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39 Men


Bruce Bauman Saw It Coming 20 Years Ago

The skyline fractured. My heart cracked. I was thousands of miles away. My wife asked, “Do you wish you could go there?” “No.” I spoke as if I were working on an emotional tape delay. She frowned, disbelieving. She was right, but I didn’t want to sound insane.

How could I not want to help the city I love, that gave me birth, my identity. My city was in so much pain. I was born in Brooklyn, raised in Flushing and until four years ago, lived my entire adult life in Manhattan. In death I will return home to spend eternity in the family plot in Queens.

That corporeal death, which I was spared that day, I hope, is far away. Yet, like for many of us, a spiritual part of me withered in those flames. That loss is a death that I mourn but do not fear, for in continuing to live I will find hope and sing of the darkness.

I do fear the premise that after 9/11, “The essence of life has changed.” Of course the world has changed, but the idea that this attack is unique in history strikes me as a woeful American conceit. As it has been from Rome to Delhi, Moscow to London, Paris to Peking and forever for Jerusalem, great cities have been plundered, pillaged, burned, besieged and bombed. Innocent people have been raped, maimed and killed.

Great cities not only survive; they rebuild and become greater cities. I have no fear for New York. It will remain a great city for centuries, millennia to come. Although I fear any man who kills with no regard to life, I believe that we the people can physically withstand the bullets of unmitigated nihilism.

I have a darker fear- that of the fear within, a fear for the American soul. Perhaps it is my American conceit that our country’s foundations rest upon the two finest political documents ever written: The Declaration of Independence and The Bill of Rights. I fear for the desecration of these sacred words, which make New York America’s essential beacon of freedom. This evisceration is not new, but since the 11th, the pace set by the hollow men who “lead,” has been terrifying.

What happens - not in the first three weeks or three months after the murders- but in the years to come will determine if the songs we sing will be of darkness becoming darker, or darkness becoming light…  

Bruce Bauman is the award-winning author of the novels And The Word Was and Broken Sleep.

The Death Count: America's Rule of Law

The best writing from the days immediately following 9/11 included Denis Johnson's short essay for the New Yorker. We're taking the liberty of reprinting it here because Johnson's important message has been lost.

We're following it with an excerpt from Charles Pierce's report on how the Bush administration blew up something larger and more important than the World Trade Center - as Bruce Bauman predicted, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld shattered the rule of law. The Obama administration, in its continued maltreatment of Guantanamo prisoners, sped the dissolution of our civitas. Pierce writes cogently about this loss.

The Biden administration is making efforts to rebuild the rule of law. See links to stories below.

Nobody wishes to cover over the horrific abuses of Islamic terrorists or endorse extremism or fundamentalism. But we keep forgetting that our system of government is defined not only by what it is as by what it is not. An eye for an eye is the weapon of theocracies. Due process is not our weakness; it is our strength.

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Denis Johnson in The New Yorker: 9/11

Several times during the nineteen-nineties I did some reporting from what we generally call trouble spots, and witnessing the almost total devastation of some of these places (Somalia, Afghanistan, the southern Philippines, Liberia) had me wondering if I would ever see such trouble in my own country: if I would ever feel it necessary to stay close to the radio or television; if I would sleep with the window wide open in order to hear the approach of the engines of war or to smell the smoke of approaching fires or to stay aware of the movements of emergency teams coping with the latest enormity; if I would one day see American ground heaped with the ruins of war; if I would ever hear Americans saying, “They’re attacking the Capitol! The Pentagon! The White House!”; if I would stand in the midst of an American crowd witnessing the kind of destruction that can be born of the wickedness of the human imagination, or turn to examine American faces a few seconds after their eyes had taken it in; if I would one day see American streets choked with people who don’t know exactly where they’re going but don’t feel safe where they are; and if I would someday feel uncontrollably grateful to be able to get my laundry done and to find simple commerce persisting in spite of madness. I wondered if the wars I’d gone looking for would someday come looking for us.


