Q: You became the director of the Families of September 11 in October 2001. I am amazed that the organization formed so quickly. How were the families able to organize in the confusion and the emotions of the aftermath?
A: The weeks following September 11, 2001 were tumultuous. The nation was in an intensely self defense mode and little was conveyed about the events of that day to those who lost loved ones. The secrecy was suffocating. Uncertainty permeated nearly every aspect of our lives: How could this have happened? Why to us? By whom? Would remains of our loved ones be found? Could we work? Could those dependant on their lost loved ones pay the bills, keep their kids in school, etc.?
We needed answers and looked to each other to find them. No one else was giving them. My wife met with other family members in Boston and the group decided to establish a Yahoo e-mail account and monitor it to be sure that only family members had access. Areas of need (emotional, financial, informational, legal, etc.) became obvious. We soon realized we had to have a platform from which to speak out for the injured and those who lost loved ones and for change (e.g., airport screening, secure cockpit doors, etc.) to prevent a reoccurrence. I got involved in analyzing and commenting on the Victims Compensation Fund. It was from those beginnings that Families of September 11 emerged.
Q: What was the purpose of the Families of September 11?
A: It has always been to raise awareness about the effects of terrorism and public trauma and to champion domestic and international policies that prevent, protect against and respond to terrorist acts.
Q: What did you do as director?
A: I, along with the other directors, met by phone and in person in the New York City area and Washington, DC. For the first three years or so our phone conferences were weekly. I wrote extensively about the Victims Compensation Fund, consulted with economists and other lawyers, and met with Special Master, Kenneth Fienberg, and with representatives in Congress, the Justice Department and the White House. Most of this work was done in late 2001 and early 2002. I was very much involved in the legislation establishing the 9/11 Commission and advocating for its full access to documents and witnesses. I wrote articles for the print media and gave interviews for the electronic media.
During the debate in the fall of 2004 on the intelligence reform legislation urged by the 9/11 commission, I walked the halls of Congress urging passage of meaningful legislation. I helped draft questions for a longitudinal grief survey to study the emotional and psychiatric consequences of the attacks. More recently I have been active in support of Terrorism Risk Insurance and have written on and spent time in Washington debating the subject. Of course, as a director involved in weekly meetings, I became involved in nearly every issue confronting the families (e.g., charitable aid distribution, grief counseling resources, recovery of personal remains, redevelopment at Ground Zero, the memorial, etc.).
Q: How was the Victims Compensation Fund a success?
A: In many respects, the Fund was a success. Much of this success was due to the efforts of the Special Master and his staff in meeting with individual family members,
demonstrating flexibility where possible in making determinations of awards, and
expressing compassion for family members in the process. But, the Special Master’s
view, expressed in the introduction to his Final Report, that “the Fund was an unqualified
success” is not shared by many who participated in the Fund and most of those who did
not. The options available to the victims and families of September 11 were substantially
impaired by the Victim Compensation Act and subsequent legislation. Lawsuits were
confined to a narrow population of potentially responsible parties whose liability exposure was limited to available and inadequate insurance (e.g., the airlines). Evidence for use in litigation was and continues to be compromised by government intervention (e.g., assertions of national security and criminal prosecution grounds for non-disclosure).
Families were, thus, faced with a Hobson’s choice and for most the Fund was the better
Q: How was the Victims Compensation Fund not a success?
A: The regulations promulgated by the Department of Justice established “grid” awards with “extraordinary circumstances” thresholds of proof to overcome them and no review
process. Claimants were accustomed to the very different and more substantial notions of
“hearings” and “due process” embedded in our legal culture and were left disappointed
and uncomfortable by the Fund design. The collateral offsets for life insurance, etc. (required by the enabling legislation) and the regulatory mandate of a single sum for all non-economic loss (neither required by nor consistent with that legislation) were similarly at odds with our legal culture. These anomalies, with others (e.g., the statutory requirement that there be a single “claimant” for each life lost), generated unnecessary controversy with its resulting stress.
The victims and their families were faced with enormous uncertainty in the weeks and months following September 11, 2001, during which the Department of Justice promulgated regulations and the Special Master developed claims handling procedures. It is this uncertainty that must be eliminated by enactment of forward-looking legislation. The victims of future terrorist attacks will need to go on living as have the victims of the September 11 attacks and should have the comfort of knowing immediately after a terrorist event occurs that they have rights to compensation sufficient to allow them to do so and a clear and certain path to obtaining those rights.
Those rights should include valuations no less than those assigned when assessing the reasonableness of the costs of loss prevention. Just six weeks before the September 11, 2001, attacks and after years of study, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published a final airplane security rule (14 CFR Part 108 [Docket No. FAA – 2001-8725] which estimated a value of $2.7 million for a fatality caused by an airplane crash or accident. This estimate was a minimum and assumed an average age/income victim profile. The estimate was prepared for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to comply with requirements that the estimated cost of safety measures proposed by federal agencies be justified by the likely cost of not adopting them. The average award for a death under the Fund proved to be approximately $2.1 million: some $600,000 less than the minimum value placed on a life lost in an airplane crash as established by the FAA and presented for OMB approval to justify proposed airplane safety regulations. This under-compensation of the families of the dead (compared to what the living would spend to save their own lives) is likely explained by the life insurance offsets incorporated in the Fund, the fixed sums provided for non-economic losses, and other damages limiting refinements established by the regulations.
