Monday, January 30, 2006

Assessing America’s Greatest Threat

Debra Burlingame, sister of Charles “Chic” Burlingame, the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, writes this in Opinion Journal today:

One of the most excruciating images of the September 11 attacks is the sight of a man who was trapped in one of the World Trade Center towers. Stripped of his suit jacket and tie and hanging on to what appears to be his office curtains, he is seen trying to lower himself outside a window to the floor immediately below. Frantically kicking his legs in an effort to find a purchase, he loses his grip, and falls.

That horrific scene and thousands more were the images that awakened a sleeping nation on that long, brutal morning. Instead of overwhelming fear or paralyzing self-doubt, the attacks were met with defiance, unity and a sense of moral purpose. Following the heroic example of ordinary citizens who put their fellow human beings and the public good ahead of themselves, the country's leaders cast aside politics and personal ambition and enacted the USA Patriot Act just 45 days later.

A mere four-and-a-half years after victims were forced to choose between being burned alive and jumping from 90 stories, it is frankly shocking that there is anyone in Washington who would politicize the Patriot Act. It is an insult to those who died to tell the American people that the organization posing the greatest threat to their liberty is not al Qaeda but the FBI. Hearing any member of Congress actually crow about "killing" or "playing chicken" with this critical legislation is as disturbing today as it would have been when Ground Zero was still smoldering. Today we know in far greater detail what not having it cost us.

Critics contend that the Patriot Act was rushed into law in a moment of panic. The truth is, the policies and guidelines it corrected had a long, troubled history and everybody who had to deal with them knew it. The "wall" was a tortuous set of rules promulgated by Justice Department lawyers in 1995 and imagined into law by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Conceived as an added protection for civil liberties provisions already built into the statute, it was the wall and its real-world ramifications that hardened the failure-to-share culture between agencies, allowing early information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi to fall through the cracks. More perversely, even after the significance of these terrorists and their presence in the country was known by the FBI's intelligence division, the wall prevented it from talking to its own criminal division in order to hunt them down.

Furthermore, it was the impenetrable FISA guidelines and fear of provoking the FISA court's wrath if they were transgressed that discouraged risk-averse FBI supervisors from applying for a FISA search warrant in the Zacarias Moussaoui case. The search, finally conducted on the afternoon of 9/11, produced names and phone numbers of people in the thick of the 9/11 plot, so many fertile clues that investigators believe that at least one airplane, if not all four, could have been saved.

Ms. Burlingame goes on to point out how a lot of the tragedy that was 9/11, could have been averted had the provisions of the Patriot Act been in effect at the time and also how the press once considered the intelligence available at the time to be “missed opportunities” instead of “domestic spying”.

She also makes this key point:

More Americans should not die because the peace-at-any-cost fringe and antigovernment paranoids still fighting the ghost of Nixon hate George Bush more than they fear al Qaeda. (Emphasis mine)

In have their cake and eat it too fashion, the anti-war crowd and some members of Congress who once claimed we “failed to connect-the-dots”, now want to take away the pencil and still be able to hold the Bush Administration responsible the next time the dots aren’t connected. You can’t have it both ways!

To some people, politics trumps everything, including our very survival!

An underlying reason why they hate George Bush more than they fear al Qaeda is because they are victims of a self-imposed amnesia. They’ve blocked out the very events that started it all. They’ve either forgotten what happened on 9/11 or they simply don’t care. The media, whether intentional or accidental, has aided them in their cause by refusing to replay the footage of that tragic day in our history.

I admit that I too, secretly wished the networks and cable news outlets would stop showing the footage from that day because it was too painful to watch. I have since realized that I have never been more wrong in my entire life than I was when I made that wish. America needs to see the footage precisely because it’s too painful to watch. Without that constant reminder of what was taken from us that day, fringe groups and overly partisan politicians have been able to garner more support than otherwise would have been possible.

Most Americans seem to remember that day with great clarity and don’t need a constant reminder to remain eternally vigilant. Others seem to have forgotten our nation’s resolve and determination to stand together as one and defeat the enemy in the days following the attacks. They need a visual reminder of just who the real enemy is. They need to see the explosions. They need to see the jumpers who had to choose between two equally horrible deaths and be forced to make that decision for themselves. They need to put themselves at Ground Zero and decide whether their decision to make political hay out of tragedy is tenable or disgusting. They need to see the footage! Every last frame of it!

If they can do this and still see political opportunity, then they should consider their patriotism to have been officially questioned and be willing to accept the consequences that come with those actions.

Ms. Burlingame sums it up brilliantly:

The public has listened to years of stinging revelations detailing how the government tied its own hands in stopping the devastating attacks of September 11. It is an irresponsible violation of the public trust for members of Congress to weaken the Patriot Act or jeopardize the NSA terrorist surveillance program because of the same illusory theories that cost us so dearly before, or worse, for rank partisan advantage. If they do, and our country sustains yet another catastrophic attack that these antiterrorism tools could have prevented, the phrase "connect the dots" will resonate again--but this time it will refer to the trail of innocent American blood which leads directly to the Senate floor.

Read the whole thing.

Captain Ed has more.

Others: Stop the ACLU, Tiger Hawk, Sister Toldjah, In The Bullpen, Junkyard Blog

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