Sunday, September 10, 2006


Thoughts on the Effects of September 11th

It has been five years since the 9/11 attacks. I was not in New York when two hijacked airliners destroyed the World Trade Center buildings. I was living in Texas, working for Dell Inc., as their immigration counsel. However, from 1978 to 1983 and again from 1985 to 1988, I worked in and in buildings immediately around the WTC, knew many people who worked there and frequently visited the restaurants and shops in the shopping arcade at the bottom.

In fact my current office location, One Liberty Plaza, is where I started my practice in 1978 and is directly overlooking ground zero.

When I returned to New York to live in 2002 and made my first visits downtown to the WTC area, it was not the hole in the ground that caught my attention. No disrespect meant, but if you come upon Ground Zero now that it is cleaned up, and somehow don't know the significance, it is just that: A huge excavation waiting for something.

Rather, it was the immense emptiness in the air above Ground Zero that virtually overwhelmed me.

Spending any time in the financial district in the 1970's, and until September 11, 2001, meant that your physical surroundings were dominated by the WTC. There is no way of conveying just how gigantic those two buildings were. To stand near the centuries-old St. Paul's church and look through "their" space all the way to the World Financial Center Buildings (built on the landfill created by "their" construction) causes me a disorienting feeling even today.

As far as I know, I did not know anyone who died on 9/11. However, when you start taking account of friends of friends and relatives, the number of people I know who were affected starts spiraling upward.

I wanted to make clear that I understand fully the concerns of the government to make this country as safe as possible from terrorist attack. However, I feel that in the initial frenzy, even panic, to prevent further attacks and make the country safer, reason and some of our fundamental values are getting lost. The latest indications of this are first, the decision of the House Republication Leadership's to dump Comprehensive Immigration Reform altogether and work on passing a border security measure instead. Second, is the Bush administration's attempt to get Congressional authorization for military tribunals to try "terrorists." This comes after the President's admission (of what everyone seems to have known for some time) that individuals are being held in secret CIA administered prisons around the globe.

We've lost sight of two basic reasons for this country's existence. First, that it is an immigrant nation. Its culture and natonal profile are defined by the contributions of immigrants. In saying this I count everyone from the original colonists, and African slaves and early Europeans to the more recent Latinos, Asians, Indians, Muslims and on and on. Our history has been a continual process of immigration and that is not going to stop no matter how high the walls are built.

Second, the United States is built on the notion that it is better than other countries. Why? Because it is based on rule by consent of the governed. We the people run the government, not a king or a dictator. Because we rule the country, we've given ourselves basic rights (in some cases by way of the Supreme Court) that the government may not touch. These include freedom of expression, freedom of religion and of association and of privacy. It also guarantees due process under the law and the right to be presumed innocent before proven guilty. Anyone who has observed how some other countries are run should give thanks every day for living a country where the rule of law governs.

Apparently it is to avoid these safeguards that the government is setting up "military tribunals" in Cuba to try terrorists. Yes, we consider ourselves the good guys and we're just trying to protect our homeland; but with every "terrorist" kept in a secret prison or tried by a military tribunal; with each debate on how high to build the wall on our borders or how many more guards to hire; with every email or telephone call that is intercepted or investigated in the name of national security, small parts of our country's culture and our basic guarantees of freedom are being chipped away. We should be vigilant and careful about the safety of ourselves and all of fellow Americans, citizens or not, but we should also be extremely vigilant, careful and fearful of losing those parts of our nation's heritage that are most precious.


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