A decade ago, I stood outside the Oval Office and watched as Marine One landed on the South Lawn during the evening of September 11th.
There were many unanswered questions then about the ability of our federal, state, and local governments to respond to the challenge of protecting Americans within the limits of our Constitution.
A new type of enemy fighting a different kind of war against the United States required a comprehensive response. President Bush directed that we pull all levers of power – the military, the intelligence community, law enforcement, and our criminal justice system – to be safe and pursue justice on behalf of the American people.
Our enemies initially hailed the September 11th attacks as a tremendous victory for al Qaeda.
Ironically, the attacks were also the beginning of the end of this terrorist organization.
Through tremendous effort and sacrifice, we have stripped al Qaeda of its sanctuaries and killed most of its top leadership.
Today, this adversary, though still capable of inflicting harm, is a shell of its former self.
A belief system that is indifferent to innocent life, and devalues basic human rights, appears to be losing appeal for the millions living in the Middle East who are weary of senseless killings and a life of poverty under the tyranny of despots.
Instead, we are witnesses to the Arab Spring, a revival of hope and freedom in a region that has known only despair and tyrants.
We live in a different America now; where aggressive national security objectives must co-exist with the values reflected in our cherished civil liberties.
The 9/11 attacks exposed the myth of American invincibility.
However, the outcome of our war on terrorism has never been in doubt to me. Our cause is right and we remain the greatest country on earth – a place where choices still count, there are rewards for hard work, and we value life and the rule of law.
Al Qaeda hijackers may have succeeded in taking down the New York City Twin Towers, but they could not topple the American spirit. Last month my son Graham started college at Belmont University in Nashville.
Graham’s grandfather, my father, labored as a poor uneducated Hispanic picking cotton and working construction. My son goes to college with a head full of ideas and a heart bursting with ambition, knowing that even in a post 911 world, if he works hard he can achieve his dreams.
I am proud of the role I played in securing America and preserving opportunities for Hispanics like my son. This is my legacy; this is America’s legacy.
Alberto R. Gonzales is the former United States Attorney General and Counsel to the President in the George W. Bush Administration. He is currently a visiting professor at Texas Tech University.