Tag Archives: 9/11

Drone Attacks Against American Citizens? I’m Actually OK with That.

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Readers of this blog probably know that I’ve a philosophical qualm with the notion that the state has the authority to take a citizen’s life. Capital punishment is not a deterrent; the people who commit capital crimes do so under the assumption that they will not be caught and sentenced to death. Individuals who plead guilty often do so under a negotiated plea that guarantees they will not face the death penalty, while many others go to meet their Maker with their throats hoarse from proclaiming their innocence.

Killing a citizen who has actively taken up arms against his or her nation, however, is an altogether different situation.

Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder laid out his case for permitting drone attacks overseas that have targeted and killed at least three U.S. citizens in recent months. These strikes did not target Americans traveling down a highway in Nebraska, but Americans who were actively engaged in hostile activity against their nation on foreign soil among operatives who also have designs against America.

Anwar al-Awlaki

Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born imam killed in an American raid in September 2011 in Yemen. Al-Awlaki was an al-Qaida recruiter tied to the Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood shooting, the Dec. 25, 2009 "Christmas Day Underwear Bomber" incident and the attempted May 2010 car bombing of Times Square. In short, he was a jackass.

As a citizen, taking up arms against the United States is an act of treason. And treason is a crime punishable by death. Period.

This idea stirs fears of an Orwellian universe, where gallows are constructed in public squares for the exhibited execution of private citizens who were deemed hostile—either through their actions or words—to the motivations and machinations of government. That the government would kill a citizen without “due course,” as guaranteed by the Constitution, in an abomination to the mind of my beloved American Civil Liberties Union. And, truly, I understand their concerns. But on this, I disagree.

In many states, domestic violence is treated not simply as a crime against an individual, but as a crime against the state. That removes the burden for law enforcement officers to rely on a victim to press charges in instances of domestic abuse. Rather, the officer is compelled to arrest the aggressor because the state considers itself the victim.

Treason is much the same. The state—in this instance, the United States—is the victim, and as such, so am I. Engaging in armed insurgency against the federal government is sort of a big no-no. Some folks tried it once, and it didn’t end well. And so long as the government is acting within the constraints of the Constitution, you’ve no right to violently oppose it.

(That said, should the government recklessly disregard the Constitution, I will be among assuredly vocal and passionate majority who would protest and rage to protect the document—and the rights to which that document entitle me—that my ancestors also swore and fought to defend. However, Ron Paul is still a quack.)

If you take up arms against the government, even as a citizen, you are an enemy of the state. And the state, just as I, has the right to defend itself. If that means using an anonymous drone to blow you to kingdom-come, so be it, jackass.

In Holder’s view, killing a citizen abroad is within the rights of the government if that citizen poses “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” and that arrest of the citizen “is not feasible.”

“We are at war with a stateless enemy, prone to shifting operations from country to country,” Holder told an audience at the Northwestern University School of Law.

The ACLU argues that it is illegal for the federal government to kill a citizen on a battlefield with no effort made to arrest or indict him or her. I see what they’re getting at. But if I’m in a foxhole and the fellow next to me suddenly decides he’s going to start fighting for the Nazis, I’m not going to Mirandize the son of a bitch; I’m putting a bullet in his brain.

Suffering acts of treason domestically leads to violent acts, such as the destruction of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Suffering acts of treason abroad leads to violent acts, such as the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A citizen who would engage in an effort to undermine the security and welfare of his or her nation does not deserve the blessings of liberty and protection to which citizenship entitles them.

Commit treason, and you will hang.

I am grateful that Anwar al-Awlaqi is dead, and that my government is willing to use such means to protect itself and, by extension, me.

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9/11 — 10 Years

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I was working at the local vet clinic, greeting clients, entering patients’ charts into the system, getting everything ready for the busy day of surgeries and appointments ahead.  One of our regulars called in while our waiting room was hectic and I was helping another client.  Now, this regular usually told outlandish jokes that no one found funny, so you shouldn’t be shocked when I told her, “That’s not funny,” and hung up on her when she began to tell me that one of the twin towers had been struck by an airplane.

I finished checking in my patient and had just waved her owner out the door when one of the technicians came running from the back, urging us to follow him – something big had just happened on the news.  I had already forgotten my crazy, unfunny client on the phone, and so there was no dawning of realization at this moment.  The other receptionist and I followed him obediently into the treatment area and joined the group surrounding the small portable radio sitting on one of the counters.

My client’s news was confirmed on the radio hastily by a big-sounding man.  He was reporting live from the scene, describing destruction and chaos we couldn’t imagine with something akin to excitement in his voice.

Then there was silence.

“Oh my god!  Oh my god!  Another plane has just hit the second tower!  OMIGOD!!”  Our reporter no longer sounded excited, but fearful.

Our office manager walked in as we were being told of this horrific tragedy.  We pulled ourselves from the radio and moved on with our own hectic day.  As the receptionist and fielder of phone calls, I received many from clients, friends and family of coworkers, and my own best friend, relating the news, worrying about loved ones who were currently in NYC or even in one of the towers.  News trickled in about two more planes.  By the time I left for my only Tuesday class at 1:30 p.m., I was in shock – I couldn’t believe such horrible things had happened.

On my way to campus, my best friend called again.  “Classes are canceled.  Wanna get some lunch?”  We ate our greasy pizza and drank our cold beer, as silently as everyone else in Little Italy, as silently as the whole town, as silently as the nation.

9/11 – Empty Sky

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It was a pretty September day. The concrete in the city had finally let go of the heat it had retained for months, so that a cool breeze could at last be felt even at the corner of Courtland and Piedmont.

I was at Georgia State University, and the managing editor of the Signal newspaper on campus. This was a big year for us. We’d begun printing our first color front pages in years, and we’d just launched our first Web site.

At the newspaper office, I was the first one in, and set about opening the shop. I rolled the phones off voicemail, booted up the banks of computers, jimmied the lock on the editor-in-chief’s office and turned on her television.

I sat at one of the Apple G4 computers, clicking through my e-mail when one of the sports writers came in. Strike that – the sports writer. Our sports department consisted of the Martz boys – twin brothers who liked writing about sports and designing their pages, but didn’t like playing with others. (For that year, if you were an aspiring sports journalist at Georgia State, you were out of luck unless you were willing to take whatever one of the Martz boys would give you, which wasn’t much.)

I don’t remember much about this guy, except that he was insufferable. Really, he talked all the time about things no one cared about. I can’t even remember what he talked about. That’s what I thought of him. Still alone in the office, I finally told him he’d have to excuse himself because I had to go to class and I’d have to lock up the office until another editor arrived. He picked up his bag and began to leave.

“By the way,” he said, “did you hear that someone crashed into the World Trade Center?”

“A truck?” I asked.

“No, just a plane,” he said.

“Oh. Probably one of those tourist planes got a little too eager,” I said.

He agreed, and left. I grabbed my back and locked the door. Down the hall from our newspaper office on campus was a television lounge. It was usually empty. It was also where a lot of homeless people went to watch TV and sleep. Students didn’t use it much.

This morning, it was packed.

Windows from the lounge looked out on the hall. I stopped and looked through them at the television. There was a gaping hole in the side of one of the towers, billowing black smoke and flames. “Damn,” I thought. “Helluva’ tourist plane.”

My timing was dead on. As I watched, just about to leave for class, the second plane hit. It wasn’t a single-engine tourist plane like I’d thought. It was a big, shiny jetliner that exploded on impact.

My view was obscured by everyone in the lounge jumping to their feet at once. Words like “Jesus!” and “shit!” and “holy Jesus shit!” filled the halls.

This was different.

I went back to the newspaper office and unlocked the door. I’d left the television on in the editor-in-chief’s office, but oddly had it tuned to one of the only channels that wasn’t broadcasting from the roof of a building overlooking the World Trade Center. One click fixed that.

