Looking back on 9/11 – Abu Taher Mustakim
At 8:45 AM in the morning on September 11, 2001, an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
The impact left a gaping, burning hole near the 80th floor of the 110-story skyscraper, instantly killing hundreds of people and trapping hundreds more in higher floors.
As the evacuation got underway, television cameras broadcast live images of the accident. Then, 18 minutes after the first plane hit, a second Boeing 767—United Airlines Flight 175—appeared out of the sky, turned sharply toward the World Trade Center and sliced into the south tower near the 60th floor.
As millions watched the events unfolding in New York, American Airlines Flight 77 circled over downtown Washington, D.C., before crashing into the west side of the Pentagon military headquarters at 9:45 AM with jet fuel causing a devastating inferno.
At 10:30AM, the north building of the twin towers collapsed. The structural steel of the skyscraper, built to withstand winds in excess of 200 miles per hour and a large conventional fire, could not withstand the tremendous heat generated by the burning jet fuel.
A total of 2,996 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks, including the 19 terrorist hijackers aboard the four airplanes. Citizens of 78 countries died in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
At 7 PM, President George W Bush, who was in Florida at the time of the attacks and had spent the day being shuttled around the country because of security concerns, returned to the White House.
At 9 PM, he delivered a televised address from the Oval Office, declaring, “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.”
On September 20, 2001, in a speech addressing Congress and the nation, Bush announced the ‘War on Terror’, saying, “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”
According to a section of western media in 2004, Bin Laden claimed responsibility for the attacks. Al-Qaeda and bin Laden cited US support of Israel, support for the “attacks against Muslims” in Somalia, support of Philippines against Muslims in the Moro conflict, support for Israeli “aggression” against Muslims in Lebanon, support of Russian “atrocities against Muslims” in Chechnya, pro-American governments in the Middle East being against Muslim interests, support of Indian “oppression against Muslims” in Kashmir, the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia and sanctions against Iraq as motives.
After evading capture for almost a decade, bin Laden was located in Pakistan in 2011 and killed during a US military raid. In June 2011, President Barack Obama announced the beginning of large-scale troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. On February 29, 2020, the US and the Taliban have signed an “agreement for bringing peace” to Afghanistan after more than 18 years of conflict.
On the other hand, the bipartisan “9/11 Commission,” named Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind behind 9/11, “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks” and he was captured on March 1, 2003 by the Central Intelligence Agency-CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence-ISI and interrogated before being imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
The use of torture, including water boarding, during Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s interrogation has received international attention. In August 2019, a US military court judge in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba set a trial date for Mohammed and the other four men charged with plotting the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to begin on January 11, 2021.
President Bush began laying the public groundwork for an invasion of Iraq in January 2002 State of the Union address, calling Iraq a member of the Axis of Evil, and saying “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” Bush said this and made many other dire allegations about the threat of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) despite the fact that the Bush administration knew that Iraq had no nuclear weapons and had no information about whether Iraq had biological weapons.
Key US allies in NATO, such as the United Kingdom, agreed with the US actions, while France and Germany were critical of plans to invade Iraq, arguing instead for continued diplomacy and weapons inspections. After considerable debate, the UN Security Council adopted a compromise resolution, UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which authorized the resumption of weapons inspections and promised “serious consequences” for non-compliance.
Saddam accepted the resolution on 13 November and inspectors returned to Iraq under the direction of United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) chairman Hans Blix and IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. In March 2003, Blix said progress had been made in inspections, and no evidence of WMD had been found.
The UK House of Commons held a debate on going to war on 18 March 2003 where the government motion was approved 412 to 149. Three government ministers resigned in protest at the war, John Denham, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the then Leader of the House of Commons Robin Cook.
Russia, France and Germany were in opposition of this war. Meanwhile, anti-war groups across the world organized public protests. Between 3 January and 12 April 2003, 36 million people across the globe took part in almost 3,000 protests against war in Iraq, with demonstrations on 15 February 2003 being the largest.
