To take the most obvious example, by what right does anyone in the U.S. government condemn this? For the U.S. to condemn the killing of civilians, even in the thousands, is the height of hypocrisy. As has been very well documented by organizations ranging from Amnesty International to the United Nations, the U.S. regularly (through its own direct actions, its financial, diplomatic or military support, or its inaction) perpetrates and abets equally heinous crimes against the citizens of other countries. The U.S. has bombed embassies, hospitals, power stations, residences, pharmaceutical factories; the list goes on, up to bombing the entire cities of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The U.S. has supported Israel, Chile, Indonesia and a host of other countries in waging brutal wars against their own citizens and neighboring countries. The U.S. has knowingly sat by and witnessed the massive killing of civilians in Iraq, Rwanda, Turkey and many more.
In fact, the only difference between the normal course of enforcing U.S. foreign policy and Tuesday's attacks is that on Tuesday the terrorist's used hijacked civilian airliners as weapons and died themselves, whereas the U.S. tends more towards custom manufactured weapons systems which avoids risk to the lives of its own operatives.
Much of the U.S. population, on the other hand, may fairly be said to be relatively blameless. As may be noted from the past election, voting in the U.S. is largely a matter of selecting the lesser evil in a plutocrat-nominated candidate pool, and few voters find someone they actually want in office on the ballot (and even this limited choice can be overturned by corruption in the nations courts). Yes, the vast majority of people in this country do give money to the government (with which it pursues its own atrocities both at home and around the world) but few do it willingly. Theirs is the same kind of fault that a mugger's victim has when money from his wallet is used to purchase the gun with which the mugger kills another victim: not much at all, and probably none in most people's eyes.
To say that the Afghani's, for example, deserve the retaliation which Bush &co. are preparing for not having risen up and unseated the terrorists and terrorist sympathizers within their government is to say that the U.S. citizens, and foreign nationals, who died Tuesday, deserved that for not having risen up against their own governments, all of which practice similar tactics.
Americans, in fact, must bear a much greater percentage of the blame for their country's actions than many others, as (damaged and dysfunctional though it is) the U.S. does have a roughly functioning democracy and rarely openly tortures or murders domestic dissidents. As it would have been significantly easier, and much safer, for Americans to have removed the terrorists within their government than it could ever have been for the Afghanis, any blame for the U.S. government's actions must attach to its citizens many times more than could the Afghan government's attach to theirs.
If there is a "right" and there is a "wrong", and if there are rules by which one can distinguish the two, then these rules must be the same for everyone. If it is wrong to kill civilians, then it must be wrong for America just as it is wrong for any other organization. To respond to wrong with wrong makes no one right; it just makes everyone wrong.
If responsibility for a country's actions attends on those people living within that country's borders, then all must bear this responsibility. If the Afghan populace can be said to be responsible for the actions of their government, then so must Americans be responsible for the actions of theirs. If it is acceptable to kill innocent Afghanis in pursuit of retribution against their government (or prominent fellow citizens), it must also be acceptable to kill innocent Americans in pursuit of retribution against theirs.
If there are, in fact, rules by which an action can be called "right" or "wrong", then these rules apply equally to every person and every action. An American response to Tuesday's tragedy which kills innocent Afghanis (or Pakistanis, Iraqis, Palestinians) would be a statement that the people within a country's borders are responsible for that country's actions, regardless of how little influence they may have over them.
It would be an endorsement of Tuesday's killings.
So what can we do? What responses to this tragedy will allow us to proceed with our ethics intact; to act without compounding the tragedy by committing another atrocity ourselves?
Certainly, the U.S. should attempt to identify and bring to justice any surviving perpetrators. This, however, is not a task for the military, whose expertise lies only in performing this sort of thing themselves, but for the world's police forces. The American F.B.I., InterPol and others already have the expertise, and the standing mission, to investigate this and pursue any remaining perpetrators. To give in to the calling for an end to freedom to aid this investigation, however, will only remove the last reason America has to claim a right to evaluate the behavior of the world, and will not help to prevent another tragedy like this.
More importantly, and much more effectively in the long term, the U.S. must clean house. To quote from the Bible (a book revered by both Christians and Muslims): "Remove the plank from your own eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye". For those from other spiritual or philosophical traditions, among whom I count myself, consider that this same sentiment comes also from Chuang-Tzu and Mencius.
The U.S. must stop involving innocent civilians in its disputes with other governments. The blockades of Iraq and Cuba, the bombing of Belgrade; these are only a few examples of the U.S. attacking innocents itself. This must stop, and the Americans responsible must be brought to trial for their own crimes.
The U.S. must stop supporting terrorist organizations as well. Israel in Palestine, Indonesia in Timor, the "Contra" operation in Nicaragua; these are only a few examples of the terrorist organization the U.S. has supported. This support must end, and America should pursue justice against these terrorists and their supporters among our own government as well.
The U.S. must seek a consistent ethical basis for its actions, both at home and abroad. To bomb, or even "just" to invade, Kabul after having ignored the slaughter in Rwanda is the grossest hypocrisy. To intervene in the affairs of other peoples, the U.S. must prove its own worth.
Only by pursuing justice, rather than revenge, and only by honestly evaluating and rectifying our own country's behavior, can American's regain any ethical consistency and truly claim the right to condemn Tuesday's tragedy. Only in removing the causes of terrorism, the completely legitimate reasons why people the world over hate the United States and have nothing to lose by attacking it and those living within its borders, can America hope to bring an end to terrorism.