BY JAMES GORDON MEEK
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
Tuesday, June 3rd 2008, 4:00 AM
WASHINGTON - When the architects of the 9/11 attacks are charged this week at Guantanamo Bay for killing nearly 3,000 Americans, the victims’ families won’t be allowed to witness it.
The Defense Department outraged 9/11 families by belatedly disclosing that just one victim’s relative - GOP loyalist Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles died in the attacks - was secretly invited to attend.
“This government cannot be upfront and honest,” said Rosemary Dillard of Detroit, whose husband, Eddie, died aboard the hijacked jet that struck the Pentagon. “It was very underhanded.”
The stunned families learned of Burlingame’s invitation to the arraignment of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four of his henchmen at the U.S. naval base in Cuba only after the Daily News made inquiries on Friday.
Widow Monica Gabrielle, whose husband, Rich, died in the twin towers, said, “They’re pitting family against family. It’s outrageous.”
Several relatives, such as Dillard, told the Pentagon and Justice Department during a Feb. 25 meeting that they wanted to go. Instead of creating a lottery, Pentagon victim-liaison officer Karen Loftus left them in the dark.
Dillard burst into tears when Loftus told her Friday about Burlingame’s covert ticket to Gitmo.
“I’m angry, I’m very upset about it,” said Dillard, who attended 9/11 commission hearings and never missed a day of Al Qaeda goon Zacarias Moussaoui’s death penalty trial.
Burlingame, a staunch defender of the Bush administration, spoke in support of the President at the 2004 GOP convention and has personally savaged other 9/11 family members who questioned his decisions.
She was invited as an “observer” to offer a political counterpoint - alongside conservatives from the American Legion and Judicial Watch - to human rights watchdogs critical of the untested military system for trying terrorists, a red-faced defense official said. She did not respond to a request for comment.
Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon denied the Pentagon was playing politics at the expense of 9/11 families. He promised officials “will come up with a solution” that addresses how 9/11 families can watch future proceedings.