At 5:34 AM in Baghdad time on 20 March 2003 (9:34 PM, 19 March EST) the surprise military invasion of Iraq began under the code-name “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. There was no declaration of war.
On 9 April, Baghdad fell, ending Saddam’s 24 year rule. The abrupt fall of Baghdad was accompanied by massive civil disorder, including the looting.
On May 1, 2003 Bush delivers a speech aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln proclaiming, “Mission Accomplished,” saying that major combat efforts for the war in Iraq will end. “The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001 and still goes on,” he says.
Most significantly, Saddam Hussein himself was captured on 13 December 2003, on a farm near Tikrit and was sentenced to death by on December 30, 2006.
On August 30, 2010, in an Oval Office address, President Barack Obama declared an end to US combat operations in Iraq.
‘The 9/11 Commission Report’ is the official report of the events leading up to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The commission was established on November 27, 2002 (442 days after the attack) and their final report was issued on July 22, 2004.
The commission interviewed over 1,200 people in 10 countries and reviewed over two and a half million pages of documents. The commission also relied heavily on the FBI’s PENTTBOM investigation. Before it was released by the commission, the final public report was screened for any potentially classified information and edited as necessary.
The Report states that ‘long-term success demands the use of all the elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy, and homeland defense.’ Quantitative numbers will not defeat the terrorists and insurgents.
But in a 2004 article titled, ‘Whitewash as Public Service: How The 9/11 Commission Report defrauds the nation’, Harper’s Magazine writer Benjamin DeMott stated that:
‘The plain and sad reality is that The 9/11 Commission Report, despite the vast quantity of labour behind it, is a cheat and a fraud. …the Commission can’t discharge its duty to educate the audience about the habits of mind and temperament essential in those chosen to discharge command responsibility during crises.’
‘The 28 pages’
The 28 pages refers to the final section of the December 2002 report of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, conducted by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. This section is titled ‘Part IV: Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters,’ and summarizes investigative leads suggesting possible financial, logistical and other support provided to the hijackers and their associates by Saudi Arabian officials and others suspected of being Saudi agents.
When the congressional joint inquiry report was published in July 2003, the 28-page section on possible Saudi links to the attacks was completely redacted at the insistence of the George W Bush administration. Bush claimed that releasing the material would ‘reveal sources and methods that would make it harder for us to win the war on terror.’
In July 2003 Senator Bob Graham individually and Senator Sam Brownback joined approximately 42 Democratic senators in calling on President Bush to release the 28-page section which was censored for ‘national security reasons’. Senator Graham stated the refusal ‘is a continuation of the pattern of the last seven months-a pattern of delay and excessive use of national security standards to deny the people the knowledge of their vulnerability.’
On the drive to declassify the 28 pages, former and current Senators, congressmen and 9/11 Commission members, attorneys representing 9/11 family members, survivors and insurers continued their effort to release of the pages.
The Saudi government voiced support for the declassification of the 28 pages, saying it would ‘allow us to respond to any allegations in a clear and credible manner.’
The Saudi government has long denied any connection in this regards. Relatives of victims have tried to use the courts to hold Saudi royals, banks, or charities responsible, but these efforts have been thwarted partly by a 1976 law giving foreign governments immunity.
In March 2016, Saudi Arabia threatened the Obama administration to sell US$750 billion worth of American assets owned by Saudi Arabia if the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) designed to create an exception to the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act was enacted. This caused fears of destabilizing the US dollar. US president Barack Obama also warned against “unintended consequences”, while other economic analysts believed that this action would damage the Saudi government. The JASTA was enacted, after Barack Obama’s veto was overridden by Congress, on 28 September 2016.
In 2016, following a declassification review, the Obama Administration approved the declassification of the partially redacted 28 Pages, the Joint Inquiry’s only wholly classified section. The document was then sent to congressional leadership and on July 15, 2016, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence approved publication of the newly-declassified section.
