HINOJOSA: Welcome to NOW on the News, I'm Maria Hinojosa. This week we're talking to Patty Casazza, one of the so-called Jersey Girls, a group of women activists from New Jersey who lost their husband in the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Patty and the other Jersey Girls were incensed at the lack of answers the government had for them following the attacks. They were moved to action, and they were central in the creation of the 9/11 Commission. And remained involved in monitoring the progress of the commission. In fact earlier this week the House passed legislation that would implement almost all of the remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations, basically half of those recommendations. So Patty Casazza, my first question to you is, when you heard that the House had passed this legislation in the first 100 hours of the democratic controlled Congress, what was your reaction?
CASAZZA: Well I—I'm relieved to finally see some of that legislation move. It's been 3 1/2 years since it was initiated. And it's very admirable that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has moved this legislation forward. Ya know I do have some reservations about the legislation in that, of course she can move the legislation forward and send it over to the Senate. But the Senate still has to approve it, and it still has to be funded. And we can only hope that this legislation won't be watered down in the process of all that.
HINOJOSA: So it's not as if you see this necessarily as a real "victory?"
CASAZZA: You can't ever say that until you see the language of the law, and until that money is apportioned so that this law is enacted. Any kind of security measure will cost money. And quite honestly, you've seen the airlines drag their feet on so many things regarding safety. And one of the things that is left, that Nancy forwarded to the Senate, was the fact that we were going to secure the cargo on airlines. We've seen in the past that unless it fits a cost benefit analysis, I really don't see the airlines going along with that.
HINOJOSA: Which is something that must—I mean for you who have been touched by this so personally, I mean in a way you must just wanna throw up your arms and say, "Wait a second, so you all are more interested in making sure that the bottom line I—has no problems here, as opposed to keeping us safe?" I mean don't you wanna just scream?
CASAZZA: Yeah w—and we did (CHUCKLE), we did do that down in Washington. As a matter of course, 9/11 could not have happened without the same cost benefit analysis having been done before 9/11. The families of Pan Am 103, ya know they lost family members in 1988, and until 2001 were still lobbying to have the airlines harden their cockpit doors. It just did not pay for the airlines to do that. And it wasn't until 9/11, when unfortunately we lost 3,000 and umpteen maimed and injured, and huge loses of infrastructure, we're in two wars supposedly based on 9/11.
All that to not have happened the way it did, if in fact the airlines had secured their cockpit doors before 9/11. This money that lobbyists and—and big corporation put into preventing legislation that's going to cost them, in fact cost us a lot more down the line. For myself it was loss of my husband.
HINOJOSA: So now that you—you were essentially a suburban mom who was not political active, and now you've kind of opened the books and seen the ugly stuff that goes on in politics, I'm fascinated by—I mean do you still believe that politicians, that governmental institutions can in fact do things to make us safe? Or do you just think, "Look, it's all politics all the time?"
CASAZZA: Well I—I think that they w—that there are those that want to make us safer. However, the Congress has been controlled by the Republicans for the last 12 years, now of course the Democrats are c—in control, but I—ya know it's not by a large amount. And I think that there's lack of bipartisanship, and that they're still going to have trouble getting any of this type of legislation enacted.
Do I wanna throw up my hands? A—at times. I think I've backed off quite a bit in the last two years, basically waiting for a better political time in which to put some effort back into it. Because up until this time it would be like ya know hitting your head against the wall, and why would you continue to do that, it hurts and you're not getting anyway. So the hope is that via the last elections, politicians are paying to—attention to the fact that Americans have said, "Enough is enough, we don't like this business as usual." And—
HINOJOSA: I wanna talk to you Patty about the—the fact that you said you needed to back off. I mean you were—at the height of this 9/11 Commission, you were on a (NOISE) intense political spotlight. Ya know you were all over the place. A—and then, ya know a few years later Ann Coulter, of course criticizes you, says that all of the Jersey Girls are basically living high and—and—and—and was very critical of you. Was—was part of that kind of vicious criticism part of what made you say, "I've gotta back off?"
CASAZZA: N—not really. I mean any time you stick your neck out you're bound to get those who will attempt to chop it off. But we shouldn't be intimidated by that. And not to—not to say that it doesn't bother me, I'm only human. It bothered my son quite a bit to hear that kind of rhetoric on television and know that it wasn't true. But I think I backed off more because of the way Congress was set up, that there—there was no discussion, anything that conflicted with the current administration just wasn't going to be heard.
So in effect, what was the point of going into Washington to only find resistance. I mean I had to wait for a better place and time. And I'm hoping that going forward we'll—we will be in a better place and time to get some actual worthwhile, meaningful legislation passed.
HINOJOSA: Right, but there might be some Patty who say, "Right, but now the 9/11 Commission is being used for political purposes for a Democratic controlled Congress that says, ya know in the first 100 hours we're gonna do all of these things." And ya know do you think like, "Okay, well here's another way in which the 9/11 Commission and what you brought forward is just being used as another political football, this time by the Democrats."
