Nine-eleven. Seemingly ordinary Tuesday morning. Television channels turned their coverage toward a tragic spectacle in New York. An airliner had struck the New York Trade Center. Circling news choppers transmitted images of a skyscraper with a hole in it’s side, smoke bellowing from within. The tragic spectacle of an assumed accident turned tectonic plate-shifting catastrophe once the second plane struck. And the Twin Towers crumbled to what we now know as Ground Zero. Foreign terrorists had unthinkably attacked the homeland. Everything changed.
We were broadcast images of Americans leaping from windows of skyscrapers to certain death. Entire crews of first responders were wiped out. Stories of heroism and tragedy were etched into American history. 2,996 people died that day. Thousands more have died since from complications.
It started as an inconvenience. My car had belonged to my grandad, who was a CW3 and had served in WWII, Vietnam (x3), and the Korean War. Before 9/11, that sticker on my car not only got me on post, but with a friendly salute to boot. There was a turf football field on Fort Lewis. Swimming in American Lake on McChord AFB. And if anyone had a military ID – we could get signed in, and buy tax-free goodies from the AAFES. Since 9/11, everyone has to show an ID at the gate. No more shopping/swimming/playing football. Seemed a reasonable sacrifice. Things change.
Now I’m poor folk, so I don’t fly much. I haven’t even been through the x-rated scanners and pat-downs. Maybe leaving liquids and sharp objects at home isn’t such a big deal. I once snuck an entire pizza into a Seahawks game. Under my jacket, held in place by my backpack, which needn’t be removed pre-9/11. No more sneaking on post, or sneaking pizzas into sporting events, with bothersome flight rituals. White people problems. But that’s just scratching the surface.
We wanted the people behind 9/11. We wanted blood. We were shocked that terrorists dare come into our house. We were united in patriotic outrage.
And we got it all wrong.
The first thing to know about 9/11 is of course, Osama Bin Laden. Osama was the very black sheep of his family. An extremely powerful family intertwined with politics in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia produces more oil than any other country, save Russia. They are the closest of US allies. It would have been nice if we could have maybe asked one of Osama’s relatives if they had known of his whereabouts. Unfortunately, they left the United States shortly after the attacks.
Politicians wanted to get tough, though. President Bush went on tv to declare a War on Terror. Dubya wanted congress to give the executive branch sweeping new powers to get the bad guys. Like, yesterday. Anyone questioning this response was brow-beaten into submission. Was called unpatriotic, un-American for questioning the President in such a critical moment. The Authorization for Use of Military Force passed through congress with but a single dissent – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA). And the Patriot Act was passed with but a single no-vote – Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI).
This was the root of our problems. The War on Terror and the Patriot Act have been used to justify myriad despicable, often unconstitutional tactics that have been done in our name. With our tax-dollars. And the Authorization for Use of Military Force is now being used to justify a US war in Syria, over a decade later.
President Bush suspended habeas corpus. Jose Padilla – American citizen – was detained in Chicago (May02). Labelled an enemy combatant and subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Tactics – tortured. Held for three-and-a-half years without charge. Before eventually being found guilty and sentenced to 21 years.
We used extrajudicial rendition to put prisoners into overseas black sites. Abu Ghraib and the like. Locked them up without warrant. Tortured them. Without intention to charge them with crimes or to ever let them go. And that is still the case to this day (minus the torture, unless you count the disturbing forced feedings, of course) at Guantanamo Bay (GTMO). Which is why ISIS prisoners are also dressed in orange.
Remember the nineteen 9/11 hijackers? Well, they were also Saudi Arabian. Not Iraqi, and not Afghani. Saudi. Same as the Bin Laden family. So why did we go to war in Iraq, again? That’s where the torture came in. Not to find Osama (we passed up an opportunity to get Osama in Tora Bora in 2001), or stop another nonexistent attack. Torture was necessary in our effort to link Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda.
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi admitted to taking part in planning 9/11 while in Egyptian custody, before being renditioned. He spoke English. Was cooperative and anticipated going through due process of the US justice system. To the point he requested his wife be allowed into the United States for the proceedings.
