When I was in the Air Force and our conversations were interrupted on base by the sound of the F-16's lifting off we'd pause and count. It wasn't as if we could talk over their roar. We all called it the Sound of Freedom. Sometimes it was a four-ship, sometimes an 8. It was always very cool.
My job was to defend the young men and women who found themselves on the wrong side of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It was a privilege to serve them because although none of them were completely innocent of all charges (none of us usually are), all of them deserved a fair trial. When I was called to defend a case at Bitburg though, it was tougher. The young man was part of a group of jet mechanics who had been importing drugs from Amsterdam, and using them. He was getting high, and then working on jets. My husband was a pilot. See the difficulty?
Yet, our justice system is dedicated to the proposition that everyone deserves a fair trial. So I made sure that he got one too. I tried to get him to plead guilty so he'd get credit on his sentence. He refused. He was more afraid of street justice back home in Detroit (if word got out that he cooperated) than serving time in the federal prison system. He knew the system was fair, and would protect his rights. He knew his 'hood would not.
On 9-11, none of the terrorists on those planes survived. Yet, if any of them had survived, they would have been entitled to defense in the best justice system in the world -- at no cost if they didn't have any money. They tried to destroy something they fundamentally did not understand -- that we choose to live under a government that guarantees us the right to speak, worship, and assemble freely.
That's what I want to remember about 9-11. That no matter how horrible the acts or how tragic the loss of life, it did not change what America stands for.