I got on the horn and started calling folks. Something I’d remarked about before was the oddly high number of New Yorkers I had on my newspaper staff at the time. I liked them, because they were true urbanites. I’d grown up on an old farm; the city was strange to me. I surrounded myself with people who considered Woodruff Park to be “woods.” These were people who drove down alleys and cut through parking decks when you rode with them as part of their drive home, and didn’t consider this strange at all.

I opened up our phone lines for our writers to phone relatives in New York, since the cell phone system was jammed with calls and landlines were the only way to place a call. Web sites for news outlets were crashing, and somehow people were finding our site for Atlanta news. We began aggregating info from the television and what Web sites we could reach. A newspaper was making images of the scene available for college papers to use, and we were using them liberally. So far as I know, our newspaper’s Web site has never recorded more hits in a day. CNN went down, but ours stood strong.

One of our arts and entertainment writers – himself a former interim editor-in-chief of the paper along with being a former United States Marine was using one of the phones to call his old service buddies. He and about 10 other former Marines left right from the newspaper office to re-enlist.

I missed that first class of the day, but went to another before the university decided it prudent to cancel classes the rest of the day. I really wanted to go to the next class, because it was Professor Herb’s global studies class.

Professor Herb was sort of a red-headed Irish guy. He was Catholic, I remember – or had been at one point, anyway. And he was a pretty funny lecturer. I’d had him before for a class and enjoyed it. But Professor Herb’s true area of expertise was the Middle East. He’d worked for oil companies after he earned his Ph.D. in Middle East affairs. His wife was from the Middle East, and he’d lived there for years while working for the oil companies before returning to academia.

Professor Herb, I thought, would probably have something interesting to say this morning.

He came in and immediately distributed a new syllabus. While the towers quaked and fell, he was redesigning his global studies class. The lessons he’d planned to teach were no longer relevant.

We sat in a vast and nearly vacant lecture hall that morning in the General Classroom building. It was a tall building, and suddenly everyone within earshot of a television or radio was suddenly terrified of tall buildings.

That morning, Professor Herb taught us all about al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. We learned about the things we’d done that made people in that region hate us, and about how many in the region still liked us or, at least, were indifferent to us. We learned about what happened after they blew up the U.S.S. Cole, about how governments there had provided implicit support for al-Qaida, and that if we were going to war with anyone, it’d be the Taliban in Afghanistan, and that wars in Afghanistan are damned near impossible to win because there’s nothing good to bomb.

There were only about six or seven of us in class that morning, but the class still managed to run over. Understanding the unique character of the moment, none of us were going to pass up the opportunity to have an audience with such a scholar on this very morning.

Later that day, out of class and after classes had been cancelled and we’d bolted the newspaper office door shut (the editor-in-chief never showed up – we finally reached her on her cell phone, getting the hell out of town – and we had sent our Webmaster home to keep the site going from there), I stood in Library Plaza on campus and listened. It was silent. The city was deserted. Even the planes – the roar of which was constant – were gone. There was no traffic, no horns blaring. I could even hear the traffic lights click as they switched from red to green. Jason Hanes, a dear old friend and college chum, and I stood on a pedestrian bridge connecting the plaza to another classroom building and starred down the desolate street below and said nothing.

We then drove to the Webmaster’s house up in Gwinnett County, near Beaver Ruin Road. The highways be then were being used sparsely as well. The electric signs over the highway that usually would have advised how long you could expect it to take you to go from one exit to another instead displayed “National Emergency – All Air Traffic Suspended – No Airport Service Available.”

At the Webmaster’s house, we watched the war begin. The Northern Alliance, which had been battling the Taliban for years anyway, suddenly were getting feisty. Rockets were being fired in Afghanistan, and CNN was airing the beginning live. So was Fox, but it was the same feed that CNN was showing, except they tried – poorly – to superimpose the Fox logo over CNN’s.

