Yeah, so it's been 15 years. We remember 9/11, oh yes we do and there are a good number of pundits and officials to make sure we do just in case we don't.
And amid the pundits and officials symbolically patting the nation on the back for how supposedly brave and resilient we are even as we have been by those same voices conditioned, like one of Pavlov's dogs, to twitch with fear at the word "Islamic" comes the news that over the Labor Day weekend, one of the legacies of 9/11 was on display: Over those three days, the US military bombed six different countries spanning Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
It included 45 bombing raids in Iraq and Syria and 20 targets in the Libyan city of Sirte, plus attacks in Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan. All they needed was to hit someplace in Pakistan to have run the entire list of nations we have been bombing in recent years.
What George Bush pronounced an "extended campaign against terrorism" has become what it had to become, what it could not fail to become: an "extended campaign" of unending war, a campaign now spread to multiple nations. It is one of our legacies of 9/11.
Oh, but this spreading war is, officials insist, all necessary due to the endurance and geographic spread of al-Qaeda and its various mutations, including Daesh, that is, ISIS.
|Countries we have bombed in recent years|
Just the unfortunate reality. Indeed, that's what we're supposed to accept: That's just the way it is. Our wars are an "unfortunate reality."
It's all passive voice. The wars, or rather their causes, their roots, really have nothing to do with us. Nothing to do with anything we did or didn't do. Nothing to do with the invasions of Afghanistan or Iraq. Nothing to do with the drone attacks on Pakistan. We are merely helpless victims, passive observers almost, just doing what is necessary, never initiating anything, just responding always to others with actions that have no repercussions themselves. Because our actions provoke no response. Have no blowback. No unintended consequences. It's all just an "unfortunate reality."
Just a couple of weeks after 9/11, I wrote something about that event that began this way:
If the history of the Middle East over the last 30 years proves nothing else [remembering this is the 30 years preceding 2001], it proves beyond question that neither terrorism nor "counter"-terrorism, neither retaliation nor counter-retaliation nor counter-counter-retaliation will stop the circle of death - particularly not so long as those on each side insist on seeing themselves at the wronged innocents only defending themselves against unreasoning violence or oppression or exploitation (or all three) while viewing their adversaries as evil brutes fully aware of their own brutality. Another cycle of mayhem is simply not an answer.And yet more cycles of mayhem, more counter-counter-counter-counter-retaliation is exactly what we've seen. And there is no sign of it ending. In fact, Scharre said the US bombing campaigns are an appropriate response because they can be sustained over time in the same way that the US has committed to long-term military presences in places such as Germany and South Korea. That is, he's saying, decades of bombing cities and towns is the same as troop presence by mutually-agreed treaty in places not at war.
That piece I wrote shortly after 9/11 ended this way:
Our best targets for "attack" in this "extended campaign" are not the actual terrorists (who likely number no more than a few thousand) but the tens of thousands, the millions, among who they recruit and from who they draw their strength. Our best weapons are bread and butter, not bombs; our best tactic reconstruction, not retaliation; our best strategy justice, not jingoism. The best way to minimize terrorism is to ensure that the dispossessed have a genuine stake in the world and don't see us as grasping bullies - and the best way not to be seen as a grasping bully is not to be one.I'll let you decide how well what I wrote 15 years ago has stood up to time and events. But the truth remains that unending war is one of our legacies of 9/11, a legacy that has in point of fact made the world less safe than it was 15 years ago.
(Apparently, the chant of "ISIS is coming! ISIS is coming!" no longer has quite the impact it once did and so some sort of re-boot was required.)
Just how much far Johnson go in spinning his around-the-campfire tales of dark and evil doings? He asserted that "in the current environment, where we have to deal with the prospect of a lone wolf actor or a self-radicalized actor, just saying there's no specific credible threat doesn't tell the whole story." So even though there is no evidence of a threat, we have to act as if there is evidence of a threat.
This is the attitude we have adopted since 9/1l, this is what the official notion of defending our rights - that is, the notion of what officialdom has adopted as to what constitutes defending our rights - has come to: deliberately promoted constant fear, even in the absence of evidence of a threat.