Travelling in the Third World, I’ve found that to be an American sometimes means to be wondrously celebrated, to excite a deep, instantaneous loyalty in complete strangers. In the southern Philippines, a small delegation headed by a village captain once asked that I take steps to have their clan and their collection of two dozen huts placed under the protection of the United States. Later, in the same region, a teen-age Islamic separatist guerrilla among a group I’d been staying with begged me to adopt him and take him to America. In Afghanistan, I encountered men who, within minutes of meeting me, offered to leave their own worried families and stay by my side as long as I required it, men who found medicine somewhere in the ruins of Kabul for me when I needed it, and who never asked for anything back—all simply because I was American.


On the other hand, I think we sense—but don’t care always to apprehend—the reality that some people hate America. To many suffering souls, we must seem incomprehensibly aloof and self-centered, or worse. For nearly a century, war has rolled lopsidedly over the world, crushing the innocent in their homes. For half that century, the United States has been seen, by some people, as keeping the destruction rolling without getting too much in the way of it—has been seen, by some people, to lurk behind it. And those people hate us. The acts of terror against this country—the hijackings, the kidnappings, the bombings of our airplanes and barracks and embassies overseas, and now these mass atrocities on our own soil—tell us how much they hate us. They hate us as people hate a bad God, and they’ll kill themselves to hurt us.


On Thursday, as I write in New York City, which I happened to be visiting at the time of the attack, the wind has shifted, and a sour electrical smoke travels up the canyons between the tall buildings. I have now seen two days of war in the biggest city in America. But imagine a succession of such days stretching into years—years in which explosions bring down all the great buildings, until the last one goes, or until bothering to bring the last one down is just a waste of ammunition. Imagine the people who have already seen years like these turn into decades—imagine their brief lifetimes made up only of days like these we’ve just seen in New York.

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Terror attack, Somalia.

Charles Pierce on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Esquire

We remain hostage to our recovered memories of that event.


We now come upon the 20th anniversary of that terrible day in New York, Washington, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I have been dreading the extended television tributes since approximately the middle of July. Even the blessed coincidence of the president’s ending our long-pointless adventure in Afghanistan immediately before the anniversary didn’t allay my fear that television would be guilty of that which Hornbeck, the Mencken-manqué of Inherit The Wind, accuses Henry Drummond, the play’s Clarence Darrow stand-in.


I charge you with contempt of conscience. Self-perjury. Kindness aforethought. Sentimentality in the first degree.


Before we all find ourselves arraigned on similar charges, it’s important to remember the other events that will be marking their anniversaries on Saturday. For example, we will be marking the 20th anniversary of Donald Rumsfeld telling his aides:


“Best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. at same time. Not only UBL. Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”


On Saturday, we will be commemorating our 20th Dick Cheney Day....Call it Dark Side Day. Put up a waterboard ringed with colorful lights in your living room. Hand out gaily colored shackles to the kids. Sing along with a whole lot of death metal.

Cheney cared not about creating new institutions, like Rice, but about increasing the overall power of the executive branch of government. He had spent much of his career trying to lift the restraints on presidential authority. For him, the “new era” after September 11 meant this: The restraints were off. The limits that had been placed on the CIA, the National Security Agency, the FBI, and the Justice Department should no longer apply; the Bush administration should go all out in its pursuit of its adversaries.

Read the rest of Pierce's column at Esquire.

What's Saudi Arabia Got to Do With It?

The Biden administration has ordered the declassification of documents related to Saudi Arabia's involvement in 9/11. Read about it at ProPublica here.

Biden Administration Efforts to Restore the Rule of Law

Read NPR's report on how our retreat from Afghanistan has complicated the Biden administration's efforts to close Guantanamo here.

Take the easy way out and watch the movie. We did!

Today 39 prisoners remain in Guantanamo Bay

None have received a trial

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Writing well helped get Mohamedou out of prison

We wish it worked as well for other things....

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Loss: A User's Guide by Brian Cullman

The Tower Song : Townes Van Zandt

Sweet Old World : Emmylou Harris

I Will Not Be Sad In This World : Djavan Gasparyan

If It Be Your Will :: The Webb Sisters

Desert Equations : Sussan Deyhim & Richard Horowitz

Losing ::; Marianne Faithfull

Tudo Esta e Fado : Amalia Rodrigues

Black Eyed Dog : Nick Drake

After The Rain : McCoy Tyner

If You Need Oil : Randy Newman

Blues On The Ceiling : Tim Hardin