- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2001

My law office until Sept. 11 was on the 54th Floor of One World Trade Center. Fortunately for me, I was just leaving for work at 8:45 that morning when the first strike occurred. My loss was trivial compared to the agony suffered by so many others, some of whom I knew well and many of whom I surely saw every day in the elevators, shops and restaurants in and around the building.

But it was a loss nonetheless. My office was a kind of home. I had views of many New York monuments: the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the United States Courthouse where I had served n the late '60s as an assistant U.S. attorney. For eight years of my life, that was the place where I drafted pleadings, wrote briefs and articles on legal subjects, prepared direct and cross-examinations and tearfully composed the eulogies I delivered for my parents. There I kept the archive and memorabilia of 36 years of practice.

I asked the questions we all have asked. Why the breakdown in security?

Where was the human intelligence or the electronic surveillance that should have tipped us off to this low-tech, high-concept plot? The World Trade Center had in February 1993 been the serious target of an international terror conspiracy determined to bring down this symbol of American economic strength and global enterprise.

For the past decade, something had gone seriously wrong with the enforcement of the immigration laws and the tracking of illegal immigrants. In January 1993, two CIA employees were murdered outside CIA headquarters in Langley.

The convicted murderer, a Pakistani, made a bogus claim for political asylum when his business visa expired. While his application was pending, he purchased the automatic weapons used in the killings. The culprits in the first World Trade Center plot were all Arab extremists, at least five of whom were here illegally.

Back in 1993, journalists and legislators had called for vigorous enforcement of the immigration laws to run background checks on visa applicants, track nonresident aliens during their stay, and provide summary deportation of those who had overstayed tourist visas, misrepresented their purpose in coming or their identity or address. An electronic tracking bill was introduced in Congress but was defeated by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats.

Others had warned in the same period of the breakdown in airport security.

Journalists had successfully smuggled simulated weapons past X-ray machines at La Guardia Airport; lawmakers, such as Sen. Alphonse D'Amato, New York Republican, had decried the lack of training of airport security personnel. The vulnerability of our planes to hijacking was well-known and largely ignored. Small wonder that Mohammed Atta, listed on the CIA "watch list" of terrorists and known by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to be in this country, was permitted to board a plane in Boston under his own name.

In the days since the tragedy, much has happened to U.S. foreign policy.

Military experts say that they suspect that the attack had to be state-sponsored in light of its conception, organization and funding. But they have failed to name a country or countries, and little hard evidence has been made public linking the attack to Osama bin Laden, Iraq the Taliban or anyone else. While our leaders talk of a "new kind of war" and a "long twilight struggle," and rail, quite properly, against "terrorism's attack on our daily life," there is no clear enemy and no clear way forward as to what to do about it. The "new kind of war" is a Sitzkrieg.

The administration's foreign policy shifted on Sept. 11 from a go-it-alone unilateral stance to a multilateral approach that will, according to the defense secretary, "involve floating coalitions of countries which may change and evolve."

What this means exactly remains to be seen. Will our objective be to "end regimes" such as the Taliban that sponsor terrorism, the preliminary Defense Department formulation, or "end terrorism" by pressuring rogue regimes to cast out the terrorists apparently the amended administration strategy?

The president says that countries must decide whether they are with us or with the terrorists. And many purporting to side with us have demanded a quid pro quo arising out of our perceived weakness. The Russians, for example, seek NATO membership. Others, notably the Pakistanis, seek lifting of sanctions and billions in foreign aid. America's entire role in the world seems to have turned on a dime on Sept. 11. The necessary compromises may well prove unpalatable.

So what is to be done? Only one thing is certain. As Mao Tse-tung urged in another context, "Passivity is fatal to us." I would entrust the specific military options to the experts, remembering that in the darkest hour of World War II, Fiorello LaGuardia counseled "patience and fortitude."

Meanwhile, we must find a way to bury our dead. While there have been many ideas as to what should be done at the site rebuild the towers, construct three 50-story office buildings or create a memorial park I would endorse proposals to make the now hallowed ground where once stood the World Trade Center a national cemetery such as we have at Arlington or Normandy. A little piece of every one of us went down with those buildings, and in the words of Abraham Lincoln "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this."

Such a memorial cemetery would represent a symbol of the indomitability of our people, our determination to rebuild and of all that is meant by Western civilization. There, loved ones of the victims could find solace and even closure by placing memorial crosses, stars of David or even simple headstones to remember the place where some 5,200 innocent souls, engaged in a multitude of business pursuits, perished without remains in this "new kind of war."

We all lost a lot on Sept. 11. The daunting task before us is to rebuild a stronger nation out of the rubble and deliver a larger measure of justice and security to all our people.

James D. Zirin is a partner in the New York office of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood LLP. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide