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The 9/11 Decade

Chomsky: 9/11 - was there an alternative?

Conspiracy Theories- NWO:

Suppression of one's own crimes is virtually ubiquitous among powerful states, at least those that are not defeated. Noam Chomsky 

We are approaching the 10th anniversary of the horrendous atrocities of September 11, 2001, which, it is commonly held, changed the world. On May 1, the presumed mastermind of the crime, Osama bin Laden, was assassinated in Pakistan by a team of elite US commandos, Navy SEALs, after he was captured, unarmed and undefended, in Operation Geronimo.

A number of analysts have observed that although bin Laden was finally killed, he won some major successes in his war against the US. "He repeatedly asserted that the only way to drive the US from the Muslim world and defeat its satraps was by drawing Americans into a series of small but expensive wars that would ultimately bankrupt them," Eric Margolis writes. "'Bleeding the US,' in his words. The United States, first under George W Bush and then Barack Obama, rushed right into bin Laden’s trap  ... Grotesquely overblown military outlays and debt addiction ... may be the most pernicious legacy of the man who thought he could defeat the United States” - particularly when the debt is being cynically exploited by the far right, with the collusion of the Democrat establishment, to undermine what remains of social programs, public education, unions, and, in general, remaining barriers to corporate tyranny.
That Washington was bent on fulfilling bin Laden’s fervent wishes was evident at once. As discussed in my book 9-11, written shortly after those attacks occurred, anyone with knowledge of the region could recognise “that a massive assault on a Muslim population would be the answer to the prayers of bin Laden and his associates, and would lead the US and its allies into a ‘diabolical trap’, as the French foreign minister put it”.

The senior CIA analyst responsible for tracking Osama bin Laden from 1996, Michael Scheuer, wrote shortly after that “bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. [He] is out to drastically alter US and Western policies toward the Islamic world”, and largely succeeded: “US forces and policies are completing the radicalisation of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, I think it is fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.” And arguably remains so, even after his death.

The first 9/11

Was there an alternative? There is every likelihood that the Jihadi movement, much of it highly critical of bin Laden, could have been split and undermined after 9/11. The “crime against humanity”, as it was rightly called, could have been approached as a crime, with an international operation to apprehend the likely suspects. That was recognised at the time, but no such idea was even considered.
In 9-11, I quoted Robert Fisk’s conclusion that the “horrendous crime” of 9/11 was committed with “wickedness and awesome cruelty”, an accurate judgment. It is useful to bear in mind that the crimes could have been even worse. Suppose, for example, that the attack had gone as far as bombing the White House, killing the president, imposing a brutal military dictatorship that killed thousands and tortured tens of thousands while establishing an international terror centre that helped impose similar torture-and-terror states elsewhere and carried out an international assassination campaign; and as an extra fillip, brought in a team of economists - call them “the Kandahar boys” - who quickly drove the economy into one of the worst depressions in its history. That, plainly, would have been a lot worse than 9/11.

Unfortunately, it is not a thought experiment. It happened. The only inaccuracy in this brief account is that the numbers should be multiplied by 25 to yield per capita equivalents, the appropriate measure. I am, of course, referring to what in Latin America is often called “the first 9/11”: September 11, 1973, when the US succeeded in its intensive efforts to overthrow the democratic government of Salvador Allende in Chile with a military coup that placed General Pinochet’s brutal regime in office. The goal, in the words of the Nixon administration, was to kill the “virus” that might encourage all those “foreigners [who] are out to screw us” to take over their own resources and in other ways to pursue an intolerable policy of independent development. In the background was the conclusion of the National Security Council that, if the US could not control Latin America, it could not expect “to achieve a successful order elsewhere in the world”.

The first 9/11, unlike the second, did not change the world. It was “nothing of very great consequence”, as Henry Kissinger assured his boss a few days later.

These events of little consequence were not limited to the military coup that destroyed Chilean democracy and set in motion the horror story that followed. The first 9/11 was just one act in a drama which began in 1962, when John F Kennedy shifted the mission of the Latin American military from “hemispheric defense” - an anachronistic holdover from World War II - to “internal security”, a concept with a chilling interpretation in US-dominated Latin American circles.

In the recently published Cambridge University History of the Cold War, Latin American scholar John Coatsworth writes that from that time to “the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of non-violent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those in the Soviet Union and its East European satellites”, including many religious martyrs and mass slaughter as well, always supported or initiated in Washington. The last major violent act was the brutal murder of six leading Latin American intellectuals, Jesuit priests, a few days after the Berlin Wall fell. The perpetrators were an elite Salvadorean battalion, which had already left a shocking trail of blood, fresh from renewed training at the JFK School of Special Warfare, acting on direct orders of the high command of the US client state.