The CIA literally swifted al-Libi from FBI custody and began torturing him. They starved him. Had him sleep on cold concrete. Put him in a coffin-shaped box for 17 hours. And finally beat him in the face for a quarter-of-an-hour until he fabricated the story that Iraq was providing al-Qaeda nuclear weapons training.
Al-Libi had already confessed, and then we started torturing him for more. He had to provide new information to make the torture stop. Eventually he sang the tune we wanted to hear. Al-Libi later was transferred into Libyan custody. Where he finally died. Either from suicide or tuberculosis or… something.
With the Iraq/al-Qaeda link (falsely) established, the Bush administration – Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, George Tenet, Colin Powell et al – needed to establish an imminent threat from Iraq. Aluminum tubes. We intercepted a shipment of aluminum tubes in Jordan bound for Iraq. And claimed that they were intended for use in developing nuclear weapons. Done and done.
We had to attack Iraq, before we were attacked again. And next time – the smoking gun would come in the form of a mushroom cloud. 9/11 on steroids. Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Pentagon. The intelligence community. The White House. They all told us we had to go to war. Be very afraid. And we were. Public opinion agreed with starting another war with Iraq. We bought the line that we were fed.
But why did they do it? Why did they lie us into a war in Iraq? A war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians? Thousands of US service members? Thousands more to suicide, and life-altering injuries? Trillions in initial costs, with VA costs yet incalculable? Was Dubya just following in the footsteps of Poppy Bush?
Of course not. Bush was kept in that dark on some things. Plausible deniability is a common strategy utilized administrations. By all accounts, Bush was Dick Cheney’s puppet for the first 6 years, before he realized what had happened. After meetings with cabinet members, Cheney would be the one person left in the room. He would basically summarize the meeting to Dubya, framing it as though everyone had actually agreed with Cheney’s point of view. The useful idiot.
Not that Bush was innocent. He is a war criminal. He even invoked old testament biblical prophecy in defense of going back into war with Iraq. Told Tony Blair that he saw Gog and Magog at work there.
Why was (is) Dick Cheney such a Darth Vader-esque creature? Even with the knowledge that war in Iraq would be doomed to failure? (Watch the video.) Why was (is) he the main cheerleader for war? Why else? Money.
Dick Cheney left politics in 1995 to become CEO of Halliburton, major US defense contractor. In 2000, Bush asked Cheney to lead a search for his running mate. Cheney looked long and hard, and found the perfect candidate. In the mirror. Halliburton gave Cheney a hefty $30+million exit bonus, so that he could focus on the campaign. Halliburton was awarded nearly $40billion, mostly in no-bid contracts, for the war in Iraq. Quite an investment. And that’s why and how the travesty of 9/11 turned into the imbecillic nincompoopery of Iraq II. Money and politics. Amend the constitution.
The terrorists wanted blood, and we gave it to them. After the initial attack, we sent even more Americans to die in the Middle East. Still to this day. They wanted us to come to them. And they wanted to bleed us of our treasure. To follow in the example of the Soviets, and the British before. And we played right into their hands. As is happening with ISIS today.
That’s not all the terrorists wrought. Our most invaluable of resources are our values. We are supposed to be exceptional. The shining city on the hill. We are supposed to lead by example. To wear the white hat. We don’t get to be the police of the world when we can’t be trusted to follow the most basic of international and humanistic norms.
Not only did we suspend habeas corpus, and violate a bevy of international treaties by torturing our prisoners, never charging them with crimes or letting them go. Not only did we illegally invade a country that had done nothing to us. And leave another a shambles (Afghanistan) when it was SEAL Team Six who eventually got our man. In Pakistan.
