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20 years after 9/11: Rep. Hal Rogers reflects on the terror of the day and policies that followed

Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 9:51 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Saturday will mark 20 years since terrorists hijacked four planes, orchestrating a series of deadly attacks the likes of which this country had never seen before and hasn’t since.

“The tragedy of 9/11 is marked in our hearts forever,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) in a recent interview in which he reflected on the tragedy and its aftermath. He recalls realizing the country was under attack and later wondering where to draw the line between liberty and security.

At their home outside D.C., Rep. Hal Rogers and his wife felt an explosion and saw a cloud mushrooming out of the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.

“Cynthia said, ‘Hal, what’s going on?’, and I said, ‘we’re at war’,” Rogers said.

Half-an-hour earlier, Rogers remembers phoning his office, telling staff to get out after a second plane flew into New York’s iconic Twin Towers

“The next thought was, okay, what do we do now.”

Days after the attacks, Rogers led his transportation subcommittee to the edge of Ground Zero, inspecting a collapsed subway line. “It brought home the tragedy and hugeness of this attack,” he said, “I can still smell the smell of the ruins, I can still see the outlines of rescue workers trying to get to someone they could save.”

But Rogers’ primary focus over the coming weeks, months, and years would shift to managing Congressional oversight of the newly created Dept. of Homeland Security, as it merged 22 agencies into one.

“The difficulty [was] of getting all those agencies to pull in the same direction at the same time,” Rogers said, “it’s better than it was but still has a long way to go.”

Rogers, like all but one member of Congress, voted for the resolution that began the country’s two decades-long ‘War on Terror’. He later backed making it easier to track and charge suspected terrorists, at home and abroad.

Rogers recalls worrying that efforts to secure the nation might be overly-restricting civil liberties, especially in the months immediately following 9/11.

“During the process of trying to secure the nation, there were times when, on reflection, we were being pretty heavy-handed,” he said.

Rogers declined to cite specific examples of that ‘heavy-handedness’ though while adding he does not believe leaders ever, “went too far.”

In the aftermath of 9/11 and the decades that have followed, civil liberties advocates raised alarm about mass surveillance, secret courts, and suspects held for decades without charge.

But, Rogers, argues lawmakers struck the best balance they could given the circumstances. “There were things we had to do,” he emphasized, “we didn’t know what was next.”

While President Biden has withdrawn troops from Afghanistan, he still has congressional authorization to take action against those who played any role in the 9/11 attacks. That power has been used by previous administrations to justify military action in Afghanistan, Iraq, and more than a dozen countries according to the Congressional Research Service.

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