The consequences of this hemispheric plague still, of course, reverberate.

From kidnapping and torture to assassination

All of this, and much more like it, is dismissed as of little consequence, and forgotten. Those whose mission is to rule the world enjoy a more comforting picture, articulated well enough in the current issue of the prestigious (and valuable) journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. The lead article discusses “the visionary international order” of the “second half of the twentieth century” marked by “the universalisation of an American vision of commercial prosperity”. There is something to that account, but it does not quite convey the perception of those at the wrong end of the guns.

The same is true of the assassination of Osama bin Laden, which brings to an end at least a phase in the “war on terror” re-declared by President George W Bush on the second 9/11. Let us turn to a few thoughts on that event and its significance.

On May 1, 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed in his virtually unprotected compound by a raiding mission of 79 Navy SEALs, who entered Pakistan by helicopter. After many lurid stories were provided by the government and withdrawn, official reports made it increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law, beginning with the invasion itself.

There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 79 commandos facing no opposition - except, they report, from his wife, also unarmed, whom they shot in self-defense when she “lunged” at them, according to the White House.

A plausible reconstruction of the events is provided by veteran Middle East correspondent Yochi Dreazen and colleagues in the Atlantic. Dreazen, formerly the military correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, is senior correspondent for the National Journal Group covering military affairs and national security. According to their investigation, White House planning appears not to have considered the option of capturing bin Laden alive: “The administration had made clear to the military's clandestine Joint Special Operations Command that it wanted bin Laden dead, according to a senior US official with knowledge of the discussions. A high-ranking military officer briefed on the assault said the SEALs knew their mission was not to take him alive.”

The authors add: “For many at the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency who had spent nearly a decade hunting bin Laden, killing the militant was a necessary and justified act of vengeance.” Furthermore, “capturing bin Laden alive would have also presented the administration with an array of nettlesome legal and political challenges”. Better, then, to assassinate him, dumping his body into the sea without the autopsy considered essential after a killing - an act that predictably provoked both anger and skepticism in much of the Muslim world.

As the Atlantic inquiry observes, “The decision to kill bin Laden outright was the clearest illustration to date of a little-noticed aspect of the Obama administration's counterterror policy. The Bush administration captured thousands of suspected militants and sent them to detention camps in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. The Obama administration, by contrast, has focused on eliminating individual terrorists rather than attempting to take them alive.” That is one significant difference between Bush and Obama. The authors quote former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who “told German TV that the US raid was ‘quite clearly a violation of international law’ and that bin Laden should have been detained and put on trial”, contrasting Schmidt with US Attorney General Eric Holder, who “defended the decision to kill bin Laden although he didn't pose an immediate threat to the Navy SEALs, telling a House panel ... that the assault had been ‘lawful, legitimate and appropriate in every way’".

The disposal of the body without autopsy was also criticised by allies. The highly regarded British barrister Geoffrey Robertson, who supported the intervention and opposed the execution largely on pragmatic grounds, nevertheless described Obama’s claim that “justice was done” as an “absurdity” that should have been obvious to a former professor of constitutional law. Pakistan law “requires a colonial inquest on violent death, and international human rights law insists that the ‘right to life’ mandates an inquiry whenever violent death occurs from government or police action. The US is therefore under a duty to hold an inquiry that will satisfy the world as to the true circumstances of this killing.”

Robertson usefully reminds us that:

“[I]t was not always thus. When the time came to consider the fate of men much more steeped in wickedness than Osama bin Laden - the Nazi leadership - the British government wanted them hanged within six hours of capture. President Truman demurred, citing the conclusion of Justice Robert Jackson that summary execution 'would not sit easily on the American conscience or be remembered by our children with pride ... the only course is to determine the innocence or guilt of the accused after a hearing as dispassionate as the times will permit and upon a record that will leave our reasons and motives clear.’”
Eric Margolis comments that “Washington has never made public the evidence of its claim that Osama bin Laden was behind the 9/11 attacks”, presumably one reason why “polls show that fully a third of American respondents believe that the US government and/or Israel were behind 9/11”, while in the Muslim world skepticism is much higher. “An open trial in the US or at the Hague would have exposed these claims to the light of day,” he continues, a practical reason why Washington should have followed the law.

