No Tears for Terrorists

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On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the much-ballyhooed “torture report,” condemning the Bush Administration-era CIA for using techniques like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, death threats, and black-site prisons in the War on Terror. The left has been aghast at the findings, calling for trials, self-flagellation, and another round of scorn to be thrown at Bush and company.

That’s fine. There are good reasons to examine what our intelligence agencies are up to, especially if there is cause to think they’ve gone rogue. And there are reasons to discuss whether we violated U.S. and international law in our quest to bring the men responsible for 9/11 to justice. But let’s not forget in all the commotion who these people are. Let’s not forget what they did.

Killed, Maimed, Orphaned

It’s tempting, so many years later, to look back on September 11th, 2001 in historical terms. We hear the term “9/11” and we think of that spectacular image of the second plane crashing into the South Tower. We see the fireball. We see Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld, Bin Laden. We see the number: 2,996 dead.

But what we forget is the pain. We forget the nearly 3,000 children who were left without a parent after the devastation was done. The average age of these September 11th orphans, according to the best available data, was 8 1/2.

The nation’s worst terrorist attack didn’t just leave a pile of dead bodies, though the extraordinary destruction meant there were far more who didn’t survive than did. But there were survivors, and their pain deserves to be chronicled every bit as much as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s.

Tragic Tales of Painful Survival

Deborah Mardenfeld was 31 on that fateful Tuesday morning, heading to work at the World Financial Center when the second plane hit. What was a television event for much of the country was a massive explosion in the sky for Mardenfeld. Moments later, she was hit by falling debris that crushed her legs below the knees, tore skin and muscle from her buttocks, and sent her into shock from the blood loss. Though she was fortunate enough to receive quick medical attention, more than a year passed before she could be released from the hospital. A long, painful year of breathing tubes, constant pain medication, skin grafts, and infections. It was not until the first anniversary of the attacks that she was able to take her first steps with the aid of a cane.

Then there was Army Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell, who was working in the Pentagon on the day of the attacks. Returning from a quick bathroom break, Birdwell’s life changed instantly when American Airlines 77 crashed into the side of the building. He was engulfed in flames that would leave 60 percent of his body covered in severe burns. He would miraculously survive – Birdwell now serves in the Texas Senate – but the next three painful months would be spent in the sterile burn unit of Washington Hospital Center.

Then there was newlywed Lauren Manning, who was walking across the lobby of the World Trade Center when she was suddenly enveloped by fire. Manning wasn’t rescued for 50 minutes, during which time she “prayed for death, in that unspeakable way that people who are experiencing unimaginable pain can.” Manning had burns over 80 percent of her body, and she spent the next weeks in critical condition before spending months in New York-Presbyterian Hospital for agonizing rehabilitation. She had to relearn how to stand, relearn how to walk, and undergo more than 25 surgeries and skin grafts. She lost the tips of four fingers. She is alive today, but her life will never be the same.

The Real Victims

These are just three stories among many. People whose lives were forever affected by the evil events of that day. They survived, but the agony they went through easily dwarfs whatever effects “enhanced interrogation” had on our country’s worst enemies. And that’s before we consider the thousands of people killed, their families ripped apart by the actions of Islamic extremists.

Is there room to talk about torture in the aftermath of this kind of terror? Maybe, but let’s not get carried away. The terrorists behind that attack and those that continue to kill and maim innocent people today don’t deserve a single tear. If you must cry for someone, save it for the real victims.