What Has 9/11 Done to the United States?

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In the October 2001 issue of the Public i, I examined elements of US policy that might have contributed to the 9/11 attack terrorist act that violated the human rights of the people killed and injured. Here I want to explore the lasting costs inflicted on the US.

Economic Costs

According to the Congressional Research Service, “With enactment of the sixth FY2011 Continuing Resolution through March 18, 2011…Congress has approved a total of $1.283 trillion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks.” Much of the day-to-day work supporting military action is being done by for-profit organizations. One can only imagine how many domestic social service, educational, and infrastructure needs could have been met with these amounts of money.

The $1.283 trillion does not include money spent by the 15 national government intelligence/security units on domestic anti-terrorism, nor the money handed over to private intelligence contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton. The politicians who have made these appropriations benefit from the war on terror in unprecedented ways. As is the case with the corporations contracting on field operations projects, these corporations are very well connected politically. Key players at the Carlyle Group-owners of Booz Allen Hamilton- include people from the two Bush administrations (including Bush Jr. himself) and the Clinton administrations. Former British Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, heads Carlyle’s European division. The war on terror is big business just as are the “wars” on crime, drugs, and illegal immigration.

Political Costs

By declaring war on terror, the US has entered into an era of permanent war. At a record ten consecutive years and counting, there is no end in sight. While the profit motive feeds this reality, it continues also because post-World War II era wars cannot be won in the sense of one side clearly defeating the other in battle. Nobody surrenders anymore. Continuous attrition drove the US out of Vietnam and the Russians out of Afghanistan. However, since this ‶war″ began with an attack on US territory by an external force, the human and economic costs of remaining are countered by fears of future vulnerability and attack.

A permanent state of war without hope of a military victory demoralizes the country and distorts the political system. This is illustrated in the diminishing of our civil liberties through political acts like the 2011 Patriot Act. We continue to be subject to this act which expanded the ability of law enforcement agencies to intrude into people’s private records and enhanced the ability of government to detain and/or deport immigrants suspected of engaging or abetting  acts of terrorism-however broadly or vaguely these are defined. The treatment of Professor Francis Boyle (see article in this issue) provides a powerful example of where this can lead.

The Department of Homeland Security, purportedly created to counter terrorism, has established “fusion centers” across the country to link federal, state, and local policing bodies to deal with “all crimes and hazards.” This seems to be an extremely broad and ill defined scope for a department created to fight terrorism. It calls to mind some of the more frightening images of other secretive policing operations during the Cold War, such as the FBI’s COINTEL  penetration and disruption program against left-wing and anti-Vietnam War groups..

Now there is a growing propensity to see those expressing dissent through protest in the US and abroad as potential or actual terrorists. In the October 2008 issue of the Public i, I discussed in depth the infiltration, harassment, beating, and arrests of protesters and journalists by a combination of policing bodies at the 2002 World Economic Forum, the 2003 Free Trade of the Americas meetings, and the 2004 and 2008 Republican National Conventions. There were even “preventive arrests” a week before the actual events.

Our attitudes toward and policies related to the separation of powers enshrined in our constitution have been further eroded post 9/11. Reagan and George W. Bush ignored the War Powers Act that requires congressional notification and approval before committing troops. Many Obama supporters anticipated that he would restore the balance between the legislature and the executive by respecting the act; Libya proved otherwise. In this state of permanent war against terrorism, the executive in either party is apparently going to preserve the maximum flexibility when it comes to the use of armed force, at home and abroad.

Moreover, the war on terror is isolating us internationally, particularly in the eyes of non-Europeans. We are viewed as hypocrits and  have lost respect and trust due to the US government selectiveness in definitions of what is an act of terrorism and what is a justifiable uprising, what is an oppressive regime and what is a political ally. Many cruel regimes have learned that they can gain a propaganda edge by labeling their opponents, whether armed or peaceful, as “terrorists” and the US government will remain silent if thinks that it is in the US’s interest to preserve the oppressive regimes-just look at Bahrain.

Moral Costs

The use of torture by American troops, intelligence agents, and contractors in interrogations, and the sanctioning of that use by the Bush Justice Department have brought the US to a new low. While Americans have engaged in torture of prisoners before, it had never before been systematized, publicized, and defended by a president and his administration. The mistreatment of prisoners in Guantanamo provided a tangible picture these practices. However, we seem not to have grown from our knowledge. President Obama has not followed through on his promise to close Guantanamo. People are still being held there after years of confinement without trial or due process of law. The myth that they are now being held in Cuba and not the United States is a geographical, but not a moral, distinction.

While the American media is quick to show photos of torture centers in Libya, the US government has been complicit in that torture as well. Prior to the uprising, we sent Libyans who opposed the Qaddafi regime back to Libya. In so-called “renditions,” the US also sent people to Egypt, Morocco, and Thailand to be tortured, often before the eyes of US agents.

Finally, the moral repercussions are rooting deeply in our daily lives. Islamophobia is on the rise in neighborhoods across the US. The mere sight of an Islamic person, or someone who is suspected of being  Muslim, carries with it associations with terrorism in the minds of too many citizens. This had added another sorry dimension to racism in our society.


Those who struck on 9/11 succeeded in delivering enduring harm to the US. Though Osama Bin Laden and many people in Al Qaeda have been killed, and there has been no major strike on the order of 9/11, the damage continues. Our government has too often aided and abetted the terrorists by its very responses to their terror.

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