In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects”. In June 2002, FBI head Robert Mueller, in what the Washington Post described as “among his most detailed public comments on the origins of the attacks”, could say only that “investigators believe the idea of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon came from al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, the actual plotting was done in Germany, and the financing came through the United Arab Emirates from sources in Afghanistan”.

What the FBI believed and thought in June 2002 they didn’t know eight months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know) to permit a trial of bin Laden if they were presented with evidence. Thus, it is not true, as President Obama claimed in his White House statement after bin Laden’s death, that “[w]e quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda”.

There has never been any reason to doubt what the FBI believed in mid-2002, but that leaves us far from the proof of guilt required in civilised societies - and whatever the evidence might be, it does not warrant murdering a suspect who could, it seems, have been easily apprehended and brought to trial. Much the same is true of evidence provided since. Thus, the 9/11 Commission provided extensive circumstantial evidence of bin Laden’s role in 9/11, based primarily on what it had been told about confessions by prisoners in Guantanamo. It is doubtful that much of that would hold up in an independent court, considering the ways confessions were elicited. But in any event, the conclusions of a congressionally authorised investigation, however convincing one finds them, plainly fall short of a sentence by a credible court, which is what shifts the category of the accused from suspect to convicted.

There is much talk of bin Laden's “confession”, but that was a boast, not a confession, with as much credibility as my “confession” that I won the Boston marathon. The boast tells us a lot about his character, but nothing about his responsibility for what he regarded as a great achievement, for which he wanted to take credit.

Again, all of this is, transparently, quite independent of one’s judgments about his responsibility, which seemed clear immediately, even before the FBI inquiry, and still does.

Crimes of aggression

It is worth adding that bin Laden’s responsibility was recognised in much of the Muslim world, and condemned. One significant example is the distinguished Lebanese cleric Sheikh Fadlallah, greatly respected by Hizbollah and Shia groups generally, outside Lebanon as well. He had some experience with assassinations. He had been targeted for assassination: by a truck bomb outside a mosque, in a CIA-organised operation in 1985. He escaped, but 80 others were killed, mostly women and girls as they left the mosque - one of those innumerable crimes that do not enter the annals of terror because of the fallacy of “wrong agency”. Sheikh Fadlallah sharply condemned the 9/11 attacks.

One of the leading specialists on the Jihadi movement, Fawaz Gerges, suggests that the movement might have been split at that time had the US exploited the opportunity instead of mobilising the movement, particularly by the attack on Iraq, a great boon to bin Laden, which led to a sharp increase in terror, as intelligence agencies had anticipated. At the Chilcot hearings investigating the background to the invasion of Iraq, for example, the former head of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5 testified that both British and US intelligence were aware that Saddam posed no serious threat, that the invasion was likely to increase terror, and that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan had radicalised parts of a generation of Muslims who saw the military actions as an “attack on Islam”. As is often the case, security was not a high priority for state action.

It might be instructive to ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos had landed at George W Bush's compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic (after proper burial rites, of course). Uncontroversially, he was not a “suspect” but the “decider” who gave the orders to invade Iraq - that is, to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country and its national heritage, and the murderous sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region. Equally uncontroversially, these crimes vastly exceed anything attributed to bin Laden.

To say that all of this is uncontroversial, as it is, is not to imply that it is not denied. The existence of flat earthers does not change the fact that, uncontroversially, the earth is not flat. Similarly, it is uncontroversial that Stalin and Hitler were responsible for horrendous crimes, though loyalists deny it. All of this should, again, be too obvious for comment, and would be, except in an atmosphere of hysteria so extreme that it blocks rational thought.

Similarly, it is uncontroversial that Bush and associates did commit the “supreme international crime” - the crime of aggression. That crime was defined clearly enough by Justice Robert Jackson, Chief of Counsel for the United States at Nuremberg.  An “aggressor,” Jackson proposed to the Tribunal in his opening statement, is a state that is the first to commit such actions as “[i]nvasion of its armed forces, with or without a declaration of war, of the territory of another State ...” No one, even the most extreme supporter of the aggression, denies that Bush and associates did just that.

We might also do well to recall Jackson’s eloquent words at Nuremberg on the principle of universality: “If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

It is also clear that announced intentions are irrelevant, even if they are truly believed. Internal records reveal that Japanese fascists apparently did believe that, by ravaging China, they were labouring to turn it into an “earthly paradise”. And although it may be difficult to imagine, it is conceivable that Bush and company believed they were protecting the world from destruction by Saddam’s nuclear weapons. All irrelevant, though ardent loyalists on all sides may try to convince themselves otherwise.

