The Bitter Legacy of 9/11, on its 17th Anniversary: Endless War, Guantánamo, Brexit, Trump and the Paranoid Security State


The Statue of Liberty and the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.


17 years ago today, on September 11, 2001, the world changed forever. In the wake of the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, a US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan, decimating al-Qaeda and toppling the Taliban, but staying on to lose hearts and minds in an apparently unending occupation in which we are still mired.

Within three months, Tony Blair was imprisoning foreign-born “terror suspects” without charge or trial in the UK, and exactly four months after the attacks, the Bush administration opened Guantánamo, its showcase prison for what happens when a vengeful nation led by belligerent ideologues historically fixated with the exercise of unfettered executive power and disdain for domestic and international laws and treaties rounds people up without competent battlefield reviews, instigates torture and embraces indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial on an industrial scale.

Two and a half years after 9/11, the Bush administration’s ideological “crazies,” aided and abetted by Tony Blair, compounded the Afghan quagmire by invading Iraq on the basis of lies, endorsing regime change over the rights of sovereign nations not to be invaded without good reason, and confirming 9/11 as the conduit for endless war — a dream for the military-industrial complex’s bureaucrats and arms manufacturers, and the growing mercenary armies of the west, but a disaster for everyone else.

The state of endless war is a giant insatiable leech on America’s economy, and has turned the countries of the west into paranoid security states, obsessed with terrorist attacks, but never admitting, or, perhaps, even being able to comprehend, that it is our warmongering and the corporate exploitation of the rest of the world that caused this state of profound unease in the first place.

Very few people are actually killed by terrorists, but our governments and our media have whipped us into a permanent state of fear, as an easy way of holding on to power, savagely corroding our collective sense of well-being, achieved through a long struggle to establish generally safe civil societies through the establishment of a welfare state (a process that largely took place from the 1870s until the 1980s, and that was particularly powerful in the decades after the Second World War), and helping to turn us into isolated materialists, imprisoned as much as liberated by the great technological advancements of our times.

Surveillance is everywhere, via CCTV cameras in our streets, and, primarily, through our mobile phones and our computers, which have facilitated the endless digital hoovering up of information about all of us — where we are, and what we’re doing. Most of this is designed to help to sell us things we rarely need, but it has also removed much of the liberation of lives conducted without perpetual state scrutiny, and it is clear too that some unscrupulous operators on the right and the far right have been analyzing us on an unprecedented scale in order to manipulate us politically.

Our wars also have a darker undercurrent. Everywhere we go we have created refugees or desperate economic migrants — in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in Libya and Syria, the latest victims of our governments’ thirst for perpetual war. In 2015, a mass exodus of refugees and migrants to Europe (and, to a lesser extent, North America), unprecedented in most of our lifetimes, and driven in particular by the brutal destruction of Syria, was met not with sympathy or empathy, but with a growing hostility, fuelled by the right-wing media and by the Islamophobia fostered since 9/11, and stirred up relentlessly by those capitalizing on the state of fear that we are bombarded with on a permanent basis.

In the UK, the timing was disastrous, as the refugee crisis and Islamophobia, combined with perceptions of unfettered immigration from within the EU, helped to swing the EU referendum that David Cameron should never have called into a victory for bitter, backwards-looking isolationists, while in the US the same WASP hysteria led to the election of Donald Trump, an inarticulate white supremacist thug who, to tens of millions of Americans, was perceived as speaking their language. an absurdity matched in the UK by the personality cults of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson — privileged overlords one and all, whose perception as “men of the people” shows only how, in times of great uncertainty, people are susceptible to the allure of dangerous authoritarian figures.

Not all our woes, of course, stem from 9/11. The other pivotal event of the last 17 years was the global economic crash, whose trigger was the collapse of the criminal banking company Lehman Brothers almost exactly ten years ago, on September 15, 2008. In the fallout from that crash, triggered by complex financial transactions that very clearly ought to have been illegal, the full horror of the corruption and emptiness of the modern world, centred on turbo-charged profiteering and greed, was briefly glimpsed, but no revolution — velvet or otherwise — followed. Instead, the British government, under the Tories, pioneered a savage and unending age of austerity, an effort to exterminate public spending — the bedrock of civil society — that is heartbreakingly damaging to the lives of millions, but that, in a broken electoral system in which we can’t seem to get rid of the Tories, continues to make life harder and harder for all but the rich and, especially, the global super-rich.

I’ll be writing more about this in a few days, on the anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, because, as much as 9/11 brought forth permanent war and permanent paranoia at home, it is the ghost of the 2008 crash that haunts us most powerfully.

