Litigant In Chief: 9/11 Widow Ellen Mariani Says George W. Bush is a Gangster(Ed Asner)
ThePortlandPhoenix Saturday, January 31, 2004 ALEX IRVINE
9/11 widow Ellen Mariani(Derry, N.H.) says George W. Bush is a gangster. We talk to her and her lawyer Philip J. Berg:
Ellen Mariani last saw her husband Louis Neil early on the morning of September 11, 2001, at Logan Airport, where they were taking different flights to Los Angeles for a daughter’s wedding. He hadn’t gotten his tickets until the last minute, and couldn’t get on her flight, but there were seats open on Flight 175. Neil Mariani died when that plane crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center, and after rejecting a settlement offer of approximately $500,000 from the Victim Compensation Fund, Ellen Mariani embarked on a series of lawsuits. At first she sued United Airlines, but she has since set her sights higher, filing a racketeering lawsuit against the Bush White House, with the aid of attorney Philip J. Berg, former Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania and one-time Democratic candidate for that state’s governorship. Berg is no stranger to controversial lawsuits; after the 2000 presidential election he filed a class-action lawsuit to overturn the results.
The Phoenix got a chance to speak with them via conference call.
Phoenix: What’s it like to sue the government?
Mariani: When the public’s not around, it’s sad. But this is the old saying: Fake it till you make it. No medication; you gotta deal with it. You gotta bite the bullet. But I’m all for kicking ass. We don’t have much freedom left.
Phoenix: How did you get in touch with Phil Berg?
Mariani: Well, after you have hired a couple of attorneys and then gone pro se for a little bit, you start looking for people to help you search. A host on a radio station recommended Phil.
Phoenix: Who was that?
Mariani: It was out in Arizona. I really don’t want to go into it.
[Phil Berg comes on the line.]
Berg: We’re the ones who are going to overthrow the government. [laughs]
Phoenix: Okay, tell me how you’re going to do it. This is not something people do every day.
Mariani: It’s like a little child being told, ‘You can’t do this,’ and I say ‘watch me.’ They didn’t like me asking questions. My attorney didn’t like that because they cleverly tried to do a few things behind my back and they got caught.
Phoenix: Which attorney was that?
Mariani: The number one attorney in Chicago, Don Nolan. So I went and got Mary Schiavo, who was so honored to have me as her client, and then it seemed to go in the same direction. They want dummies, and they want them medicated.
Phoenix: What were they trying to do?
Mariani: They don’t want to let you know what they’re doing. It all ended up that the government had secret meetings with them. [Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the victims’ compensation fund] was conspiring behind my back with my first attorney. He didn’t care about us, except enough to bribe us to shut up and lose our rights. That’s Mr. Feinberg and he’s number 10 on our lawsuit. He was very surprised he was on this list. He was mad! So be it; so was I.
It’s just made me more curious. More determined. The Transportation Security Administration and Department of Justice went in and said, ‘Nope! Can’t have no evidence.’ Well, I never heard of a murder that we didn’t have the right to investigate. Now there’s 3000 murders there. The only thing that’s left of these people is thousands of empty shoes at the bottom where the ashes were.
Phoenix: How’s the lawsuit going? Walk me through where it’s been filed and what sort of objections are being raised, and whether you think you can get it heard.
Berg: We were trying to file it for tokenism on 9/11, but when the messenger went down the guard didn’t open the door on time, so it was filed on 9/12. We filed an amended detailed complaint on November 26. Prior to that, the government filed a motion to dismiss. The court scheduled a hearing on January 14 on the government’s motion to dismiss. Several weeks later we got an order from the court canceling the hearing. We have now served all of the defendants.
Presently we’re waiting for the government to either file an answer to our amended complaint or to file a motion to dismiss. Meanwhile it’s our feeling that the government is going to let this case lay low as long as they can. It’s our position to try to move this case as fast as we can because we think the public has a right to know. The sole purpose of this lawsuit is to seek out the truth of 9/11. We’re drafting a motion for the deposition of Zacarias Moussaoui.
[Berg takes another call.]
Phoenix: You’ve been traveling a lot, speaking out.
Mariani: We’re going out to Kansas to speak at huge crowds in churches, and they’re black. They’ve been persecuted for years. This is nothing new. It’s hard for me to be home. It’s a house now. It’s not a home. My kids are all grown and they’re not around.
Phoenix: What do they think about the lawsuit?