We are left with two choices: either Bush and associates are guilty of the “supreme international crime” including all the evils that follow, or else we declare that the Nuremberg proceedings were a farce and the allies were guilty of judicial murder.

The imperial mentality and 9/11

A few days before the bin Laden assassination, Orlando Bosch died peacefully in Florida, where he resided along with his accomplice Luis Posada Carriles and many other associates in international terrorism. After he was accused of dozens of terrorist crimes by the FBI, Bosch was granted a presidential pardon by Bush I over the objections of the Justice Department, which found the conclusion “inescapable that it would be prejudicial to the public interest for the United States to provide a safe haven for Bosch”. The coincidence of these deaths at once calls to mind the Bush II doctrine - “already … a de facto rule of international relations”, according to the noted Harvard international relations specialist Graham Allison - which revokes “the sovereignty of states that provide sanctuary to terrorists”.

Allison refers to the pronouncement of Bush II, directed at the Taliban, that “those who harbour terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves”. Such states, therefore, have lost their sovereignty and are fit targets for bombing and terror - for example, the state that harbored Bosch and his associate. When Bush issued this new “de facto rule of international relations”, no one seemed to notice that he was calling for invasion and destruction of the US and the murder of its criminal presidents.

None of this is problematic, of course, if we reject Justice Jackson’s principle of universality, and adopt instead the principle that the US is self-immunised against international law and conventions - as, in fact, the government has frequently made very clear.

It is also worth thinking about the name given to the bin Laden operation: Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound that few seem able to perceive that the White House is glorifying bin Laden by calling him “Geronimo” - the Apache Indian chief who led the courageous resistance to the invaders of Apache lands. 

The casual choice of the name is reminiscent of the ease with which we name our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Blackhawk … We might react differently if the Luftwaffe had called its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy”.

The examples mentioned would fall under the category of “American exceptionalism”, were it not for the fact that easy suppression of one’s own crimes is virtually ubiquitous among powerful states, at least those that are not defeated and forced to acknowledge reality.

Perhaps the assassination was perceived by the administration as an “act of vengeance,” as Robertson concludes. And perhaps the rejection of the legal option of a trial reflects a difference between the moral culture of 1945 and today, as he suggests. Whatever the motive was, it could hardly have been security. As in the case of the “supreme international crime” in Iraq, the bin Laden assassination is another illustration of the important fact that security is often not a high priority for state action, contrary to received doctrine.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous bestselling political works, including 9-11: Was There an Alternative? (Seven Stories Press), an updated version of his classic account, just being published this week with a major new essay - from which this post was adapted - considering the 10 years since the 9/11 attacks.
A version of this piece was originally published on

Did 9/11 really change the world?
By Barnaby Phillips in Americas
How much difference did 9/11 really make to our world? At the time, it seemed like everything had changed. For the many thousands of people in the United States personally affected by those heinous acts, life would never be the same again. 

For millions of people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the consequences have been traumatic and profound. In many other countries, from Britain to Nigeria, from Indonesia to Spain, from Uganda to Russia, innocent people have become victims of acts of terror. 

Governments have responded in various ways, and sometimes those responses have been clumsy, cruel and counter-productive. These are all very important events. But have they really changed the world for decades to come?   

Here’s a list, off the top of my head, of global events and trends in the past decade that many people would argue are more important than 9/11, "the War on Terror" and the activities of al-Qaeda.

1) The rise of China as an economic superpower.

2) Likewise, the rise of India.

3) Brazil, Turkey and a whole host of other countries are coming up not so far behind.

4) Related to above, the relative economic decline of the West, (by which I mean the United States and Europe), symbolised by the financial crisis of 2008, and the ongoing crisis in the eurozone.

5) The complete failure of all of the world’s leading powers to take action to prevent, or even mitigate, the effects of climate change.

And here are two more possibles, that I’m tempted to put on the list:

6) The amazing spread of social networking like Facebook and Twitter.

7) The Arab Spring.

An interesting piece from Reuters looks at the same issues. The author, Peter Apps, reaches similar conclusions, although he argues that America and Britain’s economic problems, and hence their decline in global influence, are, at least in part, a consequence of the wars they decided to wage in reaction to 9/11.

This blog, in the Financial Times, also makes the point that 9/11 seems much less important now than it did at the time.

Of course, the sensible answer to the question I posed at the top of this blog is "it’s too early to tell". That, famously, is what the Chinese Communist leader Zhou Enlai is said to have responded when asked for his assessment of the French Revolution. So, if it’s too soon to reach a conclusion on something that happened in 1789, it would be very reckless to make definitive pronouncements about something that happened as recently as 2001. 