I didn’t lose anyone close to me that day. No one I knew worked in the Pentagon, the World Trade Center or was even on a plane that day. What happened was terrifying. The radio stations all carried 24-hour news broadcasts instead of music. I will not forget watching Aaron Brown, who was new to CNN, perched on a rooftop overlooking the disaster in New York, undertaking the macabre task of calling play-by-play for the end of the world. That’s when I began going to sleep with the television on, tuned to CNN, needing to watch the world revolve in real time.

Still, I remain haunted, more than anything, by the sky that day, silent as death. My parents’ house was in the path of planes that circled Hartsfield International Airport, and the sound of aircraft was constant. The memory of stepping outside and hearing that eerie quiet sticks with me.

I had the decal of an American flag in the back window of my Bonneville on Sept. 10. I do not always agree with the things my nation does, but I have always been proud and blessed to be one of its citizens. Still, every year, I make a point of listening to Bruce Springsteen’s haunting tribute to that day, his album “The Rising.” And I cry like a baby.

I woke up this morning
I could barely breathe
Just an empty impression
In the bed where you used to be
I want a kiss from your lips
I want an eye for an eye
I woke up this morning to the empty sky
— Bruce Springsteen, “Empty Sky”

9/11: A Day That Seemed Unreal

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With the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11th, 2001, right around the corner, I thought it might be a good time to remember (not that I ever forgot) what that date means to me.

There are mixed emotions of anger, grief, strength and a lot of passion that flow through me. That day was one of those life-changing moments for me; one of those moments that helped me look at life with a certain humbleness and appreciation for what I have and who I have in my life.

I was awakened by my father the morning of the tragedy, like any other morning at that time in my life. I was resistant to wake up so early. At that time, I never felt a need to.

This time was different.

Dad had a slight anxiousness to him that morning, and he was insistent that I get out of bed and watch what was on the television. I slowly poured myself out of bed and, zombie-like, walked down the hallway to the living room where mom had already taken a seat. The televison was already on, and after I wiped the sleep from my eyes, I began to focus on what was happening.

I was looking at the same shot that all of America was watching that morning. Smoke billowed from one of the World Trade Center towers. At this point, no one really knew exactly what had happened, but whatever it was, it was very bad. In the meantime, dad popped a VCR tape into the machine and pressed record. We did not know what we were witnessing, but we felt it was historical —  something to be remembered.

The second tower was struck and that solidified any doubts of what was happening. America has come under attack. I’m not really sure how long I sat there with my eyes glued to the television, but I was paralyzed with shock. My jaw dropped at the sight of the people jumping from the burning buildings. Then the unthinkable happened: the towers began to crumble and collapse onto the busy streets of New York City. I was fighting back tears and just horrified at the images I was witnessing.

When I was finally able to move away from the television, I just felt numb all over. I had just been walking those streets in New York City, not six weeks earlier. I saw the everyday bustle of those streets and could only imagine the terror and chaos that must be taking place. The wonderful thing about New York City that I experienced from prior trips there and stories from my father was that the people there are strong, resilient — they come together in time of need. I don’t think any other city in this country — in this world — would be better suited then NYC to pull through such a tragedy.

If you know anything about me, you will know my love for NYC (go Yankees!).

The one silver lining in the cloud that is 9/11 is that it pulled us closer together as a country. People all over the country were doing what they could to help the survivors, first responders and families of victims — though it took our government long enough to lend a helping hand to the victims, but that could make for a whole other blog.

The tragedy should be a wake up that we are not promised tomorrow and that we should always take care of each other in this country. I recommend to anyone who reads this, that they take a trip to ground zero to just begin to grasp the concept of what happened to us as a nation and use it as a learning experience and an opportunity to humble one’s self.

I hope that everyone finds time this Sunday to take a moment and remember those who lost their lives and loved ones on that tragic September day.

God bless New York City and God bless the United States of America.