I first moved to Manhattan in 1991 to attend law school at New York University, and lived and worked there for the next fifteen years. Manhattan was my home and place of work on September 11, 2001. On that day, Manhattan felt like a nightmarish mix of war zone, police state, and anarchy all rolled into one. I don't know anyone whose outlook on politics wasn't altered in some meaningful way on that day. But soon we realized that our country, its institutions, and its people are strong enough to withstand any terrorist attack or any group of terrorists, and, for those who had not lost friends or family, life seemed to return to normal more quickly than anyone could have anticipated.
This is not to say that I was not angry about the attacks. I believed that Islamic extremism posed a serious threat to the country, and I wanted an aggressive response from our government. I was ready to stand behind President Bush and I wanted him to exact vengeance on the perpetrators and find ways to decrease the likelihood of future attacks. During the following two weeks, my confidence in the Bush administration grew as the president gave a series of serious, substantive, coherent, and eloquent speeches that struck the right balance between aggression and restraint. And I was fully supportive of both the president's ultimatum to the Taliban and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan when our demands were not met. Well into 2002, the president's approval ratings remained in the high 60 percent range, or even above 70 percent, and I was among those who strongly approved of his performance.
What first began to shake my faith in the administration was its conduct in the case of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in May 2002 on U.S. soil and then publicly labeled "the dirty bomber." The administration claimed it could hold him indefinitely without charging him with any crime and while denying him access to counsel.
I never imagined that such a thing could happen in modern America that a president would claim the right to order American citizens imprisoned with no charges and without the right to a trial. In China, the former Soviet Union, Iran, and countless other countries, the government can literally abduct its citizens and imprison them without a trial. But that cannot happen in the United Statesat least it never could before. If it means anything to be an American citizen, it means that we cannot be locked away by our government unless we are charged with a crime, given due process in court, and then convicted by a jury of our peers.
I developed an intense interest in the Padilla case. It represented a direct challenge to my foundational political viewsthat we can tolerate all sorts of political disputes on a range of issues, but we cannot tolerate attacks by the government on our constitutional framework and guaranteed liberties. My deep concerns about the Padilla case eroded but did not entirely eliminate my support for the president. The next significant item on the president's agenda was the invasion of Iraq. While the administration recited the standard and obligatory clichés about war being a last resort, by mid-2002 it appeared, at least to me, that the only unresolved issue was not whether we would invade but when the invasion would begin.
During the lead-up to the invasion, I was concerned that the hell-bent focus on invading Iraq was being driven by agendas and strategic objectives that had nothing to do with terrorism or the 9/11 attacks. The overt rationale for the invasion was exceedingly weak, particularly given that it would lead to an open-ended, incalculably costly, and intensely risky preemptive war. Around the same time, it was revealed that an invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein had been high on the agenda of various senior administration officials long before September 11. Despite these doubts, concerns, and grounds for ambivalence, I had not abandoned my trust in the Bush administration. Between the president's performance in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the swift removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the fact that I wanted the president to succeed, because my loyalty is to my country and he was the leader of my country, I still gave the administration the benefit of the doubt. I believed then that the president was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to, and to the extent that I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.
Copyright by Glenn Greenwald. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe transmitted in any form by any means without permission in writing from the publisher, Working Assets Publishing (www.workingassetspublishing.com).
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