Issues of accountability and responsibility by those in the chain of causation linked to the
injuries and deaths on September 11, 2001, and the suffering that followed are of great
importance to the survivors of the attacks. The Fund, its enabling legislation, and related
congressional and administrative actions had the effect of limiting that accountability and
responsibility. This model tends to increase the risk of future terrorist attacks and needs to be reassessed and remedied.
Q: The Families of September 11 issued a final report. What were its conclusions?
A: The Special Master made determinations on 7,403 claims completing its work by the
statutory deadline in June 2004. Congress now has the benefit of more than 11,000
comments made to the Justice Department during the rule-making process; the comments of the Special Master; the opinions of lawyers, economists, academics, mental heath professionals, victims and survivors of the attacks; and the developing history of terrorism and its effects on our society. In its report, Families of September 11
encourages Congress and the Administration to:
a. use the perspectives of time and experience in implementation of the Victim Compensation Fund to consider carefully issues it was forced to address hastily in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; b. assess how well the rules adopted in 2002 to implement the legislation met Congressional intent; c. consider the incentives and disincentives to reducing the risks of terrorist attacks implicit in the legislation; and d. fashion legislation that will reduce those risks and ensure that victims of future terrorist attacks and their families are made whole.
Copies of the “Final Report of Families of September 11 on the September 11th Victim
Compensation Fund of 2001” may be obtained by going to its website at www.familiesofseptember11.org.
Q: Is the organization lobbying Congress as we speak?
A: The organization is a resource to Congress and its members are often called upon to present the perspectives of those who have suffered through a terrorist mega-catastrophe. Of the 300 million or so people in this country something in the magnitude of 30,000 are closely related to the more than 3,000 who died. Many (probably the vast majority) of those prefer not to or cannot deal with issues related to their loved ones’ deaths. Thus, only a small fraction of our population has first hand knowledge of the losses suffered in the aftermath of a terrorist attack and only a small fraction of those can and will speak about it. At Families of September 11 we believe that someone has to and we do.
Q: I can understand how remedies can be structured to ensure financial compensation through insurance; but how do you reduce the risk of terrorism itself? Through suing the terrorists in US courts?
A: No. This is how it works.
Accountability and responsibility for damages to property, bodily injury and death of
United States citizens and residents resulting from acts of international terrorism
(Terrorist Acts) rest in descending order with
1. The terrorists (i.e., those who plan and carry out Terrorist Acts); 2. The terrorists’ co-conspirators (i.e., those who sponsor or facilitate Terrorist Acts); 3. Foreign governments and entities who sponsor or facilitate Terrorist Acts; 4. Domestic private entities that have prior notice of and negligently fail to prevent Terrorist Acts; and 5. Federal, state and local governments, including all of their agencies and departments who are responsible for and fail to prevent Terrorist Acts.
The citizens and residents of this country who suffer from Terrorist Acts may not have any practical recourse against the terrorists themselves and their co-conspirators. Legislation is in place approving possible actions against foreign entities responsible for financing or sponsoring terrorism, but foreign policy considerations have caused our government to thwart attempts to pursue these entities.
Although the logic of proximate cause dictates that terrorists and their co-conspirators
ought to provide remedies for their acts of violence, they rarely, if ever, will. They will have given their lives for what they believed in, escaped, or had their assets reserved or used by the federal government as bargaining chips in international diplomacy. Remedies against foreign entities responsible for financing and supporting terrorists also may be trumped by international diplomacy. Those next in the chain of causation must provide those remedies. Broadly speaking, there are four such groups of entities:
1. The transportation industry, 2. The energy industry, 3. The weapons/munitions/self-defense industry, and finally 4. Federal, state and local governments.
Our federal government, with assistance from our state and local governments, is
responsible for protecting the innocent citizens and residents of the United States from
harm at the hands of international terrorists. It should guarantee remedies for the losses
suffered as a result of such harm. But the burden should not be borne by the taxpayers
indiscriminately (i.e., without regard to the role played by others with the capacity to
prevent or mitigate such harm). To do so would eliminate all incentive to prevent similar
future harm, increase its likelihood, and disproportionately burden taxpayers. Methods of transportation (by air, water, and land) are essential to every terrorist plot. If means of transportation are denied the terrorists, their plans can and likely will be thwarted.
Similarly, their weapons of choice – the fuels that move the planes, boats, and land
transportation vehicles, along with other energy sources (electric, petroleum, domestic
nuclear, etc.), weapons (knives, guns, etc.) and munitions (bombs, etc.) – and self-defense products that facilitate their attacks, must be denied the terrorists to neutralize and defeat their plans. Those in the chain of distribution of, and who use, store and provide services related to, these modes of transportation, energy sources, munitions, weapons, and self-defense products must be held accountable for their contributions to – failures to prevent – Terrorist Acts.
