Remembering 9/11: Lost Lives, Lost Opportunities

BY PROFESSOR OGLETREE

On September 11, 2001 Michael Berkeley, 38, went to work early to try to reach a few clients in his investment business. After the first airplane hit the World Trade Center, Michael called his wife, Lourdes, and told her that there was some apparent damage to the building, but that he would be in touch with her later in the morning. Michael’s office was on one of the top floors of the World Trade Center. He was not able to escape. His death was a tragedy for his wife Lourdes, their two young children, and thousands of others like me who considered Michael a cherished friend. Later the same day I received word that some alumni of the University of the District of Columbia, where I serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, also lost their lives as a result of the airplane that crashed into the Pentagon. September 11, 2001 was not just another day for me, it was a sad and regrettable horror that so many innocent victims died as result of the despicable acts of a cowardly group of terrorists.

As citizens of the United States, we all realize that life will never be the same and that September 11, 2001 will be etched in our minds as one of the most significant and painful days in America’s history. As I reflect on these events two years later, I am still dually resolved to punish the terrorists, while also protecting the freedom of all citizens and immigrants for just treatment. Thousands of people were detained after September 11, 2001 and many were held only for immigration violations. Provisions of the Patriot Act deny certain suspects’ access to lawyers, and allow the government to monitor conversations between lawyers and their clients. Of particular concern is that Congress spent little time carrying out its constitutional mandate to carefully examine this very broad piece of anti-terrorism legislation before approval.

America has rallied to demonstrate its patriotism and commitment to democracy in response to these attacks. People have shown their support for the victims and their families by donating millions of dollars, participating in blood drives and seeking to provide emotional support. Americans have indicated their willingness to live their lives in a way to ensure that these events do not happen again. However, as we mobilize to protect national security and identify those responsible, we must remember that in America, we are one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.

Although America’s courage and resilience in such a time of crisis is commendable, certain actions on the part of the various parties, including the government and individual citizens, should give us great pause about the future. What we must avoid is the infringement of the constitutional rights of the innocent in the name of protecting national security.

While it is fitting and appropriate to punish those responsible for the September 11th attacks, we cannot allow these incidents, however appropriate it may seem at the moment, to abandon long-held principles of individual rights and personal security. For the past few weeks, Attorney General John Ashcroft has traversed the country to build support for the Patriot Act and to persuade friendly audiences in private meetings that the Department’s anti-terrorism initiatives are entirely appropriate. While the Patriot Act contains many commendable provisions that strengthen our national and internal defense and give us some comfort in the war against terrorism, it is also a law that gives the government excessive authority to undermine basic human rights, particularly for immigrants.

As Americans we must defend our shores and protect our security without racial profiling and religious arrogance. Far too many individuals of Muslim background have been subjected to both governmental harassment and individual intimidation without justification. One of our central goals after 9/11 must be to understand other cultures and find greater tolerance and acceptance of those who may be different from us.

I shall never forget Michael Berkeley nor the other victims of 9/11. By the same token we all must be vigilant in avoiding the risk of a complete loss of liberty in our zeal to promote national security. We are big enough, smart enough and strong enough to balance liberty and security interests in this great nation and must never shrink from our obligation to serve as a model nation in respecting the rights of others while vigorously defending our shores.

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