9/11 Flashback: Biden Called for Resilience, Warned About Civil Liberties in War on Terror

Sep 11, 2011 3:15pm

On the afternoon of 9/11 as the country reeled from the terrorist attacks and the anxiety about what might be coming next, then Sen. Joe Biden said America was too resilient to crumble even after the horror of seeing the World TRade Center towers crumble to dust.

In an interview with ABC News just hours after the attacks, Biden praised President Bush for returning to Washington and warned about not curbing civil liberties in the war America had been thrown into.

The future vice president, interviewed just after 1:30pm on Sept. 11, 2001 by ABC’ News’ Congressional correspondent Linda Douglass and Peter Jennings, discussed some of the challenges that lay ahead and the need for Congress to show a strong unified response.

“I think we should be meeting tomorrow morning, let the American people understand that these thugs that have done this incredible thing to the United States have not, in any fundamental way, altered our ability to do business,” Biden said on Sept. 11, 2001.

“We have to show that we’re up, we’re ready, we’re ready to move. We are, in fact — nothing has fundamentally altered this government,” Biden said.  “And the tragedy that occurred to these thousands of people is one that we must, in fact, follow through and find out who is responsible for. But in the meantime … we should be calm and cool and collected about going about our business as a nation. Terrorism wins when, in fact, they alter our civil liberties or shut down our institutions. We have to demonstrate neither of those things have happened.”

Discussing how the attacks had transformed our county into a war-zone and his concern about the future and civil liberties Biden said, “We’ve come face to face with a new reality, a reality that we knew existed and knew was possible, a reality that has happened in varying degrees to other countries. But if, in fact, in order to respond to that reality we have to alter our civil liberties, change the way we function, then we’ve truly lost the war.”

“The way to conduct the war is to demonstrate our institutions are functioning, that your civil liberties, your civil rights, your ability to be free and walk and move around, in fact, are not fundamentally altered. Anybody is willing to strap dynamite to their body or have a suicide kamikaze mission you’ll never fundamentally be able to stop. It doesn’t matter what you do.” Biden said.

Douglass, who earlier in the day had been rapidly evacuated from the Capitol, later saw Biden, who was then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and led him to the top of a building at 400 North Capitol Street where ABC News had a camera position established.  I was the on-site producer who had linked with ABC News cameraman Omar Quinonez . Earlier in the day we scanned the skies for planes and were in position in case the Capitol was attacked. From our perch we had seen members of Congress evacuated on helicopters to secure locations. Douglass and Biden climbed a ladder to the roof of the building where he was interviewed.

Biden acknowledged that the hijackers were well funded and well organized, and noted that the country had to be prepared for other kinds of attacks.

“We have to figure out how their network is worked,” he said. “But we have to penetrate it. … We can’t … just say we’re going to focus only on this kind of incident and not on chemical or not on biological and not on pathogens or anthrax. This is, in a sense, is the most God-awful wake-up call we’ve ever had to how to redirect our resources.”

Biden said that government officials needed remain calm as they figured out how to respond to the tragedy and how to move forward. Biden also praised Bush for his determination to return to Washington.

“The first thing is what the president is doing. He called for calm. He’s getting in the airplane, he’s coming back to Washington, D.C., and I applaud him for that,” he said.

While acknowledging the devastation caused by the attacks, Biden said the nation’s resilience would come through.

“We should be back up and running as quickly as we can. And I think we should do this — this cannot be dealt with overnight. It is an incredible tragedy. But it is a new threat of the 21st century that we’re now facing and we’re going to find a way to do it.

“This nation is too big, too strong, too united, too much a power in terms of our cohesion and our values to let this break us apart,” he said. “And it won’t happen.”

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