Remembering 9/11

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Contributor: Charles Fried

Charles Fried is the Beneficial Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He was solicitor general of the United States, 1985-89, and an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 1995-99.

This tribute is part of a series of reflections from HLS faculty, staff and alumni on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. View all tributes.

On September 16, 2001 President George W. Bush visited the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. and said:

“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war. When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race — out of every race. America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”

Lincoln understood the difference between departure from the letter of the law in an unprecedented emergency and violation of universal precepts of human dignity. President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, John Yoo as well as those who indiscriminately condemned the post-9/11 responses of these men did not.

And four days later he added this:

“I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.”

After the shock and bewilderment of the outrage of 9/11, the Bush administration temporarily detained for investigation several hundreds of visitors from Muslim countries who had overstayed their visas and were no longer here legally. He also ordered widespread surveillance of electronic communications, searching for clues of the possible next attack. Some of these actions may have violated the law, but they did not attack the human dignity of those subject to them. After all, Lincoln did far more along both lines at the start of hostilities with the rebel states. But in his General Order 100 Lincoln ordained categorically “Military necessity does not admit of cruelty – that is, the infliction of suffering for the sake of suffering or for revenge, nor of maiming or wounding except in fight, nor of torture to extort confessions.” (Article 16).* Lincoln understood the difference between departure from the letter of the law in an unprecedented emergency and violation of universal precepts of human dignity. President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, John Yoo as well as those who indiscriminately condemned the post-9/11 responses of these men did not.

*Waterboarding, as any graduate of the military academies will have learned, has been explicitly ruled to be torture and in violation of the successor of this Article. The officer who ordered waterboarding of Philippine rebels during our occupation of the country was court-martialed for violation of that provision and his conviction was confirmed by President Theodore Roosevelt.