I remember Washington the way it was on the day that our nation was attacked. I remember listening to my car radio on the way to work, and hearing that a “small” plane had collided with the Twin Towers in my home city of New York. I remember gathering with my co-workers to watch the event unfold on TV. I remember going to the roof of our office building to watch the smoke rising from the Pentagon. I remember hearing that another hijacked plane was heading to Washington, maybe to the White House, only four blocks from our office, an intended missile that never came to us because we later learned that it was brought down by courageous passengers in rural Pennsylvania.
I remember hearing rumors of more attacks—bombings at the State Department, in Metro subway stations, rumors that were not true, but we didn’t know that then. I remember not knowing what to tell our employees to do—go home, stay in the office until we got further word? Nothing in my training had prepared me for my city being under possible attack. I remember the traffic gridlock as millions tried to flee. I remember the eerily empty streets of DC, many hours after the traffic finally cleared and people hid in their homes.
I remember the helicopters endlessly circling the city. I remember days later, when we were able to return to work, seeing the intersections of the nation’s capital patrolled by tanks and National Guards troops with automatic weapons, something I never expected to see in my life. And I remember a few days later, taking Amtrak to an ACP chapter meeting in Connecticut, looking out the window as we passed Manhattan, and seeing through my tears the smoking, gaping hole where the World Trade Center once stood.
And I remember trying to make sense of the senseless to my young children, age 12, 10 and 8, trying to reassure them that they were safe when in my heart I was never sure we’d ever feel safe again.
Now the man who introduced fear into my children’s lives is gone. I applaud our intelligence officers, our brave Navy Seals, and our presidents, Obama and Bush, who pursued Osama bin Laden with patience and relentlessness. I yearn for the sense of unity that our country had after 9/11, even as I know that we will soon be back to arguing about health care and the budget. Our national unity over the death of bin Laden already is being threatened by a growing debate over whether the intelligence that led to his capture was derived, in part, from “extraordinary interrogation” methods authorized by President Bush but defined as torture by many human rights advocates and repudiated by President Obama. ACP, for its part, is among those that have said that waterboarding and other forms of torture can never be justified.
I don’t know if we are safer today than 48 hours ago, but I feel safer with bin Laden gone. I don’t know if our country will ever be able to square its adherence to liberty and the rule of law with the temptation to use whatever methods are available to protect ourselves, even when they violate the same liberties and rule of law we are trying to protect.
Years from now, I will remember the day that I learned that justice was served with the death of Osama bin Laden. It doesn’t erase the memories of that terrible September when we were under attack, but maybe now the memories of September 11 no longer will rekindle in me the same degree of fear and uncertainty.
Today’s question: What are your reflections on what bin Laden’s passing means for America?