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Solemn words in Guantanamo as accused 9/11 planners are held nearby

Published: Updated:

Under clear Caribbean skies, family members of victims of the September 11 attacks gathered Saturday for a flag-raising ceremony at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, acutely aware that the attacks' accused mastermind sat in a prison cell not far away.

“On this naval installation, more than any other place in the world, we remember this every day,” base commander Captain Samuel White said at a chapel service for the attacks' 20th anniversary after the flag ceremony.

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Guantanamo is where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others have faced prosecution for the 2001 terror attacks in hearings that have gone on for nine years, and which are still in the pretrial phase.

That has been a test for the patience of thousands of people who lost loved ones that day, some of whom are in Guantanamo for the trials.

Among those in the chapel Saturday was Elizabeth Berry, whose fireman brother Billy Burke died in New York's World Trade Center on 9/11.

She spoke of all those who died, especially firefighters who rushed to evacuate the twin towers after Al-Qaeda hijackers crashed airliners into them in the plot allegedly designed by Mohammed.

“There were a lot of heroes that day,” she told the audience.

“On one of the worst days in our history, we saw some of the best of humanity,” she said.

Firetrucks girded the entrance to the hilltop chapel to honor the 343 New York firefighters who died that day.

Inside, shrinelike, was a table with firemen's uniforms and pieces collected from the crumbled towers.

Like Berry, family members of Sean Canavan, a carpenter who also died in the towers, had traveled to Guantanamo to attend the hearings in the capital case against the five alleged plotters, and then stayed for the anniversary memorial events.

His nephew Liam Canavan, not yet born on that day, spoke of not knowing his father's brother.

“Because of these attacks, I never met Sean, who would have been my godfather,” he said.

“The one thing that brings peace to my family is knowing that the men responsible for such pain are locked up here in Guantanamo Bay, and will never cause pain again,” he said.

Read more:

Anniversary of 9/11: Detailed chronology of events that rocked the US 20 years ago

Twenty years later, 9/11 commemoration event takes place at ground zero in New York

George W. Bush denounces US disunity 20 years after September 11 attacks