A year ago, one of the greatest tragedies in American history occurred when thousands of our citizens in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania were murdered by terrorists. The victims of the Sept. 11 attacks were young and old, men and women, private citizens and public servants. But they were united by the common bond of their citizenship, which alone made them the targets of fanatics whose disregard for human life was matched only by their evil ingenuity.
Since that horrible day, the response of the American people has been magnificent. From the billions of dollars in charity to help victims' families, to the outpouring of patriotism from coast to coast, the months since Sept. 11 showed the American people and the people of Oregon in their finest form. Indeed, following the attacks, Oregon chapters of the Red Cross sent more volunteer disaster responders to the East Coast per capita than any other state.
Even our military response to the attacks carried with it the compassion for which Americans are famous - just as we routed the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, we delivered humanitarian aid to the Afghan people and liberated them from one of the most oppressive regimes in history. I saw America's humanity firsthand when I visited Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to inspect the facility holding prisoners from the War on Terrorism. Their American guards treat them with the professionalism and dignity that we instinctively associate with our men and women in uniform - treatment that American captives surely could not expect from our enemies.
As we tended our nation's wounds and mourned the victims of the attacks - many of them Oregonians - our attention also turned toward defending our homeland from future threats. Now that a year has passed since the Twin Towers fell, I want to report on a number of steps the US Congress and the President have taken on that front.
Currently, the Senate is working to follow the House's lead in establishing a new Department of Homeland Security. This proposal by the President will work to consolidate existing government agencies with the unified goal of preventing terrorist attacks within our borders and minimizing the damage in the event of future attacks.
A new law, entitled the PATRIOT Act, is helping to hamper the activities of terrorists operating on American soil while protecting our freedoms and constitutional rights. It enhances foreign intelligence surveillance tools, strengthens control of border abuse by foreign terrorists, improves law enforcement sharing of information, increases penalties for terrorism, and protects against abuses of new police powers.
Another law I was pleased to support bolsters public health security and responds to threats of bioterrorism. Following Sept. 11, I met with emergency first-responders, health care providers and public safety personnel across central, southern and eastern Oregon, and many of the emergency preparedness needs they expressed to me were addressed by this initiative. This law improves America's ability to respond effectively and quickly to threats of bioterrorism and covers everything from enhancing controls on deadly biological agents to protecting our food, drug and drinking water supplies.
We've also taken significant steps to enhance our border security. The State Department is now required to issue tamper-resistant and biometric identifiable travel documents to foreign visitors. The INS, under this law, must also implement an integrated entry and exit data system to keep track of when foreign visitors arrive and depart from our shores.
Congress and the president have increased airport security by mandating uniform standards and providing the safest possible environment for American travelers on planes, at airports and on trains. I also supported legislation to provide a last line of defense in the cockpit by allowing qualified, trained pilots to have firearms on their planes if they so choose. This measure, which recently passed in the Senate, would help stop hijacking attempts and act as a deterrent to criminals who seek to inflict harm on innocent civilians.
Finally, Congress has voted a number of times to fund the War on Terrorism and strengthen the military to guarantee its preeminence in this global conflict. The men and women in uniform who defend our citizens and protect our national interests abroad deserve the best weapons, equipment and training we can provide, and I remain committed to ensuring they have them.
Nothing will ever repair the losses we suffered as a nation one year ago. But we will work tirelessly to prevent future attacks by protecting our homeland and working to spread peace and freedom throughout the world.
Editor's note: Rep. Greg Walden represents the Second Congressional District of Oregon, which includes 20 counties in southern, central and eastern Oregon. He is a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce as well as the Committee on Resources.