After the 2008 crash, the banks, saved through the transfer of colossal amounts of money from taxpayers, via our obliging political masters, the financial world remade itself, a Frankenstein’s Monster that, in an effort to resume its insatiable greed, has now turned its attention to housing, cannibalistically devouring its own populations, as is happening in the UK with, on the one hand, a Blade Runner dystopia of endless but unaffordable tower blocks rising up everywhere, and, on the other, concerted efforts to destroy genuinely affordable rented housing — social housing — through the destruction of council estates, and the breathtakingly cynical re-classification of housing as “affordable” when it is fundamentally the very opposite.

We are Through the Looking Glass, my friends, in a world of greed, fear and ever-rising inequality, and it is up to us to come together to find new ways to challenge the bitter legacies of 9/11 and the global economic crash of 2008.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

18 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    On the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, here are my reflections about the devastating effect the fallout from the attacks has had on our world – endless war, Guantanamo, torture, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, Islamophobia that fed into a wider racism that, in turn, led to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, and a cynically promoted age of fear that has diminished us all. As I also mention towards the end of the article, the other defining event of the last 17 years is the global economic crash, which began almost exactly ten years ago, and which I’ll discuss further in an article to follow, but which, in brief, has led to an artificial age of austerity and a housing crisis that appears to involve nothing less than a form of economic cannibalism on the poorer members of western society.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Quality observations

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, David. That’s very reassuring to hear – even though my observations are far from reassuring, which says something about the times in which we are living.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    I concur, Andy

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jan. Part 2 to follow on Saturday – the 10th anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the point at which the global economic crash began in earnest. It’s all been bulls*t since then, as the Masters of the Universe and their political lackeys have tried to create the illusion that normal service has been resumed, when in fact all they’ve succeeded in creating is a cannibalistic Zombie facsimile of a coherent world of glass and steel led by robber barons and sharp-dressed thugs.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Andy, the US plutocrats all growed up – they can now con the planet then rape it

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    I think we’re reaching a tipping point, Jan – but then at some level I am quite the optimist, despite appearances to the contrary.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Andy, it’s pretty hard to find reasons for optimism right now. I think with Brexit we could have the “perfect” storm

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    If it goes ahead, David. It’s been my feeling for many months now that it’s simply not so-able. The Irish border question is persistently ducked, and a hard Brexit is, by any definition, nothing short of madness. Remember that the cheerleaders for Brexit from the Tory right were kept in a box for decades – by Thatcher, who sat on that box resolutely and never let them out, and by Major too – and it’s only Cameron’s idiocy that let them out. The hard Brexit route is, in effect, a right-wing coup, not supported by the majority of the monied establishment.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia R Scott wrote:

    I still believe in this subject, Bush is the worse criminal and Obomber allowed many of his policies to follow and worsen them…these two have so much blood on their hands…

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    And very possibly the draining of US resources to fund endless wars and the paranoia and the clampdown on civil liberties is exactly what Al-Qaeda had in mind back in September 2001, Natalia. Our leaders have played into Osama bin Laden’s hands.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Andy, believe it – Bin Laden actually said that was the point of the attacks

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes indeed, Jan, but how many people in the US even know that? We were told this was a war on our freedoms by Muslim fanatics – the sub-text being that all Muslims are fanatics – and look where that’s got us: with a white supremacist president whose shockingly large pool (swamp might be more accurate) of supporters fully endorsed his outrageous ban on anyone from a number of Muslim-majority nations coming to the US for any reason, while, across the country, paranoid individuals fed a steady diet of sensationalist racism for the last 17 years fear to go to sleep every night because they’re convinced “they” are coming to murder them in their sleep. Goebbels would have approved, that’s for sure.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Exactly, Andy. Unfortunately, the voices for sanity get no forum – the muting of protest and attempts to kettle and silence anyone who disagrees are actually succeeding in muffling our voices (That started under Clinton and gained with Bush’s “free Speech Zones” and continued with Obama’s Black Out on publicity for dissent). It appears no matter how obscenely blatant this racist ass gets, the more he is allowed to continue. I feel like I am in 1930’s Germany sometimes.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I know what you mean, Jan. It’s the same thing here in the UK. Slightly less repression and ignorance, bt only by degrees. This might cheer you up – Ian Bone of Class War confronting arch-Brexiteer and Lord Snooty lookalike Jacob Rees-Mogg about how much he pays his children’s nanny (the same nanny he had as a child!):

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Beverly Spicer wrote:

    Would anyone believe that it’s not either/or but all of them we’ve been snookered by?

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Time for a serious change, Beverly!

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone reading and sharing this. In case it’s of interest (and I hope it is), this week is also my latest quarterly fundraiser, in which I’m trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my work on Guantanamo – an all my other social justice/human right issues – for the next three months. I’ve reached 10% of my target, thanks to the kindness of six supporters, and am hoping to get to 20% of my target today. Details here:

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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