We have secret drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia. The numbers are a bit fuzzy, but we kill dozens of civilians for every successful kill of known targets. If such collateral damage of civilian lives (which fuels anti-American sentiment, providing willing recruits for terrorist organizations) wasn’t bad enough – we lie about who we kill. We claim that we rarely if ever kill civilians. Label anyone of military age an enemy combatant. Have destroyed wedding parties. Funeral processions. We’ve attacked first responders in terroristic double-taps. We do signature strikes, when we kill based upon behavior. Say, callisthenics or being in a large group (say, a wedding party or funeral). We don’t even know who our targets are. We just kill them, and whomever else happens to be around at the time. We target cell phones. Who is holding the phone? Who knows? We target cell phones based upon metadata, and drop hellfire missiles.
Metadata? Did someone say metadata? The Patriot Act was also used to justify numerous domestic spying programs. In 2005, the New York Times James Risen reported that the NSA was intercepting Americans communications from directly inside telecommunication companies. Secret rooms inside private companies to which only the gov’t had keys. And given the go-ahead by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The PRISM program was the first of the Snowden revelations, which unconstitutionally seizes communications metadata of suspicionless Americans. Blatant 4th Amendment violation. We were assured that it was only metadata, that we needn’t worry if we weren’t doing anything wrong. Yet metadata is used to target and kill…cell phones.
Then we learned that the NSA et al are collecting far more than simply metadata. They are lapping up phone calls and texts, emails. Taking screen shots of the internet. And storing it all just in case they want to go back and look later. We built a humongous storage facility in Utah. They are spying on everything from our communications, to web searches and video game chat rooms, and embarrassing dating and pornography habits. They can access devices unconnected to the internet, through the motherboard. They exploit vulnerabilities in our devices, internal flaws and lax encryption. Keep those flaws a secret from manufacturers, and use it to access our communications.
We need our sleuths to have the most advanced of capabilities. We have active cyber warfare with China and Iran, at the least. Aside from thwarting conventional terror attacks. But it is unconstitutional to turn those technological advances on the American people without first having suspicion of them. The American people are not enemy combatants, and the United States is not a war zone.
Unfortunately, our government does not seem to agree. As our spying programs have been turned inward, so has our drone program. Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen, and we purposely targeted and killed him with a drone strike (along with Pakistani-American Samir Khan). His 16-year old, Denver-born son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (along with two cousins) was also killed by drone strike two weeks later. Sitting at an outdoor table at a cafe in Yemen, while searching for his already deceased father. How, pray tell, does one surrender to a drone?
He should have (had) a far more responsible father – Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. We were later told that Abdulrahman was not the actual target of the strike that killed him. Oh, and the actual target is classified. Sorry.
Due process does not require judicial process – US Attorney General Eric Holder. Too bad for Anwar, Samir, & Abdulrahman. How is this justified? That our government claims to legal authority to assassinate an American citizen (by drone or otherwise) without any sort of charges, let alone trial and conviction?
Sixteen pages of white papers released by the Obama administration (Feb13) lay out the broad legal framework. Though as per usual, the most disturbing and damning portions are kept classified.
An American citizen can be killed if they are deemed to be an imminent threat. Sounds reasonable enough, until the definition of imminent threat turns out to be ongoing threat. Or, not imminent. If continually involved in planning or recently been involved. And thus, does not require the United States to have clear evidence that an attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future. Basically, pre-crime.
Why not simply detain an American suspect if they need to be brought to justice? Depends upon whether the capture remains feasible throughout the process. Which also sounds reasonable, until unfeasible turns out to be when there is undue risk to U.S personnel.
I would submit that there is risk in getting out of bed in the morning. And I know what some of you are thinking – don’t go to Yemen, don’t get droned.
Mr. Holder asserted in a 4-page letter to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) that it could hypothetically be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution for the US government to apply these standards to target and kill a US citizen on US soil (Mar13).
I’m not a terrorist, why should I care? We didn’t establish the rights that guarantee our freedoms simply so the best of us can be free. That’s the easy part. Free speech doesn’t mean much when everyone agrees with the opinion. Westboro Baptist are despicable and deplorable individuals, yet they are free to spew their hatred without fear of imprisonment. Anwar al-Awlaki was a bad, bad guy. And Jose Padilla was found guilty. But our true character and our true freedoms are revealed in how we handle the worst of cases.
Two-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-six innocent people were not all that was lost that fateful Tuesday morning in September.