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Remembered Sept. 11 must go beyond 'War on Terror'
by David J. Raymond, Opinion editor emeritus

It has been a year since the tragedies of New York City and Washington, D.C., brutally reminded Americans just how dangerous a place the world has become. It has been said that after Sept. 11, everything changed.

But did it?

Swiftly, the Bush administration proclaimed that the United States was embroiled in a “War on Terrorism,” as if Sept. 11 were the first attack on American people and interests around the world. In quick order, a military campaign was successfully mounted against Afghanistan, whose brutal Taliban regime had for years provided shelter for the Al-Queda terrorist network.

In short order both were routed from their strongholds and a “free” government installed in that unhappy land.

Does that mean that we have won the “War on Terrorism”? American troops still remain in Afghanistan, searching the mountainous interior for Taliban and Al-Queda loyalists. The present Afghan government claims to enjoy popular support, although it is worth nothing that an Afghan vice-president was recently assassinated and that the Afghan president does not travel outside Kabul without a bodyguard of American soldiers. To a certain extent, this can be attributed to the history of that divisive land, but it also suggests that the present government was not as freely elected and widely supported as American media would have us believe.

Despite the death or capture of hundreds of Al-Queda supporters, the network itself apparently remains intact, operating in areas ranging from Sudan to the Philippines, and its leader, Osama bin Laden, remains at large. (There are conflicting reports, but if he is dead, that fact has not been confirmed.) In this country, thousands have been questioned and an unknown number have been detained. The trial of the suspected surviving 9-11 terrorist began badly, yet it is still hoped that some details will be made known by the “20th terrorist.”

One result of the attacks of Sept. 11 is that increased attention has been given to domestic security. This is particularly true for our nation’s airports, which have long been a metaphor for lax, if not grossly incompetent, security. The solution has been to federalize the current personnel, presumably under the notion that government authority will make them more attentive employees.

new Cabinet-level post has been created, but without the authority to control the two major intelligence agencies; namely the FBI and CIA. As it is becoming evident that interagency rivalries between the latter contributed to the success of the terrorist attack, it can be argued that part of the danger facing America comes not from without, but rather from within.

And it still does.

Hardly a week passes without a dire, if somewhat vague warning of possible terrorist attacks based on unspecified evidence provided by unknown sources. This has become a trademark for the current administration, which seems to covet secrecy in nearly all its dealings.

In fact, this “War on Terrorism,” despite initial success, seems to be assuming the pattern of other, earlier “wars”—on poverty, drugs, and crime—and is on the verge of becoming merely a sound byte masking more political concerns. It is no coincidence that many of the programs that had been on the White House agenda prior to Sept. 11 are now part of the “War on Terror,” although it remains unclear just how a missile defense shield will protect against a typically low-tech terrorist attack such as those experienced through and including Sept. 11. Also, the administration’s preoccupation with Iraq continues apace, despite the singular lack of support from even America’s staunchest allies. To be certain, Iraq’s refusal to allow UN weapon inspections and their long-standing claim on Kuwait confirms them as a regional threat. Still, as the possibility of renewed conflict with Iraq looms, one must wonder if this has less to do with preserving the peace than with pursuing a family vendetta.

Thus, one year after the attacks that shocked the nation, it is unclear if the “War on Terror” is more fact than cliché. The liberation of Afghanistan and the apparent routing of Al-Queda appear small reward for the resources expended and lives lost. The show trials of a few hapless individuals provide little compensation for the gradual, but steady erosion of civil rights that have taken place over the past 12 months. Efforts to increase security have been largely superficial and arbitrary in nature, reflecting the classic governmental solution to problems; increase the reach and scope of bureaucracy.

Until recently, the understandable desire to demonstrate national solidarity in the face of crisis has kept the president’s approval rating high. However, recent corporate scandals and the flagging economy have eaten into those numbers, while encouraging criticism from the opposition. Although such tardy efforts have little moral authority, the response from the administration has been to make the less-than-revealing statement that some Congressmen might be less than truthful, and to suggest that any criticism of the president be considered treason.

The world has changed since Sept. 11. Many Americans feel less secure, less certain about what had been taken for granted: that we are somehow set apart from the perils of the world. It is in such times that many look to our elected leaders for assurance and guidance. However, after initial exemplary efforts, the administration appears on the verge of using the “War on Terror” as a shield to deflect legitimate questioning of policy, both foreign and domestic.

The show trials of a handful of hapless terrorists or crooked corporate CEOs cannot, and should not, interfere with the public’s right to know. Our grief over the loss of innocents and our desire for justice (or revenge) should not be construed as a blank check for arbitrary action or as freedom from criticism. To quote the famous line, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Let that concept be applied within as well as without. By preserving and exercising our treasured freedoms and liberties we can honor the victims of 9-11 and assure our eventual victory in the “War on Terror.”


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