Finally, the insurance industry (including its property and casualty, health and life
insurance components) is uniquely situated to assess, rate and charge premiums that
reflect the different risks associated with international terrorism and the losses that result.
Those entities that can prevent Terrorist Acts should bear the cost of insuring the losses
that will result if they do not and should be required to insure against those losses in
amounts sufficient to compensate for them.
Because of the magnitude of the losses suffered in a mega-catastrophe and the inevitable urgency of preserving the strength of our economy after such an event, it is simply unrealistic to expect actors in the private and quasi-public sectors of our economy responsible for the losses to pay for them without insurance. They won’t be allowed to fail. Only through pooling of insurance premiums collected from the potentially liable actors and based upon their vulnerability to terrorist exploitation over time can reserves be built sufficient to pay even a portion of future losses (because of actuarial uncertainty arising from inadequate historical data, timing risk, etc. it is doubtful that even the insurance industry can meet this challenge alone). More importantly, only if the premium costs reflect the risks will there be incentives for mitigation: i.e., to reduce premiums.
Participation by the federal government at some level is inevitable, not only because of its overarching responsibility to protect its citizens, but also because of the actuarial challenges facing the insurance industry. But the federal government should not do it alone.
It is the converse that makes this point. If we do not weave into our terrorism mitigation efforts the insurance threads that the industry can and would profit from inserting, the federal government will remain the de facto remedy of last resort and the private and quasi-public sectors of our economy will know this and have no incentive to partner with the public sector to deter terrorists. It is a little like parents with unlimited resources who always bail out their child. The child has no incentive to, and never does, take steps to avoid adverse consequences.
For our efforts to succeed in the fight against terrorists we have all to be in it together - a vast matrix of incentives/disincentives to stop them.
Q: Your wife initiated the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation. Please tell about this foundation.
A: Shortly after Pete’s death we began to receive monetary gifts from Pete’s friends and family. Pete’s widow, Rachel, my wife and I had no idea exactly how to use the money in memory of Pete, but knew early its purpose. We established a tax exempt (501(C)(3) trust.
Its purpose is “to support the love of learning for its own sake, especially by those naturally curious, imaginative, dreamers like Peter, thought not well suited for it, and to encourage the search for those thin places that separate what we are taught to believe is true from what really is, give aid to those who unselfishly approach those perilous places, and help discover means of peaceful passage through them to clearer understandings of our natural world and its people.”
In 2002 and 2003, my wife and I found a place in Vermont where we could be together with our children and grand children in the days surrounding September 11 and be away from the media – no TV, no radio, no images of Pete’s death.
But in August 2004, Marine Major Rush Filson, a graduate of Bates College and childhood friend of Pete's who was doing a voluntary tour of duty in Afghanistan, wrote his parents about a school in Afghanistan in need of supplies. We came out of hiding that September. The Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation initiated a One Day's Pay project to respond to the need. Helping educate the children who, with their families, had been oppressed by the same agents who killed our son is what he would have done. Since then over three hundred people have contributed to the project which has grown to include building a school for 520 children in rural Afghanistan. Plans are underway for a second school in another rural province.
As well, the foundation hopes to create an income-producing base for 35 orphans and 200 widows by developing hydroponic gardening in a third province. A second project in this same village of 40,000 will fund the installation of solar panels to provide electricity using technology developed in rural India by Sanjit Bunker Roy of Barefoot College. We are grateful to all those who have helped with these projects. For more information go to goodrichfoundation.org.
Q: Is there a major lesson to learn from September 11?
A: Of course there are many. Perhaps, the ones we most need to learn are these. We are citizens of a global community, most of which is far, very very far, less fortunate than those who dominate our culture and control our policies. Some find our excesses (money, possessions, power) obscene. Others are covetous. Many are poor, ignorant and desperate. A few are rich, smart and deranged. In this mix is the potential for extreme violence against our country’s innocent civilians. We must educate the ignorant, provide self-sustaining resources to the poor and hope to the desperate. We must isolate, capture or kill the deranged who would destroy the very notion of civil society.
To do these things we must change. We must repudiate terrorism (find and use ways to universally, globally, spurn the method) and defeat or at least marginalize the terrorists. Our civil institutions must prepare for the next attack. Our changes will be too slow to prevent it. We must have forward-looking legislation in place that assures that those who are injured and the families of those who die (all symbols of our country’s values) are remembered for their sacrifices and are able to go on with their lives as nearly as possible as before. To do less is to prefer those we spend billions of dollars to protect, and do, over those we don’t.
Q: Any other thoughts you would like to share about this important subject?
A: I have mentioned the importance of “hope” as an antidote to terrorism and solace for those who suffer its consequences.
Vaclav Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic said,
"...the kind of hope I often think about... I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don't; it is a dimension of the soul, and it's not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons... Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is this hope, above all, which gives strength to live and continually try new things."
We need to give all those whose loved ones die at the hands of terrorists and all those who would be terrorists this same kind of hope – which gives the strength to live and try new things.