The much-talked ‘The 28 pages’ document is kept in a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF) in the basement of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
The alleged Saudi role in the September 11 attacks gained new attention after 2017 a New York lawyer, Jim Kreindler, said that he had found ‘a link between Saudi officials and the hijackers.’ The Saudi government had long had broad immunity from September 11 tragedy lawsuits in the United States. But in March 2018, a US judge allowed a suit to move forward against Saudi Arabia brought by 9/11 survivors and victims’ families, that the government should pay billions of dollars in damages to victims.
In January 2020, it was revealed that the FBI had an investigation named ‘Operation Encore’ into Saudi Arabian links to the attacks. In this operation circumstantial evidence was uncovered but no direct links were established.
In April 2020, the FBI neglected to redact one of several instances of the name of Saudi diplomat Mussaed Ahmed al-Jarrah (MAJ) in a court filing in the lawsuit brought by 9/11 families.
Will the War on
Terror ever end?
The whole world was stunned by the terrorist attack on 9/11 in the United States. Standing in the context of this in a speech on September 20, 2001, then-President George W. Bush announces the War on Terror, saying, “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there.’’
Incidents are happening in isolation. Sometimes deadly knife attack. Sometimes deadly attack with vehicle. It has been an uncomfortable reminder that the threat of terrorism has not gone away. But many may be curious about the consequences of the war on terror that US President George W Bush launched in 2001. Is this war still going on? If the war is over, there’s the question has it been a triumph or a huge waste of money.
Nearly 19 years on from the day America was attacked on 11 September 2001 thousands of US servicemen and women remained stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Gulf and the Horn of Africa. Suspected terrorist leaders are being killed in drone strikes in remote areas of the world; Counter-terrorism budgets around the world have skyrocketed in response to the myriad of ongoing threats.
Sasha Havliclek, chief executive of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, has been following it since the war began. According to her, there is a difference between the rhetoric and reality.
‘The rhetoric was done away with the minute President Barack Obama came into office in 2009. But in reality there was much more continuity than rupture in the tactics of the war on terror. Under the Obama administration it’s well known that they massively scaled up droning attacks, for instance, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And for all the talk of America First now and I think there is a wide perception that this is winding down… we’ve actually seen a continued expansion of US counter-terrorism operations.’
Mina Al-Orabi is the Editor of the United Arab Emirates’ newspaper The National. She is originally from Iraq’s second city Mosul— devastated during the battle to dislodge IS from its streets.
‘In Iraq,’ she says, ‘there were clear instances where the United States undercut the Iraqi state. Of course in 2003 the decision to dismantle the police and the military, the decision to put tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of young men out of work… with the idea that they should be completely excluded from the country, that became the nucleus for al-Qaeda in Iraq and then the nucleus of IS.’
It is impossible to pin down exactly how much the ‘War on Terror’ has cost but most estimates put it well in excess of US $1 trillion. The vast bulk of that has been spent on ‘kinetic’ military action, as well as intelligence-gathering and drone strikes. Only a tiny fraction has gone towards prevention – steering people away from the path of extremism.
Shiraz Maher from Kings College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation believes this war has helped spawn many of today’s other problems in society.
‘If you look at things like the wider Islamic State and Syria and Iraq or these types of thing,’ he said, ‘then that fuelled a degree of xenophobia in Europe, that fuelled a degree of suspicion and hostility towards Muslims, which translated into animosity towards refugees and the refugee crisis that was a result of Syria. So you can see a cascading series of consequences. So I think it’s fair to say that the ‘War on Terror’ is far from over in many senses.’
So will there ever be an end to this amorphous campaign? Will there be a decisive ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment that brings the so-called War on Terror to a close? It is unlikely. Because, like crime, terrorism can only be reduced to what officials call ‘manageable levels’. And today there is already a newly-emerging threat, that of far-right extremism, something that will likely breathe new life into what appears to be a War without End. n