Monday, September 11, 2006

Remains of the Day

Well...it's that day again. Half a decade after multiple terrorist attacks on the United States and still reconstruction is unfinished. Today we are predicted to see the most nakededly partisan and morally disgusting use of the 9/11 attacks: "[Bush] is intending to line up 9/11 families to accuse McCain, Warner and Graham of delaying justice for the perpetrators of that atrocity, because they want to uphold the ancient judicial traditions of the U.S. military and abide by the Constitution" It seems that the real news of the president's speech last Wednesday was that it would actually legalize torture, prevent the Supreme Court from striking it down, and even create a special CIA unit to perfect it. Will someone please demand some specifics from the president? I want to hear the words 'waterboarding' and 'cold cell' in these questions. If he wants to make an end-run around Geneva, he should damn well say so in plain English. It is amazing that in these five years we have gotten to a point where people are risking their careers just to say that a defendant should see the evidence against him before he is secretly sentences to death. As Ben Franklin said,
"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
Once again, the 9/11 families will have their desire for justice exploited and used as an argument for the legalization of torture, guilty until proven innocent courts, and war crime impunity for his pals. In fact, these 'alternative' methods make prosecution of the 9/11 plotters more difficult,as evidence procure through torture inadmissible and an affront to centuries of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. In fact, I think it would be something you be more likely to find under Sharia law. This works out to an AlQaeda PR victory if such sham trials take the place of our rational judgment. Proof that the first priority of these people has always been power at any price, and not keeping America safe. Meanwhile, as Democrats will get painted as best buddies with KSM, the threat of an indefinite vacation at Camp Gitmo, without charge or due process gets expanded to snatch more people in this country. The Administration is giving Osama, the mastermind of that day's events, as much time and space as he needs, as the trail goes cold because they are too involved in Iraq to notice.

By many visible measures, the US still has not recovered psychically from that day. Even the implacable spirit of New Yorkers is not enough to counter the waves of fear coming from the rest of square-state America. And back in Manhattan, the 16-acre gaping wound remains open and festering with toxic upheavals. On July Fourth two years ago, eight weeks before the Republican National Convention in New York City, Gov. George E. Pataki traveled from the Hamptons summer home of his senior economic adviser, Charles A. Gargano, to the dusty crater in the center of Lower Manhattan. The governor of New York then laid the cornerstone of the rebuilding proposal, the 1776-ft tall Freedom Tower. In the two years since, that cornerstone has been removed and recut, as those plans were torn up and been drastically revised several more times.

Many things have been planned for the site: a memorial, a set of cultural buildings, a transportation center, several office buildings, and a shopping center. All of these are unlikely to appear as planned. A host of objections, from unsatisfied families to uneasy security experts to miserly public officials, have hammered at the project designers. As the NYT said,
"Where some saw Rockefeller Center or Lincoln Center or Grand Central Terminal, others saw Gettysburg."
The new design has nineteen floors encased in solid concrete, a nearly windowless expanse two hundred feet high. Although perhaps sadly necessary, it seems further mocking irony to a building which is to advertise the virtues of a free society. There was no leadership on this issue: the mayor was busy trying to build a football stadium on the West Side, he didn't care as long as Wall St was open; the governor tried to wash his hands of it outside of a photo op or two; Giuliani was too busy dreaming about being president; the governor of nearby New Jersey was too preoccupied trying to stay in the closet. The site has become yet another NYC real-estate drama, as millions of square feet of unused office space take the place of housing in Lower Manhattan.It should be enough to point out that about as many American lives have been lost in Iraq as were lost in the towers. No one is even sure how many Afghani civilians have died since that day. We know that about 350,000 people, both foreigners and natives, have had their phone calls listened to by illegal government surveillance. Only about 25 abductions (and 'renditions' unto torture-loving tyrannies) of foreign nationals have been conclusively documented, although by Amnesty International estimates this number will one day rise to the hundreds. The cost of being in Iraq, far from being recouped by oil profits, is costing about $200 million a day with a projected total cost of $2 trillion. That presuming it will ever end, which the president with his permanent bases seems unlikely to acquiesce to.

More than any other issue, it is the US invasion of Iraq that has separated the US from the rest of world after September 11th. It has also divided the United States internally, weakened its capacity to deal with the threat of extremist Islamic terror, and made a mockery of US power. The latest revelation that Donald Rumsfeld actually threatened to fire any subordinate who tried to come up with a post-invasion occupation confirms this grim truism.

As for Afghanistan, the war which has been all but forgotten, the people have turned against us because of the need to pursue the war on drugs over the war on terrorism. Britsh and American military forces in conjunction with the sinister PMC DynCorp have been systemically destroying the fields of the poorest farmers there. The Taliban revival is directly related to these short-sighted crop eradication efforts.

My own personal memories of the day in question are not that extensive: it was a Tuesday IIRC, and I was living at the time in a residence hall at the University of Massachusetts. I was on my way to breakfast at the cafeteria when two of the lesbians on my floor called out to me from their room. They were glued to their television and they invited me in to watch with a 'you're not going to believe this...' it must have been something big if they were inviting me to watch. After a hour of people waking up to this dawning horror, including the second plane and the collapse, I went outside to try to make it to my course. The professor, John McCarthy had postponed coursework so that we could talk about what was really on our minds. We got about fifteen minutes into this, when a classmate from NY told us all about her missing father. Professor McCarthy dismissed us all almost immediately after she said that. My father was scheduled to go to the WTC that Friday, as part of a counterterrorism project, a fact which I find horrible and ironic. I'm glad my family didn't have to suffer that day, as the family of the 343 dead firemen and police officers did. Its hard to say too much about the tragedy itself, especially anything that hasn't been said before and with more poignancy.

There are better ways to insure that no other families will have a day like that. The biggest still, in my mind, would be to make a wholesale switch away from petroleum. If we had spent the Iraq War trillions on this goal, we could be focusing on ports and borders of our own country. Accepting current war estimates, going electric in our transportation would have costed less than half of what we are throwing away in the desert and this plan promises something the Iraq War was supposed to deliver, namely cheaper gas prices. One thing we now know is that anybody who talks about reducing oil use without mentioning some form of electrification is just wasting your time. Someday we may be able to look at this time and dismiss the era of terror with alacrity. But not today.

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