Current and former Justice Department officials gathered today for an emotional 9/11 ceremony to remember the victims of the attacks and reflect on the days since then. The ceremony was gripped by a stirring and emotional speech by former Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson, whose wife, Barbara Olson, died on 9/11 aboard American Airlines flight 77, which hit the Pentagon.
On the day of the attacks, Barbara Olson had called her husband from the plane relaying information about the hijacking to her husband, who was working at Justice Department headquarters.
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft joined Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole in the ceremony that was also attended by 9/11 family members Carrie Lemack whose mother, Judy Larocque, died on American Airlines flight 11, and Abraham Scott, who lost wife Janice Marie Holmes, who worked at the Pentagon.
On display at the ceremony was a mosaic of thumbnail pictures of most of the 9/11 victims. The pictures were used as a trial exhibit during the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui for his role in the 9/11 plot. The posters were created by an FBI artist for the trial and capture the vast numbers of innocent people who died.
Holder, who introduced Olson, described the upcoming 9/11 anniversary as a day of remembrance. Holder, who will be traveling with President Obama to New York on Sunday, said, “On Sept. 11, 2011, we’re going to New York to remember. We’re going to honor the innocent people — from across the country and around the world — who were taken from us so suddenly.”
Holder said, “We’re going to lift up the heroes of that day, the firefighters, law enforcement officers and ordinary citizens who, despite deadly conditions, ran toward the Twin Towers, as so many were racing away. The military officials and public servants who were working — just across the river from here, in Arlington — to defend our nation from the very threat that stole their lives.”
Describing United Flight 93 and the passengers who began to fight back against the hijackers, Holder called them, “The courageous group of passengers who — while stranded in the air — chose to spend the final, precious moments of their lives fighting to save others from the fate they realized had become their own.”
Olson’s speech described the great impact 9/11 had on America, saying, “Sept. 11 is far more than a day that will live in infamy, as President Roosevelt said about December 7, 1941 [Pearl Harbor Day]. It was a cataclysm that reshaped almost everything about our lives, the way we perceive our country, the world, our values, our liberties, our security, our seeming invincibility within our own borders, and our fellow man.
“The unfolding nightmare was at once incomprehensible, yet terrifyingly real. And we knew we would not wake up, make it go away or stop,” Olson said.
“Then, there was nothing but rubble, smoke, anguish, indelible images of bodies falling from tall buildings, people staggering away from destruction and the sound of sirens everywhere. When we were able to breathe again, we had been transported to an unfamiliar world in which conditions that we took for granted had changed and the ground beneath our feet had permanently shifted.”
Attempting to still understand the attacks and the unthinkable devastation and loss of life, Olson said, “Ten years after the events of Sept. 11 and endless explanations and analyses, I doubt whether any of us can understand what inspires persons to commit those kind of calculated acts of vicious, wanton, mindless cruelty.”
Highlighting the cold-hearted nature of the hijackers, Olson asked, “How is it possible for humans to evolve into the depraved, hate-consumed hollow men who commit savage, unconscionable acts of violence not just here, but in every corner of the world, for the single-minded purpose of inflicting pain and despair, sowing panic and chaos, and inciting hatred and fear?”
Describing his wife Barbara, Olson said, “She was emblematic of America, its ideals and those who were murdered along with her that day. She believed fiercely in the American promise that she could be whatever she wanted to be.”
He noted that his wife ,who wore many hats as an accomplished author, congressional investigator and television commentator, was most proud of her work at the Justice Department as an assistant U.S. attorney. “Barbara was a symbol of the other Americans murdered that day and representative of the spirit, energy, passion and idealism that the 9/11 terrorists hoped that day to destroy,” he said. ”These victims meant no more to them than the fuel necessary to feed the flames of their nihilistic message. To each of us, of course, they were our husbands, wives, children, parents and co-workers.”
Olson’s speech also touched on the response that the nation and the Justice Department have been engaged in since the attacks. “We have proven that a free people can combat terrorism and remain a country of laws, liberty and equality,” he said.
Making reference to policies and laws implemented since the 9/11 attacks, Olson said, “We might not agree with all our nation has done to protect its citizens’ basic civil liberty — the right to life itself — but it has been done with a minimum of sacrifice to our other liberties. All in all, we’ve done pretty well.”
In his closing, Olson said, “One very vital place where the challenge of terrorism and the commitment to liberty must particularly be balanced and maintained is right here, in America, in our nation’s capital, in our government and in the agency that is named for one of our cherished ideals: Justice.”