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All eyes on Guantanamo but…

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Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
Sean Patrick Riordan is an Irish American attorney who has worked with the Feal Good Foundation, an organization which advocates on behalf of 9/11 first responders. 

Riordan, who has roots in Cork, Mayo and Armagh, served as moderator at a recent forum designed to educate first responders and their families about the nuts and bolts of the $2.8 billion Zadroga Bill, the controversial legislation passed late last year meant to compensate first responders for illnesses suffered while working at Ground Zero.

Of course, with all that money comes a lot of questions – and controversy. 

Just last week a legal firm got itself into some hot water when it ran an advertisement prominently featuring a firefighter.  The text accompanying the ad declared “I was there,” and went on to outline how the legal firm could assist the families of first responders.

The only trouble is that the firefighter depicted in the ad was actually not at Ground Zero.  There was much hue and cry, the firefighter threatened to sue, and the legal firm apologized.  (Though, according to a judge, the firm had not done anything technically wrong.)

Anyway, this all goes to show you that the Zadroga Bill, as great as a victory as it was for 9/11 families, can turn messy very quickly.  This point was not lost at the forum recently moderated by Riordan.

Sometime next month, a so-called “special master” is expected to be named regarding the funds available under the Zadroga Bill and how those funds can be divided up. That person, many observers agree, will have a crucial duty -- to make a difficult process run in a relatively smooth fashion.

If the wrong person is tapped as special master?  Things can get nasty very quickly.

Of course, unless you were one of 250 or so people who went to the Zadroga Bill forum in Queens last month, you might not know much about this.  That’s because once the Zadroga Bill was finally passed to much hoopla, the story pretty much fell off of the media radar screen.

This week, of course, all the talk is about the decision to try the criminals behind 9/11 at Guantanamo Bay, rather than in downtown New York.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was among those who support not holding the trial in New York.  However, this stinks of weakness to some Irish American observers.

“Our job was to bring Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and the others to sure and swift justice as the murderers they are. And the only right way to do it was with the very system they sought to destroy and so many courageous Americans have died defending,” columnist Michael Daly wrote in Tuesday’s Daily News.

“Instead, we called these criminals enemy combatants and we lost faith in our own courts and laws. Some of us were afraid the trial would make our city a target. Others were so shameless as to complain about the inconvenience.”

Nevertheless, with all due respect, it’s hard for many New Yorkers not to breath a sigh of relief.   It seems there is no easy answer on this one. 

And, indeed, viewing these terrorists as a hazy new thing called “enemy combatants” does set a troubling precedent. 

Nevertheless, it seems to me you could forgive any family who suffered as a result of 9/11 for worrying that something horrible could happen as a result of a protracted terror trial in downtown Manhattan. Anything from a terror attack to a much-needed ambulance stuck in snarled traffic could inflict further pain on New Yorkers who have already put up with enough.

The broader point, though, is that while we jack up the rhetoric arguing for or against the terror trial, we have once again forgotten the day-to-day travails of first responders. 

Where is the public debate on who will become the “special master?”  This is a position that is expected to be filled next month! 

As it is, winning passage of the Zadroga Bill was extremely laborious and painful.  Implementing it could be worse.  It has to be handled with delicacy and respect. 

There are people in the trenches doing great work preparing for this process.

But will we be ready when the rhetoric and headlines turn nasty?

(Contact “Sidewalks” at tomdeignan@earthlink.net or facebook.com/tomdeignan)

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