On a somber Saturday morning marking the three-year anniversary
of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, hundreds of students assembled
at the Business School for the University’s first large-scale
dialogue which commemorated the tragedy, but also offered
politically-charged criticism of the war in Iraq and Bush
administration’s handling of intelligence.
The 9/11 Conference, sponsored by the Michigan Student Assembly,
was attended by more than 200 members of the Michigan community and
featured keynote addresses by nationally renowned political experts
along with several breakout sessions facilitated by political
science professors and other special guests.
“All over this land today we are remembering the victims
and these families,” said U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, who gave a
passionate opening address to the charged audience, emphasizing the
government’s mishandling of counterterrorism intelligence
before and after Sept. 11.
“The mistakes were many,” the Democrat said.
“The failure of our agencies to communicate with each other,
particularly the FBI and the CIA, were mistakes that were serious
Drawing on his experience as a ranking member and former
chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Levin expressed
criticism of the Bush Administration’s actions after Sept.
11, particularly the decision to declare war on Iraq.
“The war in Iraq has been (misleadingly) connected to the
war on terror,” he said, in reference to the 511-page report
released by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that concluded
that the U.S. intelligence community had made inaccurate
assessments of Iraq’s ties to al-Qaida, and Saddam
Hussein’s weapons capability. “Pre-Iraq intelligence
was exaggerated and distorted in order to support (the
Scott Ritter, a former Marine and chief weapons inspector for
the U.N. Special Commission in Iraq, delivered the first keynote
speech of the conference.
“We have not acted in good faith to those people who died
that day,” he said, asserting that since Sept. 11, Americans
have allowed “a collective rage” to consume them and
drive them into supporting an unjust military conflict. “We
got hit and we needed to hit back.”
Unrelenting in his criticism of the Iraq war, Ritter accused the
Bush administration of exaggerating pre-war intelligence regarding
Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction to gain popular
support from a terror-stricken American public.
Ritter also criticized the Bush Administration for encouraging
foreign anti-American sentiment by arrogantly defying U.S. treaty
obligations and violating domestic and international law by waging
a war on Iraq without the approval of the U.N. Security Council.
Ritter said this type of unilateral conduct indirectly encourages
acts of terrorism against the U.S.
“He has permanently stained the reputation of the U.S.
around the world,” he said. “There will be no United
Nations unless it is united.”
Allison Jacobs, president of the University’s College
Republicans, said she felt that Ritter left a lot of important
evidence out of his speeches and turned the conference into a
politically charged event, rather than an academic one.
“There was definitely a liberal leaning on it,” she
said. “I didn’t think it was necessary to put blame on
the Bush Administration when we should be discussing the
commission’s report and more importantly 9/11.”
Jeffrey Toobin, CNN legal analyst and best-selling author,
delivered the second keynote address, opening his lecture with a
moving account of his personal experience in lower Manhattan on the
day of the attacks.
“We have a name for this type of weather in New
York,” Toobin said, referring to the tranquil warmth of the
sunny Ann Arbor afternoon that called to mind the fair skies before
the attacks three years ago. “We call it September 11
Toobin also presented an in-depth analysis of GOP strategy
following the terrorist attacks three years ago, leading up to the
current 2004 presidential election season.
“The Republican Party is unusually dominant right
now,” he said, pointing to GOP control of the three branches
of federal government and most of the state governorships in the
country. He drew comparisons to the administration of Democratic
president Lyndon B. Johnson of the 1960’s, which had similar
party dominance, and committed the U.S. to an ill-fated war in
Political science profs. Mark Tessler and Lawrence Green led
breakout sessions on the roots of terrorism and the 9/11 Commission
Report. Other sessions were facilitated by Michael Feldschuh,
creator of The September 11 Photo Project, and Noel Saleh of the
Michigan Chapter of the ACLU, who worked on post-Sept. 11 civil
liberties restrictions and discrimination against Arab Americans.
The sessions were informal and gave participants the opportunity to
Christy McGillivray from Mount Clemens spoke out in the ACLU
forum against the use of racial profiling in counterterrorism
“I think people are (too) nervous,” she said.
“People do bad things because they are people, not because
they are a member of a certain race.”
LSA senior Kimberly Washington, who attended the conference,
explained that the Sept. 11 attacks were quite personal for her.
“My best friend was actually right by the tower when it got
hit,” she said of her colleague, who suffered second-degree
burns from being struck by hot debris falling from the flaming
World Trade Center. “It was a very frightening
MSA Vice President Jennifer Nathan explained that the student
organization began planning the conference over the summer in
conjunction with a booking agency. She said the organization felt
the event would be a significant and relevant event for University
“This is a horrible tragedy that has shaped our college
experience,” said Nathan, who was a freshman at the
University the year of the attacks.
MSA Reps. Stuart Wagner and Jesse Levine emphasized the social
importance of holding the conference in order to encourage
discussion and debate on critical issues. “I think it’s
important to go beyond the classroom and hear different
opinions,” Levine said.
Scott Ritter echoed similar statements. “Our generation
has failed you,” he said. “You don’t have the
luxury to transfer these problems onto the next generation. There
may not be a generation.”