago can remain relevant, let alone make the news. Whether you agree with the charges against former President Donald Trump or not, we should all agree that those responsible for September 11 should have been brought to justice by now, presented with evidence and, if found guilty, punished. But because the 9/11 suspects were all tortured while in CIA custody, this was not supposed to happen.

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Unfortunately, torturing these prisoners has cost us not only moral legitimacy, but also a conviction.

Heroes worth remembering: The Ground Zero dogs who served after 9/11

However, there is another possible path to a resolution of the September 11 case: plea negotiations. About 98% of federal major crime cases are solved with plea deals. The same could happen with the September 11 case, even though it is being tried by a military commission rather than a federal court. Given the repeated failures to move the trial forward, the commission’s prosecutors entered plea negotiations in March 2022.

Some progress had been made, but on the recommendation of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the Biden administration last week rejected the terms of plea bargains proposed by the Sept. 11 defense teams, according to The New York Times.

Some law firms representing 9/11 relatives involved in lawsuits against the Saudi government had also advised families to reject plea deals. This is misleading. In a military commission, the U.S. government may choose to create replacements rather than release information it deems too classified or harmful to ever be made public.

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However, in a plea deal, the defendant must swear a determination of fact, truthfully acknowledging all unlawful activities in which he was involved or had knowledge.

And perhaps most importantly for families, a plea deal could provide an opportunity to put questions to the defendant — a trial will not.

Colleen Kelly and her brother, Bill Kelly Jr., at the Bloomberg Christmas party in 2000. Bill Kelly Jr. was assassinated on September 11, 2001 in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Give Peace to the Families of September 11: Offer a Plea Deal

I testified at a Senate Judiciary hearing in December 2021 on how to achieve judicial finality in the September 11 case. In my remarks, I told the senators about the now-deceased 9/11 relatives who have waited decades for accountability.

I told them about my parents, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, both in their mid-80s, who are also awaiting responsibility for their son’s death.

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Finally, I told them that while this was not the result initially hoped for, plea deals were the best way forward to hold those allegedly responsible for the mass murder accountable.

It is time for the Biden administration to finally complete the September 11 military commission. The way forward is clear: offering a plea deal will put behind us this tragic and painful chapter of our shared history. May my brother Bill and thousands of others rest in peace. That would be acceptable.

Colleen Kelly is a family medicine physician specializing in adolescent medicine in the Bronx, New York. After her brother Bill was killed in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, she co-founded 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows with other September 11, 2001 family members. Colleen chairs the Rule of Law Committee for Peaceful Tomorrows and holds a master’s degree in international relations from the City College of New York.

You can read various opinions from our board of contributors and other writers on the opinion front page on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily opinion newsletter. If you would like to respond to a column, please send a response to [email protected].

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The September 11 Trial Was Long Overdue. A plea deal may be our only hope for justice

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