CASAZZA: Ya know what, I—I wish I could say I totally even supported the commissions findings. But the truth is that the commission did not fulfill their mandate, they did not include whistleblower testimony. They did not, in fact do all that was required. They did not—they omitted so much information on investigation. We have no idea, for example, why Building Seven in New York collapsed in the way it did.
HINOJOSA: So you still have questions about that?
CASAZZA: Yes. So my hope is that the recommendations put forth are meaningful. But perhaps, since we found ourselves in such a political adverse time, ya know up until this moment, now is the time to actually have more hearings before we go forward and count on all of the recommendations that the commission came up with to actually make us safer. Let—let the American people have a say in what they feel will make us safer. From our leadership right now, we need empirical information in order to go ahead and reinvest our trust in them.
HINOJOSA: Hmm. I wanted to ask about Iraq and yourself and September 11th, ya know when you look at what's happening in Iraq, do you feel any connection to what happened to you and what's playing out now in this war that's going on for more than three years, starting on four?
CASAZZA: The only connection that I can see is if 9/11 had not occurred we would not have gone into Afghanistan. But we did leave Afghanistan before the job was done. If we were actually more concerned about the terrorists, (NOISE) we—we didn't secure Osama Bin Laden.
HINOJOSA: So right now, for example, when you look at the state of—of what's happening with the situation in Afghanistan, you look at that and you say, "All for naught?"
CASAZZA: I'm sure some wouldn't say that. But the problem is that our leadership said we were going into these areas to protect us from terrorists. And yet they've avoided taking care of the things that would protect us from terrorists. Like destroying the poppy fields—like securing our borders here at home, re—restructuring, helping rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq, talking to the religious leaders of these nations. You—you can't foster democracy ya know at the point of a gun.
HINOJOSA: I—I wanna ask you about the issue of democracy, because you had said that—before when you were just a housewife in New Jersey, that—that essentially you—
CASAZZA: A lifetime ago.
HINOJOSA: —a—a lifetime ago, that you would look at politicians and you essentially held them in awe. And then you're like, "Ya know what, I don't hold you in so much awe after." I mean I—so I—is this in fact—has this been a lesson about true participatory democracy and empowerment, for you?
CASAZZA: Oh, absolutely. I—I—I believe that every politician who—ya know gets a back or gets ya know the public behind them, they should also be calling on that public and saying, "If these issues are important to you, and I am here fighting for you, when I need you to come down to Washington and knock on some halls in C—in—ya know doors in Congress, I need to see that happen." Cause that is the only way Congress pays attention.
They need to Americans swarming them in order for things to change. And in effect politicians ya know they barely come home to their own district, never mind ask for you to come down to Washington to help them. So there's this real disconnect between what Americans think that they can do, should do or even how to go about it, because no one initiates that. There's—there's none of that give and take. I mean we felt compelled, through our losses and the safety of our children, and safety of our friends and family and this country, to go down there and try to make some changes.
HINOJOSA: So—so Patty, ya know how do you spend your days (CHUCKLE)? Are you angry? Are you frustrated? I mean—
CASAZZA: Y—sure I'm angry, I'm frustrated. Oh I h—I also have to be hopeful. I mean we still have children, and we all want something better for their future. If we all kept that in mind, perhaps we'd all be more engaged. I mean I've talked to people before we went into Iraq who were all about, ya know go over there and kill 'em all dead. And then through all this rhetoric you hear on television with the President saying this is about spreading democracy and everything else, some of these very same people have had their children sign up for Iraq, going into the Marines or such.
And now they're—they're terrified. When you're more involved (CHUCKLE) it means a lot more to you, ya know, when you have something at stake. We all have to participate and realize what's at stake. We have to understand why we're over there. In fact I would like a referendum on war. I don't think it should be in the hands of those who have always been in defense positions or d—ya know they work in defense industries, to decide where and when we go to war. They have an agenda, and it's not the same as mine. I—I would like to say, I—I do not believe that, ya know going to war really solved anything.
HINOJOSA: I wanna ask you about—when you were with Henry Kissinger (CHUCKLE), and—you were having the meeting with him, when one of you said, to Henry Kissinger, "So Mr. Kissinger—before you're named to head this commission, we just wanna ask you, do you have any clients in Saudi Arabia? And do you have any clients by the name of Bin Laden?"
HINOJOSA: What happened?
CASAZZA: Well he was uncomfortable with the way the questions were going up until that point in time. So he was visibly uncomfortable. And when that final question was asked about ya know Bin Laden, he actually knocked over the coffee on the table, and literally almost fell off the couch. And to tell you the truth, he never answered the question (CHUCKLE).
HINOJOSA: What did you do? What did you do at that moment?
CASAZZA: Well everybody pitched in to clean up the coffee, it pretty much wrapped up after that.
HINOJOSA: And you decided you weren't gonna push it one more time?
CASAZZA: It was put to bed to the point where he said that he would not reveal his client list. And that ya know he would consider maybe (NOISE) having an attorney—look over the c—client list to see if there were any conflicts of interest. It didn't even go any further from that, because the next day he in fact resigned.
HINOJOSA: A—and at that moment did you feel vindicated? Did you—did you feel like, "Wow, we made him really uncomfortable."
