- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Almost everyone remembers where they were on a bright, comfortable Tuesday morning six years ago today, when 19 men dispatched by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and armed with boxcutters brought the reality of jihadist terror to our shores. Five terrorists, one pilot and four “muscle hijackers” (used to subdue passengers) hijacked three planes; American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, were flown into the World Trade Center, and American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon. A fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, carrying four hijackers and apparently headed for the U.S. Capitol, crashed into a hillside in southwestern Pennsylvania after a fierce struggle between the terrorists and heroic passengers who stormed the cockpit.

During a period of less than two-and-a-half hours, ending at 10:28 A.M. when the second World Trade Center tower collapsed, nearly 3,000 Americans and foreign nationals were killed — many dying on impact when the planes crashed. On some of the planes, passengers and flight attendants were stabbed to death; as many as 200 people jumped to their deaths from the top floors of the World Trade Center to escape the infernos raging around them. More than 300 firemen and paramedics died in an effort to rescue people trapped inside the World Trade Center.

Six years later, the images of that horrible day remain etched in our memories: the chilling reports that United Airlines and American Airlines were each missing two planes; the gaping hole where Flight 77 struck the Pentagon and set it on fire; the television pictures of Flights 11 and 175 hitting the World Trade Center and the collapse of both towers; and watching pedestrians near Wall Street running away from a massive cloud of dust from the collapse of Twin Towers. Some of the most sobering sounds from that day were the recorded telephone calls from the brave people on the doomed airliners, passengers describing the hijackings and announcing, on Flight 93, their intentions to die fighting the hijackers for control of the plane.

For a brief period after September 11, Americans were more or less united in their determination to defeat the terrorists who attacked us that morning. But six years later, Americans are deeply divided as to the nature of the threat and the danger it poses to our nation. Many Americans, especially in the Democratic Party and on the political left, believe President Bush is exaggerating the magnitude of the terrorist threat — which is why we have such heated debate over issues such as electronic intercepts of terrorist suspects’ conversations, interrogation methods, “secret” CIA prisons, the Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay.

It drives his political adversaries wild, but Mr. Bush says that all of these controversial measures help explain why we have not been attacked again since September 11. Within weeks of the attacks, Congress passed and Mr. Bush signed into law the Patriot Act, the chief feature of which was breaking down the “wall” instituted by the Clinton administration. That wall made it nearly impossible for intelligence agencies and law enforcement to exchange information in terrorism-related investigations. Since September 11, more than 200 persons have been convicted in U.S. courts on terrorism-related charges, and law enforcement officials say that the legislation has been essential in helping them break up terrorist cells in places such as Virginia, New York, Oregon, Washington and Michigan.

The danger in citing the lack of a subsequent attack on American soil as evidence for the success of administration policies is obvious: An attack could happen at any time, and there is no definitive way to know whether we haven’t been hit again because the enemy is taking its time or because we have been much more vigilant for the past six years. It is equally clear that, if America had been hit again, Mr. Bush would bear much of the blame. Whatever the reason, we have been spared the carnage experienced in such places as London, Madrid, Baghdad, Amman and Bali during the past six years. That is why America must remain evermore vigilant.

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