As Martin Wolf points out in the FT blog, if al-Qaeda were able to stage an attack involving nuclear weapons, our assessment of the long-term significance of 9/11 would change, and radically.

Thankfully, that has not happened yet. So, a very tentative conclusion on the 10th anniversary of that terrible day, is that it did not change the world quite as much as we thought it might. But like Zhou Enlai, we'll have to wait and see.


Pulling the plug on "The War on Terror"

Is it time to end the 'War on Terror'?

That was the motion under debate on Wednesday night in New York City, as the Intelligence Squared Debate series brought experts from inside and outside the government to try and convince the audience that it is either time to declare the open-ended war against "terrorism" over, or that doing so would cripple the US government’s ability to protect its citizens.

It’s a question that, with the killing of Osama bin Laden, the revolutions in the Arab world, the imminent US withdrawal from Iraq and the beginning of a US troop drawdown in Afghanistan, is in the air in the US. Ten years on from the September 11, 2001, attacks that prompted the US Congress to authorise the use of “all necessary and appropriate force” against those deemed to have planned, or aided in planning, the attacks, there is a sense that it may be time for the US, both as a government and as a nation, to walk away from a definition of war that remains open-ended.

Debating for the motion were Peter Bergen, a national security analyst with first-hand experience of reporting on armed groups and the author of several books on the subject, and Juliette Kayyem, who has served under the Obama administration in the Department of Homeland Security at the federal level and fulfilled a similar role at the state-level.

Against them stood Michael Hayden, the former director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (2006-2009) and the National Security Agency (1999-2005), and Richard Falkenrath, a homeland security adviser to then-US President George W Bush (2001-2003) and former deputy commissioner for counter-terrorism for the New York Police Department (2006-2010).

Bergen, a man who even his opponents conceded has an “encyclopaedic knowledge of the operational details of terrorist groups”, opened proceedings with the view that maintaining the current rhetoric regarding a ‘War on Terror’ “masks other problems”, such as managing the rise of China and maintaining geopolitical stability in other regions and conflicts that are not directly related to "terrorism" as it has come to be known in US political discourse.

For him, the focus of the war needs to be narrowed so that it looks only at al-Qaeda – a group he argued was “on its last legs”, citing a lack of organisation and reach. He also asserted that the group had not been able to launch a major international attack since the July 2006 bombings in London (a claim that victims of attacks by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb and al-Qaeda affiliates in Iraq may well dispute).

“Three hundred people die every year in their bath tubs in the United States,” Bergen said, comparing that to the “far lower” number of US citizens killed by al-Qaeda, on average, every year. “And we’re not afraid of bath tubs.”

Bergen argued that al-Qaeda had “lost the battle of ideas” in the Middle East, and that the revolutions in the Arab world, which have occurred by and large without any reference to the ideology of al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, were proof of the group’s declining influence.

Bergen’s point, then, was that al-Qaeda’s abilities had been degraded to the point where the large US counterterrorism and intelligence operations being run against them could be pulled back from the war-footing they have been on for the last 10 years, allowing US national security policy to be based on a broader range of concerns rather than on a “grandiose … all-encompassing approach” against “anyone who says the word ‘jihad’”.

Kayyem, Bergen’s partner in the debate, though, seemed to be making an altogether different, and more sociological, point. The former Obama administration official argued that what was required after 10 years was a change of “mindset”; that not just the government but the citizens of the United States needed to change their ideology on how to deal with "Islamic fundamentalism".

Moreover, she argued that as far as the government was concerned, this had already happened, with the evolution of a counterterrorism approach that was less over-arching than in the initial years of the war. What needed to happen, however, was for more elements of the “dark side” of the immediate response to the 9/11 attacks (e.g. military tribunals, arbitrary detention, wiretapping and a “disdain for the judiciary”) to be abandoned in favour of a US security apparatus that is more focused and less diffuse.

For Kayyem, the time for the "War on Terror" has come and gone, and it is time to step away from a language that puts the country into a “war mentality”, and for the nation to move towards a political space where it would be acceptable (“not political suicide”, to use Kayyem’s words) to declare the "War on Terror" over.

It’s a compelling point, but not one which Hayden and Falkenrath were willing to engage with.

One needs to define the debate “precisely, not in terms of a squishy mindset or set of feelings”, Falkenrath countered.
For Hayden and Falkenrath, this debate was not about ideologies, political atmospherics or discourse: it was about repealing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed on September 18, 2001, against those deemed responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

This, of course, they deemed to be a dangerous and unnecessary course of action that would remove certain tools and abilities from the US’s efforts against militant groups deemed to be a threat to it.

