Opinion: 9/11 Has Left us Afraid to Embrace our Values

I hate writing about 9/11. I hate thinking about it. Hate reliving it. It is overwhelming. Looms large. Lurks in my consciousness, forever a part of who I have become, but without adequate words to express how, or why -- especially to those who were not there.

I was there on that day. I covered the attacks at Ground Zero, from Ground Zero, on 9/11, and every day thereafter, for weeks. And then, as a reporter for ABC News, I stayed on the story, for months, tracking every human angle, trying to piece together the timeline, put faces to the names of the victims, and grasp the enormity of what had happened.

But, more than that all of that, I am from that place we came to call Ground Zero. I grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in the shadow of the World Trade Center. My parents live down there, still. In the decade since, I have visited every week, watching a community rebuilding effort that has been stunning in its determination and remarkable for its accomplishment.

Each time I visit my parents, however, as I drive by the place where the Towers once stood, I am forced to think back over the course of the decade; and I feel to my core that we have not yet fully recovered as a family, as a neighborhood, or as a nation. And now, as a decade later, I do not know that we ever will.

We have morphed. We have changed. We have evolved. We have grown in incalculable ways. We’ve are stronger. In some ways we are kinder. No doubt, we are wiser.

But we have also grown afraid -- afraid to fully embrace our values. This is understandable, given the horrific loss of life and the national post-traumatic shock, from which we have all been reeling, for the better part of a decade.

In the absence of strong leadership in the critical area of civil rights and civil liberties, however, that fear has left Americans all too willing to relinquish our liberties, in exchange for a false feeling of national security.

This has manifested itself in the context of the many public controversies that have arisen since 9/11: What to do with Osama Bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamdan; where to try the so-called 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; whether to the boy we once called the “American Taliban,” John Walker Lindh; whether there should be a proposed Islamic cultural center (or mosque) near the sacred ground we now call Ground Zero.

Most Americans don't really care all that much about any one of these issues. But the choices we make on each, add up to who we will be as a nation in the aggregate, in the short term, and over the course of history.

So, while it may pain me to recall the events of 9/11, I write about here because I care deeply about the constitutional implications of the attacks. In our wonderfully diverse society, our constitutional form of government is all that binds us together, as a nation.

Yet, over of the last ten years, we have been slowly erasing, the Bill of Rights and our other constitutional freedoms, in the course of the War on Terror, a war that continues, even after Osama Bin Laden has been eliminated.

If we are not careful, we will wake up one day to find that while we’ve been fighting this war, we will have simply handed our democracy over to those who would see our values destroyed. On that day, the terrorists will have won.

Jami Floyd is an attorney, broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues. You can follow her on twitter.