Mariani: Trust me, they don’t dare say boo because they know I have enough insight, I have enough common sense, that I’m determined to get to the bottom of this. They took a precious person from me. I left two hours before he did, and we kissed goodbye, and within two hours I’m a widow? That isn’t sitting very good with me. And to think it happened on our own soil, when Neil was in the Air Force four years protecting our country, and that’s what Mr. Bush was supposed to be doing.
They will not show us anything. They will not show us the passenger lists, and the surveillance tapes, the last time I see my husband boarding a doomed airplane, they won’t give us that either. Come on. There’s definitely a problem there. But the minute I put that lawsuit in, they were right there to block everything. You’d think it was a chess game. These are loved ones that we lost, and we have a right to know. They are not going to walk away and leave us wounded and give us a life sentence.
Phoenix: What’s been the reaction from other victims’ family members?
Mariani: It’s been hard to say, because they’re all over the place. The few I met when I was in New York when they took that last piece of steel out on a stretcher, they felt they gave up, like they were beaten. We were all talking, and they said, ‘Don’t you stop. Please don’t stop for us. There’s too many of us, and there’s no chance for any of us to be heard.’ I said yes there is, get an attorney. They said, ‘They don’t know what they’re doing,’ and they were right. There were probably five attorneys who were experts on death and disaster, and Feinberg got in with those.
Phoenix: Got in how?
Berg: We also have filed paperwork for a deposition of Saddam Hussein. We want to know what he knows of the location of Osama bin Laden, what discussions they had regarding the events of 9/11 because supposedly bin Laden was the one in charge of that. That’s another issue we have. We believe we should not have attacked Iraq. The third one is that we’re filing a motion for the deposition of George Bush; we feel we have the authority for Bush based on the case of Paula Jones v. Bill Clinton, which allowed the deposition of Bill Clinton even on a matter which did not occur while he was in office.
We know the smoke screen’s going to come up; the government’s going to take a position that everything’s under national security. Our position is going to be that national security is really the issue here, and these issues need to be resolved because there are so many unanswered questions about 9/11.
There have been lots of conspiracy theories. We’re not going there. We’re just going right down the middle. If the government has nothing to hide, why are they stonewalling the 9/11 commission? Why is Bush not releasing the presidential daily briefings and other documentation from the FAA and from NORAD? The information has to come out.
Phoenix: There’s a big difference between suing the government for negligence and alleging a criminal conspiracy.
Mariani: Well, number one, Feinberg was conspiring with my attorney. How do I know this? I’ve got a letter. He didn’t know I had it. I will not tell you how I got it.
Berg: RICO, the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations act, was created by Congress to go after the Mafia or the mob. It’s our strong position that there’s a mob in the White House. For a RICO lawsuit, you have to have an ongoing pattern of conduct before, during, and after an event. We have that. On our amended complaint, we have 100 notices that this government had of the events of 9/11 before it occurred, and it’s our position that the government failed to prevent it or warn the American public. Afterwards we have the coverup, which is apparent in Condoleezza Rice not wanting to take sworn testimony, George Bush reluctantly forming the 9/11 commission and then not giving them the PDBs [presidential daily briefings], not releasing other government documentation. We’ve told many radio stations that if George Bush will release the PDBs, the FAA documents, the NORAD documents, and we look at it and we’re wrong, we’ll withdraw our lawsuit. We know they won’t; they can’t because they’re involved.
If you look back in history, now we’re finding out that President Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor two weeks before, but he wanted to get the US into World War 2. It’s very sad that we had to lose men and women, ships and planes, to get us into the war. But more in line with what people can identify with is the Northwoods Doctrine from 1962, whereby the Joint Chiefs of Staff had a plan whereby they would cause death and destruction to American citizens and property, to blame it on Cuba. President Kennedy stopped that. Unfortunately that was probably one of the steps that led to his assassination. He was doing things that didn’t make certain people happy.
Now the question is: What could Bush get out of it? Millions of dollars. There’s a new pipeline in Afghanistan, the opium fields are open again now. Just look at Halliburton, which is Cheney. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. These are people who are supposedly doing honest business with our government, but these are all no-bid contracts that were given out to Bush’s friends.
We’ve got a petition on our Web site demanding that people cover this story. We’re asking people to stand shoulder to shoulder and demand that what’s occurred here stop. This administration has taken away more rights than anyone else. After 9/11 they created the Stabilization Act, under which Kenneth Feinberg could determine how much a person’s life was worth and take a check right out of the US Treasury. This was never done before in US history. It wasn’t done after Oklahoma City, it wasn’t done in any wars. Why was it done here? For the purpose of hushing up people. If you take money from the fund, you’re prevented from pursuing lawsuits.