CASAZZA: No, I didn't feel vindicated at all, you know why, because yeah I thought it was sad. This is a former Secretary of State, still very involved in what we do or don't do in the world. And it was more important for him to secure his client list than to make this nation safer.
HINOJOSA: So what'd you—
CASAZZA: That's where it hit home to them.
HINOJOSA: Patty have you seen these—the movies, United 93, World Trade Center?
HINOJOSA: But when you hear about that stuff happening, movies and such—what goes on for you?
CASAZZA: Well I mean I unfortunately still have those images and my husband's last conversation forever seared in my brain. The fear and despair and the sadness that came through on his voice, you just can't even imagine. And—for me to sit through a movie that is only going to bring back my pain as well as watching someone else's pain, I feel like I would just—ya know put me under. But one point that I do have a problem with some of the movies is perhaps their accounting. I'm not sure that they're all accurate.
And that's based upon the fact that ya know the commission didn't do a thorough job and give us a full accounting. There are too many omissions and distortions. And people who were supposed to be interviewed by the commission and weren't, that even with an official accounting, we don't have the truth, never mind a fabricated one on television. And I just think that that further distorts the truth of that day. And the truth is the only thing that we should be concerned with at—at this point in time.
HINOJOSA: Do you think that you will ever—that we as a country will ever know the, as you say it, the ultimate truth about what really happened and why?
CASAZZA: I—I think over time we'll get more and more information (NOISE). I mean even—
HINOJOSA: But when you say over time, are you talking about 10, 15, 20, 40, 50 years—
CASAZZA: I think when I'm in a rocking chair perhaps, and even after that. But slowly but surely information is being leaked a—and been more forthcoming. People who were afraid of being cast as unpatriotic for questioning anyone, more and more people have come out to tell their pieces of the story, that conflict with what the official account was. So—ya know I think it'll come out slowly. Now of course if we're all deemed enemy combatants at any point in time that too will dry up. It's a shame that I think that we are losing our freedom when in the rhetoric the President has been trying to bring democracy elsewhere.
HINOJOSA: Your husband's name was John Casazza.
HINOJOSA: Your son was how old when John passed?
CASAZZA: He was 11.
HINOJOSA: He was 11. And how—how's your son doing now?
CASAZZA: I think he's actually become more aware as to what 9/11 was about—that it had a lot—more political ramifications than we thought or that he thought. And that perhaps it was more than preventable. And that—that saddens him, and it saddens him to hear the distortions on television. He realizes now that there are people who we're supposed to trust tells lies in order to get agendas through.
HINOJOSA: So—so do you look at your son and see him as being someone who could be hopeful, or do you worry that your son has learned too much about, ya know the ugliness of modern American society?
CASAZZA: No, I don't think he's without hope. I think he is the hope. I think our children are always the hope. And that if they can see more clearly what it is that has gone wrong, that they themselves will not participate in that in the future. And that means by participating more fully in your government, paying more attention to what is going on around you and the world. That we won't—he won't have to walk blindly into a situation and be blindsided the way we were on 9/11.
So I—I think he will be part of a generation that pays more attention and realizes that the globe is getting that much smaller. Ya know with the w—world closing in our—our children will have to be thinking like that and educating themselves. So I'm hopeful that they won't fall victim to the same type of leadership that—that we did. But that—that it's up to them and it's up to us to help change what we can until it's their time to take over, can't leave it for them, we have to still do everything in our capacity to make the right changes.
HINOJOSA: My son was a kindergartener on September 11th, and there's so much that I didn't talk to him about, because I was so in it at that point, as a reporter for CNN that it was too painful for me to have to talk about it with him. Of course you didn't have that choice. But what is it in fact that people like me, and people like you need to be teaching our children? What is in fact the lesson of September 11th?
CASAZZA: I think that we need to have a more objective and thorough education as to other people in the world, and what goes on there, and what our true involvement as a nation, and other nations are doing in—in these foreign countries. So that we don't repeat the same steps that we made up until 9/11 and even currently. That ya know we fall for misinformation from—from the President on down.
People have been angry at us for our foreign policy for a real long time. But we kept ourselves in the dark, and so did our leadership. And our—and I'm sorry to say this, but so did our media. So I—I just think that we have to be more open minded and not take everything at face value. We have to be more curious and we have to care more about what goes on in the world.
HINOJOSA: Patty will you stay involved with the Jersey Girls? What's—I—if not, what's next for you?
CASAZZA: I'll definitely stay involved. My son is graduating from high school next year.
CASAZZA: Yeah. And he wants to go to college, we're looking at colleges and that. And I think that will give me—some time to devote—ya know to devote to this, more than I have. But also, ya know as I said, it also has to do with the leadership that is now in place. And we need to keep the pressure up on the Democrats as well as we did on—in the Republicans. And there's still Republicans in Congress, and I'm hopeful that they see that we made mistakes and that it's more about protecting your country, than protecting your party.
HINOJOSA: Patty Casazza, widow of John Casazza, who passed on September 11, 2001. Thank you so much for spending some time with us on NOW on the News.
CASAZZA: More than welcome.
HINOJOSA: For NOW on the News, I'm Maria Hinojosa.