By Democratic Left Blog Editors
Thirteen years after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, we mourn and we remember those who died that day. Of the attackers, 15 of the 19 were from Saudi Arabia; none were from Iraq. Their terrorism headquarters was in Afghanistan.
Yet, neoconservative hawks in the United States led George W. Bush to order the invasion of Iraq. More than 4,480 U.S. soldiers died and more than 32,000 were seriously wounded. More than one million Iraqis were killed, and the current crisis with ISIS in Iraq and Syria is a direct consequence of the invasion.
This was the war on terror. It began a process that has seriously damaged our democracy and our individual liberties.
In 2011, at the time of the tenth anniversary of the attacks, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote a report on the effects this war on terror has had on our democracy and civil liberties. It has been re-issued, and we believe it is important to highlight it here. In this report, “A Call to Courage: Reclaiming Our Liberties Ten Years Later,” they say:
Ten years later, as we remember and mourn those who died on September 11th, our nation still faces the challenge of remaining both safe and free. Our choice is not, as some would have it, between safety and freedom. Just the opposite is true. As President Obama recognized in a 2009 speech, “our values have been our best national security asset—in war and peace; in times of ease and in eras of upheaval.” Yet, our government’s policies and practices during the past decade have too often betrayed our values and undermined our security.
Ten years ago, we could not have imagined our country would engage in systematic policies of torture and targeted killing, extraordinary rendition and warrantless wiretaps, military commissions and indefinite detention, political surveillance and religious discrimination. Not only were these policies completely at odds with our values, but by engaging in them, we strained relations with our allies, handed a propaganda tool to our enemies, undermined the trust of communities whose cooperation is essential in the fight against terrorism, and diverted scarce law enforcement resources. Some of these policies have been stopped. Torture and extraordinary rendition are no longer officially condoned. But most other policies—indefinite detention, targeted killing, trial by military commissions, warrantless surveillance, and racial profiling—remain core elements of our national security strategy today.
The ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks provides an auspicious moment to pause and reflect on where we have come and where we are headed. This report is our attempt to invigorate that critical national conversation. We have titled it “A Call to Courage,” because we believe that a defining element of our national identity—embodied in our national anthem’s pairing of “the land of the free” with “the home of the brave”—has been imperiled by our leaders’ promotion of (or capitulation to) a politics of fear. We have seen Congress and the courts—which are intended to act as checks on executive overreach—fail to perform their constitutional oversight, standing down rather than standing up to the exaggerated demands of an unchecked executive. Indeed, Congress has too often actively stoked the politics of fear, passing statutes that claim to be tough on terror but in fact make us less safe. Our nation can and must do better.
Rather than working to allay public fear, our political leaders (with few exceptions) have manipulated it, to the point where it can be difficult to determine whether their expressions of alarm are genuine or merely opportunistic. These are arguments based on cynicism, not strength or resolve.
The full report has chapters on: “An Everywhere and Forever War,” “A Cancer on our Legal System,” “Fracturing a More Perfect Union,” and “A Massive and Unchecked Surveillance Society.” As we reflect on 9/11, we recommend the report to all. Click here to read the report.
For further reflection on this sad anniversary, in light of the recent shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., we recommend: “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” (2014), also by the ACLU.
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