People have called Ellen and said, ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t with you, but I had children and I had to go to the fund.’ People gave millions of dollars to the Red Cross which was supposed to go to families, but they gave it to FEMA workers in New York and forced people into the fund. Ellen didn’t go to the fund, but in a way she should have because she’s on Social Security and is having trouble making ends meet.
One unanswered question is that FEMA went to New York City on September 10. How did they know to be there? On September 7, Jeb Bush declared martial law in Florida. What did he know that we didn’t know? The unanswered questions are there.
Phoenix: Why couldn’t coincidence, or simple incompetence, explain all this? It’s not difficult to believe that this administration is incompetent. It’s a little more difficult to believe that they would deliberately allow the murder of nearly 3000 people.
Berg: One hundred and sixteen government agencies and failsafe systems would have had to fail on that one day. The odds of that are one in four million. Let’s assume we had no foreknowledge of 9/11 — which is an out-and-out lie, because in 1993 we knew al Qaeda had plans to use planes to go into the World Trade Center and the Sears Tower. But at 8:20 a.m. on 9/11 when the first plane goes off course, nothing happened. When Payne Stewart’s plane went off course a few years ago, jets were scrambled to go up and see what was happening, and they ended up escorting that plane until it ultimately crashed. Why didn’t this happen on 9/11?
At 8:48, when it was announced that a plane had "accidentally" hit the World Trade Center, the government knew we were under attack. Every fighter jet in the US should have been scrambled. At that point there were one or two other planes off course. If planes had been scrambled from all bases, we submit regretfully that Ellen’s husband Louis Neil Mariani would not have survived, but that second plane never would have hit the World Trade Center. But instead of scrambling every jet in the country, they scrambled planes from Cape Cod — instead of Long Island — coming in at something like one-third throttle.
Why didn’t the Secret Service just come in and jump on the president and take him out of that room? Vice President Cheney was in the White House, and the Secret Service came in, picked him up, and carried him off to some secret location; but George Bush was allowed to sit in a classroom with a goat story for 18 minutes after being told that the second plane had hit the WTC. Not only was he jeopardizing his own life, he was jeopardizing the lives of those children, unless he knew nothing was going to happen there.
Mariani: Can I say something? Mr. Bush showed more reaction when he thought he’d lost the election than he did when he was told about the second plane.
Berg: The nonreaction from him when we were under attack made me think something was wrong. And I remember seeing debris from the plane in western Pennsylvania, I think five miles from the site of the crash, and after the first couple hours you never saw the story again. Now I’m not trying to take away from the heroes, because as far as I’m concerned every person who died on 9/11 was a hero, but there’s no way that plane in western Pennsylvania was not shot down. If a plane crashes, the debris does not bounce five miles. Now if they could shoot down that plane, why couldn’t they shoot down the second plane before it hit the World Trade Center? Why were San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and others told not to fly on 9/11? Why weren’t Ellen Mariani and the American public told not to fly on 9/11? Why did John Ashcroft stop flying commercial aircraft in July 2001 and use military charters? What about the supposed cell-phone calls about boxcutters? Cell phones don’t work on airplanes. European intelligence agencies are quoted in Time magazine as saying they’d warned us, and the administration could have stopped 9/11 if they’d wanted to.
There’s been no investigation. The 9/11 commission made a deal that two members could look at some documents in the White House, make notes, and then leave those notes in the White House. And both of the people they’ve agreed to let see the notes are in bed with the administration. Max Cleland, they obviously had something on him. He was the most outspoken member of the 9/11 commission, but they gave him a nice promotion up to the Import-Export Bank. It was a shock to the administration that the chair of the commission, Governor Kean of New Jersey — a Republican — said that 9/11 was preventable.
We’ve started to become the focal point for a lot of groups looking for information. A lot of people felt it smelled bad from day one. Everyone should be asking these questions. The Democratic candidates, everyone. Even Bush, but he can’t because he was involved.
Phoenix: Will any court actually let this lawsuit go ahead?
Berg: What we’re trying to do right now is spread the word around the country and around the world. Hits on our Web site are growing by leaps and bounds. Most people do not believe we’ve been told the whole truth about 9/11. Fifty percent believe we’ve been lied to about the administration being involved with it. We feel that we’re going in the right direction.
Mariani: My gut feeling is the truth will come out and justice will be served. We want a better world, we want a better country. We do not want history repeating this ever again.
Berg: I really feel that with Congress turning up the pressure after [Treasury Secretary Paul] O’Neill’s comments, and now with our lawsuit, by June of 2004 Bush will be forced to resign.