“With the perpetrators of 9/11 still at large, we still need this law,” argued Falkenrath, who added that the debate was not about whether the law was “misused” in the early years of the Bush presidency. For him, there was no harm in keeping the law in place, and no benefit to be gained from shelving it, as it would no longer allow the US president to take whatever actions he or she deemed necessary in order to strike at groups considered a threat to the US.

Hayden, moreover, argued that the law did not broaden the scope of the war too much; in contrast, he asserted that it was focused on fighting al-Qaeda, rather than other groups (such as Hezbollah, who he named). He stressed that if the law was shelved, then it would raise troubling legal questions for events like the killing of Osama bin Laden – an event that he argued should have occurred exactly as it did, without consideration for Bin Laden’s Miranda rights.

For Hayden, abandoning the law would mean that the Miranda rights would have to be made more malleable across the board, rather than simply denied to certain people, which had broader implications for civil liberties than what he described as the limited, focused infringements of those liberties under the "War on Terror" laws.

The question of Miranda rights provided for what was, for this non-US member of the audience, a fairly uncomfortable moment when Falkenrath, Hayden’s partner, suggested that abandoning the AUMF would mean that if the US found Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s new leader, soldiers would have to read him rights rather than shoot him on the spot.
Rather than eliciting a silence, that statement drew giggles from those across the packed auditorium. A wink and a nod, then, that this audience, at least, was comfortable with the idea of killing al-Zawahiri rather than pursuing him in a US or International Criminal Court.

Finally, asked what conditions the side against the motion would set for ending the war at some later point, Hayden said that he had no concrete notion of what that would be, and that “we’ll recognise it when we see it”, a suggestion that Falkenrath said he saw no harm in.

After a lively debate, with plenty in the way of both anecdotal flippancy and historical context, the audience was asked to vote on whether or not they had changed their minds on the motion (the Intelligence Squared debates are judged based not on the absolute numbers for and against the motion in question, but on voting both before and after the arguments to determine how many switched sides as a result of the debate).

The winners?

Hayden and Falkenrath, who went up 15 percentage points by the end of the debate, as against Kayyem and Bergen’s five per cent (11 per cent remained undecided). Tellingly, however, this still meant that the absolute numbers stood at 46 per cent for the motion, and 43 per cent against.

The debate, then, doesn’t look like it’ll be settled anytime soon.


Taliban remains strong ten years on

The US and NATO war in Afghanistan is in its tenth year, yet many fear the Taliban is poised to return to power. Despite surges in US troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban is stronger now than it was ten years ago.

In addition to the American secret prisons in Afghanistan, long-standing complicity with Afghan organs that torture detainees - a fact acknowledged by the US at least as early as 2009 in a cable obtained by Wikileaks and finally prompting a NATO ban on prisoner transfers three days ago - have made farcical international programs begin programs preaching the rule of law in the country.

Similarly, the irony of the International Monetary Fund's recent prodding to urge Kabul to collect more tax revenue was not lost on Afghan parliamentarians who pointed to the treaty with the US that exempts American contractors from paying taxes on their vast profits in Afghanistan, thereby depriving the treasury of tens of millions of dollars.

Much of this is glossed as "Afghan corruption" in our media when it is instead a story of collusion inevitably justified by pointing to the greater evils of the enemy.

This same moral certainty has guided Washington in its belated and still largely dismissive approach to a negotiated political settlement to the war. The keywords "reconciliation" and "reintegration" have been little more than invitations for the insurgents to surrender.

A new Taliban? 
Meanwhile, the Taliban have evolved into a force with a cogent nationalist agenda combining an anti-colonial defense of Afghan sovereignty and Islam with promises of economic development, accountable government, and non-aggression on the world stage and have hinted at being open to power-sharing.
Ideologically hostile to compromise with a movement it scarcely understands, Washington, by contrast, appears bent on military victory - and on an Afghanistan home to plenty of US bases in a strategically critical region.
Yet with 2014 looming, the latest counterinsurgency tricks look like little more than the rearranging of chairs on the Titanic, with a dysfunctional Afghan political system tailor-made for another decade of civil war.

Robert D. Crews is an Associate Professor of History and Director of the Centre for Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies at Standford University. He is co-editor (with Amin Tarzi) of The Taliban and Politicised the Crisis of Afghanistan and author of For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia.

Let's forget 9/11
If we have any respect for history or humanity, we should remove 9/11 from our collective consciousness. By Tom Engelhardt 

Let's bag it.

