September 08, 2011

TEN YEARS LATER: SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

A Day that Forever Changed our Nation & the World

Mr. CARDIN.  Mr. President, I rise today to join my colleagues in commemorating the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.  I remember that morning so vividly.  It was stunningly clear and beautiful with a crispness in the air that hinted that fall was just around the corner.  And then, with a sudden ferocity, the airliners crashed into the World Trade Center (WTC), the Pentagon, and Somerset County, Pennsylvania.  Barely two hours elapsed between the first hijacking and the collapse of the North Tower of the WTC.  Two horrific hours that forever changed our nation and the world.

We mourn the lives that were lost in New York City, here in the Washington metropolitan area, and in Pennsylvania. The emotional trauma of those loses affected each and every American.  Millions of us remained glued to our TV sets, watching unbearable images of death and destruction.

We remember the 3,000 people who perished on 9/11.  The attacks spared no one: blacks, whites, Christians, Jews, and Muslims; the young and old; parents, children, siblings; Americans and foreigners – all these and more were among the victims.  The attack was not on one ethnic group, but on a way of life.  It was an attack on our freedom, and our dedication to its preservation.

We honor the selfless actions of our first responders, including firefighters, police, paramedics, and other emergency and medical personnel.  All of whom did not hesitate to answer the call of duty and demonstrated extraordinary bravery and courage in our hours of need.

We also honor our brave servicemen and women who have taken the fight to the terrorists on foreign soil.  We must never forget our country’s solemn obligation to our servicemen and women, our veterans, and their families.

There is no question that 9/11 and the days that followed were difficult ones.  But they were also among our proudest ones.  It brought out the best of the American spirit.  Men and women waited in lines for hours to give blood, children donated their savings to help with relief efforts,, communities sponsored clothing drives, and different faith groups held interfaith services.

On 9/11 and in the days and months that followed, Americans stood together.  Our response showed the world that Americans have an unquenchable love of freedom and democracy.  It showed American resilience, vigilance, and resolve.

Much has changed since that day in September. The 9/11 attacks propelled our nation into a new kind of warfare, unlike any war we have ever fought.  They exposed the scope, depth, and utter ruthlessness of the al Qaeda network.  And the attacks revealed gaps in our national security.  Evolving threats required new tools.

I am proud of how far we have come in addressing the challenge presented by al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations.  While our security networks are far from perfect, in the decade since the 9/11 attacks, we created the Department of Homeland Security to streamline and better integrate the federal departments and agencies responsible for protecting us.  U.S. intelligence and law enforcement at all levels have become much more aggressive in pursuing terrorist threats at home and abroad.  These measures have been largely successful.

And let us remember arguably our greatest success against al Qaeda: President Obama’s bold stroke to bring Osama bin Laden to justice.  The raid was the result of painstaking intelligence gathering and analysis and thorough planning, and it was a remarkable display of our Special Forces capabilities and the extraordinary heroism of our men and women in uniform.

The end of al Qaeda is in sight.  Their future is bleak.  They have far less global impact than they used to.  They cling to an outdated and empty ideology, with little mainstream influence in the Muslim world.  Indeed, the recent Arab Spring demonstrates that people in Middle Eastern countries – especially young people – are more interested in freedom and democracy than in being susceptible to al Qaeda’s repressive ideology.

Even as al Qaeda becomes more and more marginalized, evolving state- and non-state-sponsored threats to our nation’s security persist.  One of our greatest challenges will be securing cyberspace.  The Internet has grown into one of the most remarkable innovations in human history.  But it carries risks.

Our current system allows hackers, spies, and terrorists to gain access to classified and other vital information.  Today’s cyber criminals, armed with the right tools, can steal our identities, corrupt our financial networks, and disrupt government operations. Tackling cyber-security in a meaningful way will fill one the last holes that exist in our national security regime. 

As our government moves to extinguish the remnant of al Qaeda and address new threats, we must strive to maintain a careful balance between protecting our nation and protecting our civil liberties.  Commemorating 9/11 should remind us of what makes us unique as a nation.  Our country’s strength lies in its diversity and our ability to have strongly held beliefs and differences of opinion, while being able to speak freely and not fear that we will be discriminated against by our government or our fellow citizens.

After the 9/11 attacks, I went back to my Congressional District and made three visits as a Congressman.  First, I visited a synagogue and we prayed together.  Then, I visited a mosque and we prayed together.  Finally, I visited a church and we prayed together.  On that day in September, Americans banded together, regardless of our personal belief or religion.

My message that day was clear: we needed to condemn the terrorist attacks and to take all necessary measures to eliminate safe havens for terrorists and bring them to justice.  But my other message that day was equally important: we cannot allow the events of 9/11 to make us demonize a particular religion, nationality, creed, or community.  In these trying times, we cannot let our society succumb to the temptation to scapegoat one group. 

We did it before – with the Palmer Raids following World War I, the internment of 120,000 Japanese-American citizens during World War II, and the McCarthy-era witch hunts.  These were shameful events of our history.  We must strive to live up to our Nation’s highest ideals and protect our precious civil liberties, even when doing so is difficult or unpopular.  We must always remember how we stood united on 9/11 and showed the world the depth of our commitment to “E Pluribus Unum.”  Out of many, one.

Our many faiths, origins, and appearances should bind us together, not break us apart.  They should be a source of strength and enlightenment, not discord and enmity.  All of us belong to smaller communities within the larger community we call the United States.  Each community has an obligation to the larger community to promote the safety and well-being of each and every one of us.  There is a mutual self-interest in preserving and nurturing our freedom.

September 11, 2001 was a dark day.  We remember those who perished and mourn with those who lost family and friends.  We honor those who responded and those who fought and continue to fight to keep us safe.

Archibald MacLeish wrote, “There are those who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind, is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American dream.”  9/11 was a nightmare.  As horrific and cruel as it was, however, it can’t extinguish the dream.