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Families of Sept. 11 Victims Disagree Over Need for Iraq War - 2002-09-26

Some of the families of victims of last year's terrorist attacks on September 11 still believe all options should be exhausted before any U.S. pre-emptive strike on Iraq.

On September 11, 2001, David Potorti's brother Jim was working on the 95th floor of the World Trade Center in New York when a terrorist-controlled aircraft slammed into the building.

This week, Dave Potorti and about 30 others who lost family members in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania sent a letter to President Bush urging him not to take pre-emptive action against Iraq.

"Our goal is to seek effective, non-violent responses to terrorism and to identify a common bond that we, as victims of terrorism, share with other victims of terrorism all over the United States, and all over the world," he said.

The group, called September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, told reporters a war with Iraq will divert attention from the task of apprehending and bringing to justice those responsible for September 11. War, they say, will only spark more terrorism.

Members, such as Ryan Amundson, are also angered by what they say is President Bush's use of the September 11 anniversary to lay the groundwork for war.

"The loss of our family members has been used to justify this war in Iraq, which has nothing to do with September 11. That's why we are here and I'm just here to say, not in my name, not in our name," he said.

Another member of the group is Kelly Campbell, from California, who lost her brother-in-law when the Pentagon was hit by a hijacked plane. She says a visit to Afghanistan last January gave her a new outlook on the costs of war.

"I visited hospitals with wards full of children missing limbs because of our cluster bombs. Children who told stories of watching their siblings or friends have our cluster bombs explode in their young faces and kill them. This is what happens in war. I'm here today to remind people there are 22 million other human beings living in Iraq right now, besides Saddam Hussein. Those are the ordinary Iraqi people and that's who will suffer should our country choose to go to war in Iraq," she said.

As group members spoke with reporters on Capitol Hill, Bush administration officials were releasing new pieces of information about alleged Iraqi links with Osama bin-Laden's al-Qaida organization.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said Iraq trained al-Qaida members in chemical weapons development. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Thursday spoke of evidence of an al-Qaida presence in Iraq in the last six months, but declined to say if U.S. officials have evidence of links between Iraq and September 11.

Members of the group Families for Peaceful Tomorrows say this does not change their view on Iraq. Terry Rockefeller, whose sister Laura died in the World Trade Center attack, says she would consider any new evidence presented, but still believes a non-violent solution is the answer.

"If there is proof of this connection, we would welcome an open look at that, and actually encourage that, for the world to see that there actually is an actual connection between al-Qaida and Iraq," she said. "To our knowledge the top al-Qaida members that have been captured to date have been in Pakistan, through diplomatic and intelligence channels, not through war and not through bombing. So we would like to see more of the pursuit of the people who are really responsible for September 11 through those same intelligence channels. That seems to be most effective in our minds."

Terry Rockefeller and other members of the group acknowledge their views may not be shared by other families of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

One such voice is Stephen Push, whose wife was on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11. A founder of another unrelated group called Families of September 11, he believes the Bush administration is on the right track.

"The case has been made before the United Nations," he said. "We're making efforts to identify allies who can help us. And there is ample evidence that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons and is pursuing a nuclear weapons program and I think it would be very dangerous to let that situation continue much longer without intervening."

Mr. Push makes clear he speaks only for himself, saying his group, Families of September 11, does not have a position on potential war with Iraq.

Families opposing a U.S. pre-emptive strike say they came to Washington to add their voices to the debate. "What we're doing with our group is the essence of democracy," said Mr. David Potorti of Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. "We are questioning what our government is doing and it is our government to question. So we're here in a way to claim this war, this is our war, this is our government, this is our President, and who other than us has the right to talk about it, and criticize it?"

David Potorti says new information on possible Iraqi links with al-Qaeda does not persuade him that a war to oust President Saddam Hussein should be the next step in the war on terrorism.