I'm talking about the tenth anniversary ceremonies for 9/11, and everything that goes with them: the solemn reading of the names of the dead, the tolling of bells, the honouring of first responders, the gathering of presidents, the dedication of the new memorial, the moments of silence. The works.
Let's just can it all. Shut down Ground Zero. Lock out the tourists. Close "Reflecting Absence", the memorial built in the "footprints" of the former towers with its grove of trees, giant pools, and multiple waterfalls before it can be unveiled this Sunday. Discontinue work on the underground National September 11 Museum due to open in 2012. Tear down the Freedom Tower (redubbed 1 World Trade Center after our "freedom" wars went awry), 102 stories of "the most expensive skyscraper ever constructed in the United States". (Estimated price tag: $3.3bn.)  Eliminate that still-being-constructed, hubris-filled 1,776 feet of building, planned in the heyday of George W Bush and soaring into the Manhattan sky like a nyaah-nyaah invitation to future terrorists. Dismantle the other three office towers being built there as part of an $11bn government-sponsored construction programme. Let's get rid of it all.  If we had wanted a memorial to 9/11, it would have been more appropriate to leave one of the giant shards of broken tower there untouched.

Ask yourself this: ten years into the post-9/11 era, haven't we had enough of ourselves?  If we have any respect for history or humanity or decency left, isn't it time to rip the Band-Aid off the wound, to remove 9/11 from our collective consciousness?  No more invocations of those attacks to explain otherwise inexplicable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our oh-so-global war on terror. No more invocations of 9/11 to keep the Pentagon and the national security state flooded with money. No more invocations of 9/11 to justify every encroachment on liberty, every new step in the surveillance of Americans, every advance in pat-downs and wand-downs and strip downs that keeps fear high and the homeland security state afloat.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 were in every sense abusive, horrific acts. And the saddest thing is that the victims of those suicidal monstrosities have been misused here ever since under the guise of pious remembrance. This country has become dependent on the dead of 9/11 - who have no way of defending themselves against how they have been used - as an all-purpose explanation for our own goodness and the horrors we've visited on others, for the many towers-worth of dead in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere whose blood is on our hands.

Isn't it finally time to go cold turkey? To let go of the dead? Why keep repeating our 9/11 mantra as if it were some kind of old-time religion, when we've proven that we, as a nation, can't handle it - and worse yet, that we don't deserve it?

We would have been better off consigning our memories of 9/11 to oblivion, forgetting it all if only we could. We can't, of course. But we could stop the anniversary remembrances. We could stop invoking 9/11 in every imaginable way so many years later. We could stop using it to make ourselves feel like a far better country than we are. We could, in short, leave the dead in peace and take a good, hard look at ourselves, the living, in the nearest mirror.

Ceremonies of hubris

Within 24 hours of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the first newspaper had already labelled the site in New York as "Ground Zero". If anyone needed a sign that we were about to run off the rails, as a misassessment of what had actually occurred that should have been enough. Previously, the phrase "ground zero" had only one meaning: It was the spot where a nuclear explosion had occurred.

The facts of 9/11 are, in this sense, simple enough. It was not a nuclear attack. It was not apocalyptic. The cloud of smoke where the towers stood was no mushroom cloud. It was not potentially civilisation-ending. It did not endanger the existence of our country - or even of New York City. Spectacular as it looked and staggering as the casualty figures were, the operation was hardly more technologically advanced than the failed attack on a single tower of the World Trade Center in 1993 by Islamists using a rented Ryder truck packed with explosives.

A second irreality went with the first. Almost immediately, key Republicans like Senator John McCain, followed by George W Bush, top figures in his administration, and soon after, in a drumbeat of agreement, the mainstream media declared that we were "at war". This was, Bush would say only three days after the attacks, "the first war of the twenty-first century".

Only problem: It wasn't. Despite the screaming headlines, Ground Zero wasn't Pearl Harbor. Al-Qaeda wasn't Japan, nor was it Nazi Germany. It wasn't the Soviet Union. It had no army, nor finances to speak of, and possessed no state (though it had the minimalist protection of a hapless government in Afghanistan, one of the most backward, poverty-stricken lands on the planet).

And yet - another sign of where we were heading - anyone who suggested that this wasn't war, that it was a criminal act and some sort of international police action was in order, was simply laughed (or derided or insulted) out of the American room. And so the empire prepared to strike back (just as Osama bin Laden hoped it would) in an apocalyptic, planet-wide "war" for domination that masqueraded as a war for survival.

