Tag Archive | "September 11"

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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Ten-year anniversary of 9/11 plagued by conspiracies

As we quickly approach the ten year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, a new survey has been released by the BBC finding that about 14 percent of respondents in the U.K. and 15 percent of respondents in the U.S. still believe the attacks were orchestrated by the American government and not Al Qaeda.

I really thought we were through with this nonsense, but turns out the tin foil hat crowd is still alive and well.

At full disclosure, I was once one of these people — somewhat, anyway. I never fully believed 9/11 was an “inside job” as they say, but I did once dabble in the conspiracy world for a moment there until I came to my senses back in 2003.

Conspiracies about 9/11 are nothing new and have been floating around since almost immediately after the attacks.

In other parts of the world, the conspiracies are even more widely accepted.

According to a poll conducted by World Public Opinion in 2008, over half of the citizens in China and Indonesia think someone besides Al Qaeda was responsible.

In Mexico and Turkey, nearly a third think the U.S. government was behind the attacks. And apparently over a third of the respondents in Egypt and Jordan think Israel orchestrated the attacks — which would almost be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

While I would love to painstakingly go through each and every ridiculous claim about 9/11 made by the conspiracy kooks (something I have done many times before), there simply isn’t the space available to tackle the mountains of insanity associated with these conspiracy theories.

But suffice it to say, they are rife with junk science, bogus speculation and conjecture, and wildly inaccurate depictions of the facts of that tragic day.

For example, the conspiracy theorists claim that the World Trade Center towers fell not because of the planes hitting them but because of controlled demolition explosives planted in the buildings.

Much of this theory hinges on the erroneous notion that the steel beams in the building would have needed to melt in order for the towers to fall, and jet fuel doesn’t burn hot enough to melt steel.

The reality is that the steel didn’t need to melt, but just had to lose its structural integrity to cause the buildings to fall.

And then there’s the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7. The 52-story WTC 7 also fell on 9/11, and the conspiracy kooks have latched onto this as more evidence of controlled demolition.

However, in my opinion, there’s no better evidence against the controlled-demolition theory than the collapse of WTC 7.

The notion is that the shadow government (or whoever it is the kooks think orchestrated the attacks) wanted to create the elaborate, meticulous illusion that terrorists hijacking planes were responsible for the towers falling, but in reality, they would plant explosives in the buildings, right?

Well, why would they just blatantly take out WTC 7 when everyone knows no planes hit that building? Why use the illusion of planes at all if you’re just going to blow up another building in front of everyone without the use of planes?

Of course, the more likely explanation is that WTC 7 collapsed because the building was right next to the towers when they fell and lost its structural strength as collateral damage.

Granted, the Bush administration won themselves no favors in dispelling the conspiracy notions. There is no question that 9/11 was used to justify everything from ramming through the Patriot Act to invading Iraq.

But if anyone was even remotely surprised the Bush administration took advantage of the attacks politically, then you must not pay close attention to politics.

Yet here we are, 10 years later, and the conspiracy theories still live on in the minds of nearly one out of seven Americans according to the BBC poll.

I empathize with the desire to question the official version of the events. I think it’s good to practice healthy skepticism, but the 9/11 conspiracies are about as bat-shit insane as you can get.

If serious research and common sense do nothing to debunk these ridiculous theories, then I would submit that you’re perhaps either blinded by the ideology of simply wanting there to be a conspiracy — or you’re just wearing a tin foil hat.

W. Paul Smith
Opinions Editor


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