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John Vick: September 11, 2001 — Never Forget

20 Years Later

This week’s column is dedicated to the 344 firefighters and paramedics and the 71 law enforcement officers who died on 9/11. May we never forget that they ran toward the danger, not away from it. May God bless America.

It is estimated that one-quarter of all Americans are too young to remember the events of September 11, 2001. Those who do remember have that day book-marked in their memory. Who can forget the awful imagery of those beautiful twin-towers, smoking and burning and finally collapsing into a giant pile of rubble? You can’t un-see the horror of people jumping to their deaths to avoid the fire and knowing that thousands more were entombed when the towers collapsed. A total of 2,996 people died on 9/11, of whom 2,605 were U.S. citizens. If a book had been written foretelling the 9/11 tragedy, it would have been labeled “fiction.”

The twin towers of the World Trade Center prior to 9/11.
Photo: VOANEWS.COM

For a few months after the attacks, America was united, much the same as it was after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, the fight against terrorism is ongoing and likely to continue for many years. The tragedy of 9/11 was an open wound on America’s psyche but time has dulled the pain for many. That said, we must never forget.

Looking back on the 20 years that have passed since 9/11, one would like to be optimistic and say that lessons were learned and that mistakes won’t be repeated. That can hardly be the case, especially in light of the recent events in Afghanistan.

Who can forget the look on the face of President George W. Bush when he was informed of the attacks? What was supposed to be a pleasant trip to Florida to promote his No Child Left Behind education reform program turned out to be a “nationally televised, breaking-news” story.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 have been called the defining point of the Bush Presidency. Less than a month after the attacks, the President launched Operation Enduring Freedom, an attempt to find the terrorists and close down their safe haven in Afghanistan. That operation just ended after 20 long years of fighting which resulted in the loss of almost 2,500 of our best and brightest military service men and women. Almost $2 trillion in American dollars was poured into Afghanistan during the war. It turned out to be the longest combat operation in our nation’s history. Some good things happened over those 20 years but the war ended for now with the Taliban, the same radical Islamic group that allowed terrorists a safe base from which to operate back in charge of Afghanistan.

In 2002, the President signed into law two pieces of legislation that sought to prevent future attacks like those of 9/11. The first established The Department of Homeland Security  as a cabinet level department. It was charged with the prevention of terror attacks, border security, immigration and customs and disaster relief and prevention.

A few days later, President Bush signed a bill establishing the bipartisan “9/11 Commission,” which was tasked with investigating the events leading up to 9/11.

The commission released their findings in 2004. The report determined that the terrorist leader of al Qaida, Osama bin Laden, had been the mastermind behind the attacks. Commission members also determined that the chief architect of the 9/11 attacks was Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Osama bin Laden received justice when he was killed in a surprise raid inside Pakistan in 2011. Khalid Sheik Mohammed is yet to receive justice and is still held in a special prison at the U.S base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The commission also found “no credible evidence” that any foreign government was directly involved in the attacks although it cited the need for further study in the case of Iran. It’s worth noting that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi nationals but the commission found no evidence that the Saudi government was involved. A large portion of the commission’s report remains classified and it is believed that part of the report might shed further light on the Saudis’ involvement.

During the years since the attacks of 9/11, congress has passed many laws aimed at improving the security and counterterrorism shortcomings cited in the report. These laws may have prevented another large-scale attack like 9/11 but our government has steadily eroded our personal freedoms. It’s widely accepted that the National Security Agency [NSA] monitors most all of our communications. Anyone who takes a commercial flight is now subjected to more intensive electronic screening and sometimes even personal pat-downs. That is not to say that new security measures were not needed to prevent another 9/11 but at what cost to our personal liberties?

— John Vick

[Sources: Wikipedia; history.com; Encyclopedia Britannica; americanhistory.edu, “September 11 – Bearing Witness to History”]