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The Legacy of 9/11: Counting the Cost of a Decade of War

This weekend marked the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I know remembrance pieces of important events can sometimes become repetitive and nauseating. So, rather than just dwell on the tragedy of the day, I thought it might be interesting to take a different approach and examine what some of the effects of the war on terror have been over the past ten years.

In doing so, I have tried to compile a list of the most important statistics and facts relevant to the post-9/11 decade in order to see what the real legacy of that grim September day has been.

First let’s look at the human toll.

The Eisenhower Study Group of Brown University recently released a comprehensive study analyzing the human and economic costs of the war on terror.

The study found that in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over 6,000 U.S. military members have died, and at least 172,300 civilians, 31,741 allied security forces, 20,000 insurgents, 168 journalists, and 266 humanitarian workers have all been killed according to the most conservative estimates, bringing the grand total to at least 225,000 lives lost.

The study also found that millions of civilians have “been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions” because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, placing the total number of war refugees and displaced civilians at approximately 7.8 million.

Now let’s look at the state of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.

In December 2010, the Economist released a report analyzing the status of democracies across the globe, and Iraq ranked 111th out 165 countries on their democracy index scale.

The report labeled Iraq not as a democracy but as a “hybrid democracy,” meaning it contains some democratic principles but also maintains many authoritarian policies.

Afghanistan ranked 150th and was labeled not as a democracy at all but as an authoritarian regime.

In 2010, Transparency International did a study analyzing corruption around the world and ranked Iraq a 1.5 out of 10 on their corruption scale, making it the most corrupt country in the Middle East according to their metric.

Afghanistan scored a 1.4 and was ranked the most corrupt country in all of South Asia.

As for the economic costs of the war on terror, according to a recent study by the New York Times, approximately $3.3 trillion has been spent when tallying up the economic impact of 9/11, the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, homeland security, care for veterans, etc.

The Brown University study places that figure as high as $4 trillion and counting, making the total costs equivalent to about one-fourth of the $14.7 trillion national debt.

This leads us into the bureaucratic changes since 9/11.

According to a 2010 investigation by the Washington Post, the counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence apparatus since 9/11 has grown to 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies employing an estimated 854,000 people.

These organizations have endless redundancies and waste associated with them (such as 51 federal organizations that track the flow of terrorist funding) and produce some 50,000 intelligence reports each year, many of which go unread.

Now let’s examine the changes to counter-terrorism policy since 9/11 still being used today under the Obama administration.

The Obama administration has continued many of the policies of the Bush administration when it comes to fighting the war on terror.

For example, the use of extraordinary rendition still exists, which is the practice of exporting terror suspects to other countries to be interrogated (often countries with a history of torturing suspects).

The practices of indefinite detention of terror suspects without bringing formal charges and of trying detainees in military tribunals instead of civilian courts are also still being used.

The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is still open (regardless of Obama’s promise to close it) and currently has 172 detainees. Also, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan has essentially become the new Guantanamo with about 650 detainees, many of which have been imprisoned for years with any formal charges.

The Patriot Act was renewed in May of this year, which still allows many controversial practices such as “sneak and peak” search warrants (allowing homes to be searched without the occupant’s knowledge), roving wiretaps, and secret intelligence surveillance of non-US persons who are not affiliated with a foreign organization, to name a few.

What about the status of the recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission?

According to a recent report by the National Security Preparedness Group (which contained several members of the original 9/11 Commission), 32 of the 41 recommendations have been fulfilled or are being implemented in some fashion.

However, the report also found the country still lacked meaningful congressional oversight on issues of homeland security, the failure to create a Director of National Intelligence position, substandard transportation security screening, and the failure to develop coalition standards for the detention and humane treatment of terrorism suspects.

The report concludes, “A decade after 9/11, the nation is not yet prepared for a truly catastrophic disaster.”

In spite of this post-9/11 counter-terrorism apparatus, what is the state of terrorism in the world?

The Heritage Foundation released a study last week that suggests 40 terrorist plots on U.S. soil have been foiled since 9/11, though it is difficult to ascertain how many of those plots were serious threats and how many were actually thwarted by counter-terrorism policies.

And while there is no question that al-Qaida as a central terrorist organization has been weakened since 9/11, many splinter and copycat groups sprang up this past decade, such as  al-Qaida in Pakistan, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and al-Qaida in Iraq.

In 2001, the U.S. State Department designated 28 terrorist organizations across the globe, and now that list has grown to 48 terrorist organizations.

According to the most recent data of the Institute of Conflict Management, there have been 736 suicide attacks in Afghanistan since 9/11 with 3,755 lives lost.

The ICM data also indicates that Pakistan (which prior to 9/11 had only seen one suicide attack in 1995) has had 289 suicide attacks since 9/11 killing 4,681 people.

The British medical journal Lancet recently released a study that suggests Iraq has seen 1,003 documented suicide attacks since 2003 killing over 12,000 civilians.

This suggests the threat of terrorism still exists and, in many respects, has only exacerbated since 9/11.

So, where does all this leave us? What picture do all these statistics paint for a post-9/11 world? Have the results of the war on terror been worth the costs?

Well, I suppose that’s up for each of us to decide. But as we each draw our own conclusions, I hope we take these facts and figures into account — because if we truly want to never forgot the events of 9/11 then we also need to reckon the real tolls and legacy of the past decade.

W. Paul Smith
Opinions Editor

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