Thursday, April 21, 2005

Are We Safer?
The Daily Outrage
by Ari Berman

Are We Safer?

For two hours, truth once again became a virtue in Washington, DC. The second-annual Ron Ridenhour Awards--sponsored by the Fertel Foundation and The Nation Institute and named after the whistle-blower who exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam--honored New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh, author Adrian Nicole LeBlanc and housewife-turned-activist Kristin Breitweiser for their achievements in "truth-telling."

Breitweiser found herself widowed at age thirty when her husband Ron died at Tower Two of the World Trade Center on September 11. Along with four other widows (nicknamed the "Jersey Girls"), Breitweiser fought tirelessly for the 9/11 Commission, in spite of initial opposition from President Bush, whom she voted for in 2000. Below is a transcript of her remarks on April 19, 2005, a clear-headed, compelling and scathing indictment of how the Bush Administration has changed our post-9/11 world for the worse.

"I am honored to accept the Ridenhour Truth Award and I accept it on behalf of all men, women and children who have sought Truth in their lives, including the four women---Mindy Kleinberg, Lorie Van Auken, Patty Casazza, and Monica Gabrielle--who fought along with me to seek the truth about 9/11. I am humbled by the ceremony of this award, and I accept it also in honor of my late husband, Ron Breitweiser.

In the past three years I have spent a lot of time talking about being a 9/11 widow and a victim's advocate for intelligence community reforms. I appeared frequently in the print and televised media discussing my transformation from a stay-at-home mom whose specialty it was to design children's gardens to a victim's rights advocate whose specialty has become national security. My transformation was urgent, drastic and not chosen by me. But, I no longer want to talk about my transformation. Instead, I want to talk about my country's post-9/11 transformation. A transformation unlike mine in that it was systematically and deliberately chosen.

Where are we today? Are the democratic principles that Osama Bin Laden tried to destroy on 9/11 still safely intact? Do nations around the world still respect and admire Americans? Are we still 'all Americans' like we were in the immediate wake of September 11th when almost every country in the world declared their solidarity with us? Or have we squandered that worldwide good will, faith and common purpose to fight terrorism? Have we learned any lessons since 9/11? And, most importantly, have our country's choices made us any safer than we were pre-9/11?

Isn't it true that instead of fixing airline security, port security, mass transportation, local response, and securing loose nukes and biological components, we spent billions on starting a war with Iraq---a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11? And, instead of capturing Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, we captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq with no weapons of mass destruction? Isn't it true that because of our invasion of Iraq terrorist recruitment for Al Qaeda has soared, making us even less safe than we were before the Iraq war? Remember that we were supposed to go to war in Iraq to eliminate a real threat. Isn't it true that now because of our foreign policy in Iraq, we have only created a real threat to the world's security and ours? Isn't it true that instead of successfully prosecuting Al Qaeda terrorists and bringing them to justice, all we hear about is torturing 'enemy combatants' and detaining them indefinitely--a concept far removed from the American ideal of justice? Isn't it true that instead of opening up government to restore trust and faith, we created the Patriot Act? And, isn't it true that instead of pursuing alternative energy resources to decrease our dependency on foreign oil, we invaded oil-rich countries and passed no alternative energy legislation in the meantime?

Why do we accept these choices? Why do we condone a government that uses over-classification to obfuscate such choices? We ask questions, and they give us answers and explanations that are just stylized sound bites and catch phrases (taking the fight to the enemy; tracking every terrorist down and bringing them to justice; being with us or against us)? How do such over-simplified answers adequately explain our very complex reality? None of these phrases are ever defined. We just repeat these mantras over and over again, not knowing what they really mean---not realizing that they fail to answer or justify any of our nation's drastic actions and decisions since 9/11--chosen actions and decisions that have actually made us less safe from terrorists.

We--the American public--find ourselves adrift and overwhelmed. Pre-occupied with fear, we fail to unearth the truth or understand what choices we should or can make to effectively make our world safer. We are simply told that this is our 'new norm.' Our government parodies our search for truth by churning out report upon report and conclusion after conclusion---none of which ever gets acted upon.

Alarmingly, we accept all of this in the name of our 'ongoing fight against the enemy.' But, with a timeless, faceless, nameless and stateless enemy, when will our 'fight' ever end so we can return to our sensibilities and the truth? How can we ever define what success or victory might ever mean? Don't we need the trust and cooperation of the world to effectively contain terrorism? How are we to really know if our government's choices taken since 9/11--in the name of 'national security'-- are truly worth it and, in fact, making us any safer? Simply because our government tells us to trust them?

How can we trust a Congress that holds hearings on steroids in baseball and yet does not want to find out why our FAA received 52 warnings about hijackings in the summer of 2001? How do we trust a Congress that is so reluctant to address immigration issues that we have exasperated vigilantes on the southern border taking matters into their own hands--too frustrated to wait for Congress to do its job? How do we trust a Congress willing to work through a Sunday night on the Shiavo debate yet unwilling to hold public hearings on the 'dead wrong' intelligence that brought us to war in Iraq?

If we can be on a red alert for a dirty-bomb, why can't we choose to be on a red-alert for our dire need to invest in alternative energy resources so as to become less dependent on foreign oil? Realistically, our dependence on foreign oil makes us less safe than any dirty bomb ever will.

Or why can't we choose to be on an orange alert about the serious human rights abuses that are being carried out by our military and intelligence officials against 'would be' terrorists? How is it possible that in our post-9/11 world, the average American citizen thinks that it is ok to torture 'enemy combatants' while throwing any modicum of our rule of law out the window? How is it feasible to 'track every terrorist down and bring them to justice' when we have yet to define who qualifies as a terrorist or what the definition of justice really is?

How did I get here today? I got here by asking questions. I got here by being an American citizen. Not by choice, widowed at 30 and finding myself frightened and with no faith in my government, I decided to seek the truth as to why my husband died. I wanted to know that my daughter and I were safe living in this country. Along with four other widows, I played a role in our democratic process by simply asking who, what, where, how, and most importantly, why 9/11 happened.

Recently, many people are wondering what the widows will be doing next. It is simple. We will continue to do what we do best. We will continue to ask questions and demand answers about our government's choices in the name of 'national security.' We will continue to work on issues that mean something to our children and to us. Issues that will make our future safer from terrorism like alternative energy resources, human rights abuses, congressional oversight and intelligence community reforms. We will continue to fight for the truth.

And, respectfully, our hope is that in future years this award might be rendered obsolete. Simply because there will be no need to bestow an award or any special status onto a truth-seeker because truth-seekers will have become our new norm."