In the meantime, the populace was mustered through repetitive, nationwide 9/11 rites emphasising that we Americans were the greatest victims, greatest survivors, and greatest dominators on planet Earth. It was in this cause that the dead of 9/11 were turned into potent recruiting agents for a revitalised American way of war.

From all this, in the brief mission-accomplished months after Kabul and then Baghdad fell, American hubris seemed to know no bounds - and it was this moment, not 9/11 itself, from which the true inspiration for the gargantuan "Freedom Tower" and the then-billion-dollar project for a memorial on the site of the New York attacks would materialise. It was this sense of hubris that those gargantuan projects were intended to memorialise.

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, for an imperial power that is distinctly tattered, visibly in decline, teetering at the edge of financial disaster, and battered by never-ending wars, political paralysis, terrible economic times, disintegrating infrastructure, and weird weather, all of this should be simple and obvious. That it's not tells us much about the kind of shock therapy we still need.

Burying the worst urges in American life

It's commonplace, even today, to speak of Ground Zero as "hallowed ground". How untrue. Ten years later, it is defiled ground and it is we who have defiled it. It could have been different. The 9/11 attacks could have been like the Blitz in London in World War II. Something to remember forever with grim pride, stiff upper lip and all.

And if it were only the reactions of those in New York City that we had to remember, both the dead and the living, the first responders and the last responders, the people who created impromptu memorials to the dead and message centres for the missing in Manhattan, we might recall 9/11 with similar pride. Generally speaking, New Yorkers were respectful, heartfelt, thoughtful, and not vengeful. They didn't have prior plans that, on September 12, 2001, they were ready to rally those nearly 3,000 dead to support. They weren't prepared at the moment of the catastrophe to - as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld so classically said - "Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not."

Unfortunately, they were not the measure of the moment. As a result, the uses of 9/11 in the decade since have added up to a profile in cowardice, not courage, and if we let it be used that way in the next decade, we will go down in history as a nation of cowards. 

There is little on this planet of the living more important, or more human, than the burial and remembrance of the dead. Even Neanderthals buried their dead, possibly with flowers, and tens of thousands of years ago, the earliest humans, the Cro-Magnon, were already burying their dead elaborately, in one case in clothing onto which more than 3,000 ivory beads had been sewn, perhaps as objects of reverence and even remembrance. Much of what we know of human prehistory and the earliest eras of our history comes from graves and tombs where the dead were provided for.

And surely it's our duty in this world of loss to remember the dead, those close to us and those more removed who mattered in our national or even planetary lives. Many of those who loved and were close to the victims of 9/11 are undoubtedly attached to the yearly ceremonies that surround their deceased wives, husbands, lovers, children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. For the nightmare of 9/11, they deserve a memorial. But we don't.

If September 11 was indeed a nightmare, 9/11 as a memorial and Ground Zero as a "consecrated" place has turned out to be a blank check for the American war state, funding an endless trip to hell. They have helped lead us into fields of carnage that put the dead of 9/11 to shame.

Every dead person will, of course, be forgotten sooner or later, no matter how tightly we clasp their memories or what memorials we build. In my mind, I have a private memorial to my own dead parents. Whenever I leaf through my mother's childhood photo album and recognise just about no one but her among all the faces, however, I'm also aware that there is no one left on this planet to ask about any of them. And when I die, my little memorial to them will go with me.

This will be the fate, sooner or later, of everyone who on September 11, 2001, was murdered in those buildings in New York, in that field in Pennsylvania, and in the Pentagon, as well as those who sacrificed their lives in rescue attempts, or may now be dying as a result. Under such circumstances, who would not want to remember them all in a special way?

It's a terrible thing to ask those still missing the dead of 9/11 to forgo the public spectacle that accompanies their memory, but worse is what we have: repeated solemn ceremonies to the ongoing health of the American war state and the wildest dreams of Osama bin Laden.

Memory is usually so important, but in this case we would have been better off with oblivion. It's time to truly inter not the dead, but the worst urges in American life since 9/11 and the ceremonies which, for a decade, have gone with them. Better to bury all of that at sea with bin Laden and then mourn the dead, each in our own way, in silence and, above all, in peace.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published in November. 


The Clash of Civilizations?
In 1998, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri declared war on the US, outlining a philosophy of the clash of civilizations which legitimised attacks on the West - both soldiers and civilians. In the US, a group of politicians, who were to become known as the Neocons, believed they too had a moral duty to change the world. Both groups found their opportunity in the attacks of 9/11 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But both were to see their dreams perish with the increasing human cost of these wars and the reality that ideologies without popular support cannot change the world.
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