Tuesday, August 11, 2009

9/11 Anniversary a Sober Reminder to Be Ready

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, just minutes after two jetliners slammed through towers I and II of the World Trade Center, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, I, and several others stopped at a temporary command post on West Street to survey the damage of the two buildings.

We met with Sgt. John Coughlin of the NYPD’s Emergency Service Unit and three of the most experienced men in the New York City Fire Department: First Deputy Commissioner William Feehan, Chief of Department Peter Ganci, and Chief of Operations Raymond Downey. They were standing beneath two of the largest buildings in the world that had just been devastated by terror, yet didn’t blink an eye. I was encouraged by their determination and humbled by their bravery. As we walked away from them, the Fire Department’s legendary chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, blessed us with the sign of the cross.

It was the last time I would see them alive.

As we approach the eighth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, I think of those men and the other men and women like them, who sacrificed their lives to save others. I think of the innocents in the buildings and planes, and those we lost at the Pentagon and in Shanksville.

More so, I think of how this particular anniversary should be an overwhelming reminder to all of us that an attack like this can happen again, even eight years later!

It was just over eight years between the first bombing of the World Trade Center on Feb. 26, 1993 and the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. It was eight months into President George W. Bush’s first term, when we realized that the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans no longer protected us from the elements of war. We also learned of a new enemy that very few Americans had even heard of.

Osama bin Laden, radical Muslim extremism, and al-Qaida became household words overnight, as the fear of another attack lingered. We learned that this evil and unconventional enemy does not differentiate between civilian and military targets and has no limits in when it comes to mass murder and the annihilation of its enemy, including innocent women and children. We have since learned that it has no real leadership, is not run by an identifiable government, is larger in numbers than our enemies of World War II and has the ability to penetrate our international borders as well as to infiltrate our communities within.

So, here we are eight years after the infamous attacks on 9/11, and eight months into a new president’s administration, exactly where we were in 2001. Al-Qaida and Muslim extremism still threaten our nation, and our war against terror continues, both here and abroad.

Are we better off today than we were on Sept. 10, 2001?

The answer is yes we are — much better. But as we approach this eighth anniversary, we must also admit that we could be in a far better position today if our political leadership would put an end to partisan politics and look out for us as much as they do themselves.

The information age has brought us a far more educated terrorist, one who has access to the Internet and the international press and media so they are watching every move we make, just about in real time.

Our government’s operational secrecy seems almost impossible at times due to leaks of classified information and material. Some blame the journalists; I blame the traitors who release the information in the first place, because besides breaking the law, they jeopardize our national security as well as the lives of the men and women on the front line in this war.

As if that isn’t frightening enough, our political leadership today seems determined to keep the halls of Congress in chaos, focusing on partisan politics while failing to get anything accomplished. The better and brighter members of the House — Democrats and Republicans alike — are being stymied by those whose efforts are focused more on looking out for themselves, ingratiating themselves with a new president, or getting themselves re-elected.

The CIA director is complaining that partisan politics are interfering with operational capabilities and deteriorating the morale of the men and women who place themselves in harms way daily in their fight for our freedom, and the freedom of others.

The Department of Defense has been requested to redirect funds intended for the war, to fund such things as four jets at a total cost of over $500 million that would be used specifically for House members to travel around the world. Some of the same members of Congress who endorsed the purchase of the new aircraft ridiculed and lambasted senior officials of the auto industry when they traveled to Washington, D.C. for hearings. Talk about a hypocrisy.

If reports are accurate, 10 lawmakers — six Democrats and four Republicans — spent 11 days on an international junket in some of the most breathtaking spots on earth, diving and snorkeling at Australia's Great Barrier Reef, watching New Year's fireworks in New Zealand, and sleeping in a luxury Hawaiian hotel. They claimed it was a fact-finding mission to study climate change.

The cost to taxpayers: $500,000.

If House and Senate members are accountable to no one in their own organizations or parties, perhaps the American people need to pay closer attention to what’s going on. Perhaps we should be looking at term limits in the House and Senate . . . maybe we would get a lot more done, particularly by those politicians who in their second term would have nothing to lose. Perhaps then they would act in our best interest.

As it stands today, the ruling party blames the other for past and present failures, and when their incompetence becomes so transparent that their political poll numbers begin to plummet, they all blame the president.

Failure and incompetency in government should not be tolerated at any level, particularly when it comes to our national security. However, our present system seems to allow incompetency through this blame game, preventing real results.

If we learned anything from the attacks of 9/11, we learned that the people and groups that carried out the attacks have enormous patience. They toyed with us between 1993 and 2001 with the bombings of the Al Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the USS Cole in Yemen.

Today, North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela continue their threats against us and our supporters, while bin Laden and his band of thugs pursue their promise of an attack far more spectacular than Sept. 11.

With that in mind, I have to wonder if our national security is where it should be today and are our domestic and international intelligence programs running efficiently? Are there accountability programs in place to ensure we’re not missing things as a result of interagency strife or turf wars as we have in the past? Do the men and women in our armed forces have the equipment they need to fight this war and keep them safe? How about our federal and local law enforcement agencies — do they have the tools they need to get the job done? And can we guarantee that the president is going to be given accurate and real-time information to make the decisions he must to protect our homeland?

Personally, I find it amazing that President Barack Obama’s directive to close down Guantanamo Bay hasn’t already been accomplished because we still don’t have a plan in place as to what we are going to do with the prisoners.

Are we going to try them in special military courts or civilian courts on U.S. soil? Are we trying them as enemy combatants of the U.S. — which they are, or are we trying them as violators of U.S. criminal law? If we’re not holding them at Guantanamo, where are they going and more importantly, do we then have the right by law to hold them?

What are the real answers and what takes so long to create a plan?

Have we seriously looked at our constitution and the laws of our land, when it comes to dealing with this new enemy and the war against terror? The answer is no, we have not. If we had, the Guantanamo Bay issue and others like it could have been resolved by now.

Our political leadership should have addressed and resolved many of these issues over the past eight years but its self-serving and partisan interests have prevented it from doing so, just as it is today.

When it comes to our national security, this must stop.

As we approach the eighth anniversary of the worst terror attack in our nation’s history — more damaging than that of Pearl Harbor — you have to ask, did we learn our lesson the last time and have we fixed our flaws to make sure it cannot happen again?

We have tried, but not enough.

Just as it was for Bush in 2001, it has been eight years since the last attack on the World Trade Center, and we are now eight months into Obama’s first presidential term.

Will history repeat itself? As someone who lived through it the last time, I pray and hope not.

But being a realist, I know that the enemy, both here and abroad, continues to wait — testing our patience, our courage, and our leadership. It is not if but when the next attack on our country will come. We ignored the warnings after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and never imagined an attack like that of Sept. 11, 2001.

Insist that our lawmakers stop the partisan in-fighting and put our national security before their own self-interests so they can fix the flawed programs and systems before it is too late.
The lives of the American people depend on it.

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