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From One Ground Zero to Another: An Afghan American Who Lost 19 Family Members in US Bombing, and a New Yorker Whose Brother Died in the World Trade Center

StorySeptember 11, 2008
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Less than two months after 9/11, the US attacked Afghanistan, an invasion that continues today. We turn to two interviews in the aftermath of the Afghan invasion: Afghan American Masuda Sultan, who lost nineteen members of her family to a US bombing while they were taking refuge in a farmhouse; and Rita Lasar, who went to Afghanistan a few months after losing her brother Abe in the World Trade Center attacks. She said the killing of innocent civilians should not be avenged by the killing of more innocent civilians. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Terry Rockefeller, you mentioned Rita. You were referring to Rita Lasar. She was seventy years old when she lost her brother Abe Zelmanowitz on the twenty-seventh floor of the World Trade Center. And as you pointed out, she then went to Afghanistan. She had written to President Bush, begged him not to attack —-


AMY GOODMAN: —- said, “Not in my name.” And we had a remarkable moment with her and an Afghan New Yorker in our studio, meeting, and this is what we’re going to go to first. First, the Afghan New Yorker. We’re turning now to Afghanistan and what happened when the US bombs began to fall on that country just a month after the events of September 11, 2001. We spoke to Afghan New Yorker Masuda Sultan. She lost nineteen members of her family while they were taking refuge in a farmhouse, trying to escape the bombs. She joined us on the phone from Afghanistan in January of 2002.

    MASUDA SULTAN: One evening at about midnight, while they were sleeping, they heard some loud noises outside and realized that their area was being bombed. Some rockets hit nearby, and they decided they had to leave their rooms. As they were running outside of their rooms, some of them were wounded by rockets, some of them were being shot at. They described the scene where they were running with their kids in their arms, dodging bullets left and right, while they had — while they saw balls of fire falling down to the earth. They had no idea what was going on, and they were just running in any which direction for their lives. Some of them hid under and area that was covered, and some of them heard word of their loved ones falling to the ground. They were —-

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Masuda Sultan, who’s describing how her family members were killed by the US bombs that fell on the farmhouse they were taking refuge in outside of Kandahar. She is speaking to us from Afghanistan.

    MASUDA SULTAN: They were just women and children running for their lives, being shot at by a helicopter hovering over their home. And these people were not Taliban supporters. They weren’t al-Qaeda fighters. They were simple Afghans, trying to stay safe in their own country.

    The events of September 11th really made me angry, but seeing these people and what they went through makes me angry, as well. You know, they say that in war, they say that you have to break a couple of eggs in order to make an omelet. But when those eggs are your family, what can you do?

    AMY GOODMAN: How many members of your family were killed in the bombing?

    MASUDA SULTAN: Nineteen members of that extended family were killed. There were many women and children in that nineteen. And we were shown some of the pictures, as well, and we met the children that became orphans or that lost their mothers. One of them was a little girl that was a year and a half old, and she had been drinking breast milk, and they were having trouble with her getting used to the powdered milk. But it’s just -— when you see the faces of those little children and they tell you the story of how their mother died on their lap with the blood flowing out of their head and they ran and they ran for their lives, it just — it breaks your heart. It breaks your heart to know that this is the collateral damage of war.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Afghan New Yorker Masuda Sultan, speaking to us from Afghanistan. When she returned in January of 2002, she came into our studio and met for the first time Rita Lasar, who lost her brother Abe Zelmanowitz in the World Trade Center attacks. Together, they sat and listened to Masuda’s report to us from Afghanistan, and then we spoke to them. We begin with Rita Lasar.

    RITA LASAR: I was listening to the radio, and the newscaster broke in to say that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center buildings. And I thought, gee, what an accident! And I live on the fifteenth floor and ran to my neighbor’s house, and she has a clear view of downtown Manhattan. And I looked out her window and saw the second plane hit the second building.

    And it dawned on me: my brother works there. My brother’s in that building. And I sort of went crazy. And then I went about the day doing what all those other people did, calling every hospital trying to find out if he had been brought to a hospital. I went down to the hospitals to see if his name was on a list. And then I realized he had died. And because he had stayed behind to stay with his quadriplegic brother — I’m sorry, friend, who couldn’t get out, although he was on the twenty-seventh floor and he could have saved himself, he died.

    AMY GOODMAN: How do you know that? How do you know that story?

    RITA LASAR: He was on the phone with my other brother and my sister-in-law, and he said, “Don’t worry. We’re waiting for the firemen to come. And as soon as they come, they’re going to help Ed and me get out of here.” Ed was in a wheelchair and could not move. But by the time the firemen came, the building collapsed, and it was too late.

    And then President Bush mentioned him in the National Cathedral speech and cited him as being a hero. And I realized that my government was going to use my brother as justification for killing other people. And that had a tremendous impact on me. I didn’t want that to happen, not in my brother’s name. And so, I wrote a letter to the Times, which they printed, asking our government to please be cautious and not do something they couldn’t take back.

    And then I was asked to speak at a peace rally, and I did it. And just before I went on, I was told they had started bombing Afghanistan, and I realized something I had never realized before. I had heard the term “collateral damage” all my life. It was always used about people far away from us. And I realized now what it meant, because my brother was collateral damage in a war that he didn’t want and Masuda’s people didn’t want. And I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know what.

    And then I got a call from this wonderful woman from this marvelous organization called Global Exchange. And she said, “Would you like to go to Afghanistan and meet people like you who have lost their families?” And I thought, that’s perfect, because Masuda and I are the same. There’s no difference between us. My family member died. I’m grieving. And her family — God, I don’t know how you survived, just hearing about yours. But you’re — we’re the same people. And so, I’m going to Afghanistan. I’m going to see the people who have been left behind while their families died, with three other people who have lost family members either in the plane that went down in Pennsylvania or the Pentagon or the World Trade Center. And we’re going to come back here, and we’re going to try to get the American public to open its heart and its wallet for your people, the way they have done for us.

AMY GOODMAN: Rita Lasar lost her brother Abe Zelmanowitz on the twenty-seventh floor of the World Trade Center, September 11th, 2001. He could have gotten out, but he was waiting for the emergency workers to come out to help his friend Ed, who worked next to him at Blue Cross Blue Shield who was a paraplegic. They died together with almost 3,000 other people. And that does it for our broadcast. If you’d like to hear the full conversation between Rita Lasar and Masuda Sultan, Afghan New Yorker, and Rita, you can go to our website at

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