So much so, in fact, that under earlier this year, the FBI told high schools across the country to report to the government students who criticize government policies or "western corruption" or who say they are anarchists on the grounds that they are potential future terrorists. Schools also had it suggested to them that young people who are poor, who are immigrants, or who travel to "suspicious" countries are more likely to become terrorists. In fact, the feds claimed that that young people "possess inherent risk factors" that make them more likely to become terrorists, risk factors so broadly and vaguely defined that almost any high school student could be deemed worthy of government surveillance.
That is another legacy of 9/11.
And then there are the laws that are enabled by that reign of fear and suspicion, the first and best-known being the so-called Patriot Act, or as I call it, the Traitor Act for its impact on civil liberties and privacy, for its dramatic expansion of the ability of the spooks to poke, prod, pry, and probe into every aspect of our lives.
In the wake of its passage, I noted that no one had been able to come up with a single argument as to how if the law's provisions had been in place it would have prevented 9/11. Because there weren't any such arguments and in fact the failure over 9/11 was not in the lack of authority but in not using the authority that already existed. So I wrote that
[a]dding more such powers, more authority to invade our privacy, restrict our freedoms, track our movements, more ability to substitute suspicion for proof - all while reducing judicial oversight - only creates more opportunities for official abuse.
|Diagram of data from Prism|
Oh, yeah, right, supposedly the so-called USA Freedom Act fixed all that last year, so why worry - except it didn't: About the only thing it did was to end the bulk collection of phone metadata by the NSA under Section 215 of the Traitor Act while requiring that phone companies keep the data so the spooks could get a court order to see it. About the only thing that changed was who held the records.
Meanwhile, it did nothing about Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is what the spooks use to justify sweeping up as much of the Internet as they can get their hands on.
And it wasn't even relevant to Executive Order 12333, or "1-2-triple-3" as I understand it is known. It's a presidential directive dating from 1981 that defines US spy operations. It allows the NSA to capture and retain essentially any data it can find, including the actual content of email, phone calls, whatever, so long as the information is gathered outside the US.
But in a technologically-interconnected world unlike anything that existed when the order was first issued, a world where an e-mail from New York to New Jersey is likely to wind up on a server in, perhaps, Brazil or Japan or Britain, the restriction to "outside the US" is utterly meaningless, utterly without effect, because our personal data can very easily - is even very likely to be - stored somewhere outside the US.
The only requirement left is the open door that the information be gathered in the course of "a lawful foreign intelligence investigation." And even if that information is "incidental," having no connection to the person or group that is the supposed actual target of the investigation, EO 12333 specifically allows for the NSA to keep it. No warrant is required, no court approval is neede, no such collection need be reported to Congress, nor do the people whose personal information is "incidentally" swept up have to be told.
All of which means that the spooks' slogan has effectively become "all your data are belonging to us."
And that, too, is a legacy of 9/11.
The fact is, during the Obama administration, there have been eight prosecutions of whistleblowers under the 1917 Espionage Act - more than double the number under all previous presidents combined. And know - and remember this any time someone says anything about how Edward Snowden should return because of, as Hillary Clinton put it, "all the protections we have for whistleblowers" - know that if you are charged under the Espionage Act, as Snowden surely would be, you are legally barred from arguing in your defense that the classified material you leaked was improperly classified. You can't argue it never should have been classified. You can't argue that the "secrets" were classified solely because they were embarrassing to officials and had no impact on national security. You can't argue that release of the materials was actually of benefit to the public. You can't even testify as to why you did it. So you tell me what "protections" would be available for Edward Snowden.
So what is our legacy of 9/11?
We as a people let one terrible tragedy, one serious attack, one bloody assault, stampede us into a war in Afghanistan which has killed over 100,000 people and nearly 15 years later continues seemingly without end, and a war in Iraq which has killed hundreds of thousands, opened a door to al-Qaeda and its demon spawn ISIS, and has morphed into the war in Iraq and Syria with hundreds of thousands more dead, stampede us into actually, seriously, arguing whether or not torture and other war crimes are legitimate if we do them, stampede us into living with a constant undercurrent of promoted fear sufficient to stampede us in turn into surrendering our privacy, our civil liberties, and our ability to know what is being done supposedly on our behalf by a government that increasingly is the tool of the intelligence community rather than the other way around, stampede us into passively allowing the government to decide what we know, how much of it we know, and when we know it, stampede us into heading down a slippery slope at the bottom of which is the complete loss of what it means to be a free people.
That is our legacy of 9/11. It is a legacy we need to reject - strongly and clearly.
Sources cited in links: