Today marks the 20th Anniversary of the worst foreign attack on American soil. We mourn the thousands of lives lost that day, and ever since.
I remember the morning of September 11, 2001 clearly: I was in White Plains, New York, listening to my car radio as the news reported a small plane had collided with the Word Trade Center Building in Manhattan. I left my car to visit a client, and as the news unfolded, it became clear the small plane was actually a commercial jetliner, and another had collided with the second tower. Within the next hour, two other planes hit the Pentagon in Washington, DC and crashed in a field in western Pennsylvania, respectively. Nearly three thousand people perished that day. Our nation was left wondering how such an attack was possible, seeking answers and justice. Although none of us was yet aware how, our lives had just changed forever. The attacks of September 11, 2001 were to be used as the justification and catalyst for the largest usurpation of individual rights in a generation, and the greatest expansion of government since The New Deal.
On September 18, 2001, Congress passed the sweeping Joint Resolution 23, Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF), which would be used as justification by Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump to justify nearly all subsequent foreign incursions, conflicts, wars, and detainments of “enemy combatants” on foreign soil.
President George W. Bush and his neoconservative government advisors proceeded in short order to draw up war plans targeting the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which was purported to be providing shelter and comfort to the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden. By the end of September, covert operations had begun in Afghanistan, and overt undeclared war started on October 7. It would continue for twenty years, killing nearly 120,000 Afghani civilians, military, and police; over 6,000 American service members and contractors; over 51,000 enemy combatants; and over 500 aid workers and journalists. (Source: Associated Press)
On October 8, 2001, President Bush formed the Office of Homeland Security, which was eventually memorialized by Congress as a cabinet-level Department in November 2002, increasing the size, scope and power of government overnight. States quickly followed suit, forming their own versions of DHS, sucking up federal grants like pigs at the trough, expanding local bureaucracies, purchasing signage, license plate scanners, and surveillance cameras, and militarizing police departments in the name of “safety”.
On October 25, 2001, Congress passed the PATRIOT Act, which gave sweeping and nefarious surveillance powers to the Federal government, along with black funding for warrantless wiretapping, communications gathering programs, and immense data centers to hold exabytes of raw and recorded information indefinitely. Provisions of the PATRIOT Act intended to sunset were subsequently and handily renewed by Congress during the Bush and Obama administrations. President Trump refused to sign proposed legislation renewing them again, effectively and finally ending the most intrusive parts of the PATRIOT Act in March 2020.
By early 2003, it had become clear that the unfinished business of the undeclared Iraq War from the early 1990’s was also in the Bush administration’s sights. Though it had no relationship to the 9/11 attacks, we entered Iraq again in March 2003 under the false pretenses of the War on Terror. We would occupy Iraq until 2011, when we left it to descend into civil war.
Now, twenty years later, President Joe Biden’s ham-handed withdrawal from Afghanistan has left in charge the group we had set out to depose twenty years earlier, and millions of angry Afghanis and Americans wondering why we invaded or fought the war at all.
While we mourn the death of nearly 3,000 American citizens here in the US, we cannot ignore the human and financial costs of our government’s response to 9/11 and our projections of power. We cannot ignore the irony of the over 200,000 deaths that were incurred in avenging our own losses that day. We cannot ignore the trillions of dollars we have committed to health care, disability, burial and other costs for roughly 4 million Afghanistan and Iraq veterans. We cannot ignore the broken Veterans’ Affairs hospitals that our wounded service members rely upon for their medical care. We cannot ignore the grave error Congress made by providing the Executive branch a blank check and broad war powers, or the dangers of forcing our values upon sovereign nations and individuals. We cannot ignore the trillions of dollars budgeted and spent, $2 trillion in war debt incurred, and $6.5 trillion in resulting interest we will have paid by 2050. We cannot ignore the indelible mark that federal largesse spent by local governments on expanded surveillance and military-grade hardware has had on our rights to privacy, peaceful assembly, and protection from illegal search and seizure.
We must use this grim anniversary to remind our leaders that although we must defend ourselves against direct aggression, The Longest War must never happen again. We must hold our leaders accountable to uphold the values of Freedom and Liberty that they have sought to force upon other nations time and time again. We must not settle for anything less.
Chair, Libertarian Party of New York