9/11 at 19: Endless Wars, Guantánamo and 37 Million People Displaced


The 9/11 attacks on New York City, and prisoners at Guantánamo on the day that the prison opened, exactly four months later, on January 11, 2002.

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It’s 19 years today since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the US mainland, in New York City and Washington, D.C., and I’m shocked to discover that one-third of my life has elapsed since the attacks took place. I was 38 years old when 9/11 happened, and now I’m 57. Even more shocking is the realization that my son, who is 20 now, was just one year old at the time.

On the morning of 9/11, my partner, Dot, called me to urgently come and watch the TV after the first plane had hit, and together we watched as the second plane hit. I remember thinking that it was blowback for American imperialism, and worrying how George W. Bush and his administration would react, but I had no idea what was to come. Instead, I got on with my life. Our baby son had been very ill, so I proposed marriage to his mother as a positive event to unite us, on Boxing Day 2001, just 16 days before the prison at Guantánamo opened, when the Marines were preparing the cages of Camp X-Ray.

We got married in July 2002, just before the “torture memos” prepared by John Yoo and signed by Jay S. Bybee were issued (in secret, of course), and in September I began work on what would be my first book, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, a counter-cultural history of Stonehenge that was published in June 2004, after the first British prisoners had been released (and whose accounts massively piqued my curiosity about just what was going on at Guantánamo), and just before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Rasul v Bush, establishing that the prisoners had habeas corpus rights.

The dreadful events of September 11, 2001 changed the world, in ways that continue to have terrible repercussions. A month after the attacks, a US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan, allegedly in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Within a short amount of time, the Taliban government was overthrown, but the US then chronically overstayed its welcome, losing “hearts and minds” through brutality and incompetence.

The establishment of CIA “black sites,” brutal prisons in Afghanistan (at Kandahar and Bagram) and then the prison at Guantánamo Bay followed the initial invasion, and after I completed a second book, The Battle of the Beanfield, in 2005, about the state suppression of travellers, festival-goers and environmental and anti-war activists in 1985, I was drawn into the Guantánamo story, which has dominated my working life for the last 14 years, as I have sought to tell the stories of the men held at the prison, and to get it closed down, because it contravenes the basic rules governing the imprisonment of individuals — that they must be charged with a crime and given a trial, or that they are prisoners of war, who can be held unmolested until the end of hostilities.

In Guantánamo, the prisoners were held neither as criminal suspects not as prisoners of war. Instead, they were “enemy combatants,” who, the US claimed, could be held indefinitely without any rights whatsoever. Via lawyers appalled by this lawlessness, they fought to secure habeas corpus rights — the right to have an impartial judge rule on the legality of their imprisonment — which the Supreme Court granted them in 2004 and again in 2008, but between 2008 and 2010, after the government was humiliated in decision after decision, with over three dozen men ordered released by judges, who ruled that the government had failed to establish that they had any meaningful connection to either al-Qaeda or the Taliban, politically motivated appeals court judges changed the rules, gutting habeas corpus of all meaning for the prisoners, and bringing the law’s brief reach into Guantánamo to an end.

That was nearly a decade ago, and although Barack Obama — who faced shameful and unprincipled opposition from Republicans when it came to his efforts to release prisoners and close the prison — managed to release nearly 200 men during his eight years in office, he left 41 men to be inherited by Donald Trump, who has only released one man, because of a plea deal arranged before he took office, and has no interest in releasing any of the other 40.

And because of Guantánamo’s fundamental lawlessness, no one can compel him to do so.

19 years after 9/11, and with just four months to go until the 19th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, it is imperative that Donald Trump is removed from office in November’s Presidential Election. Joe Biden and the Democrats may only be able to release some of the 40 men still held — insignificant individuals still regarded as posing a threat to the US because of institutional caution — and trials for the rest still remain problematic, but any progress is to be celebrated after the dreadful, tomb-like inertia of Donald Trump.

Moreover, war in Afghanistan, CIA torture prisons around the world and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial at Guantánamo are not the only shameful by-products of 9/11. Under the particular influence of Dick Cheney, the torture program was used to provide a pretext for the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, via the false claim, made by “ghost prisoner” Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, that al-Qaeda was working with Saddam Hussein to secure chemical weapons.

And while not directly connected to 9/11, further wars — as part of the deliberately global and deliberately open-ended “war on terror” that the US declared after 9/11 — have also sprung from the US’s initial flawed response to the attacks.

In a recent report, “Creating Refugees: Displacement Caused by the United States’ Post-9/11 Wars,” the American University’s Public Anthropology Clinic and Brown University’s Costs of War Project “conservatively estimate that the eight most violent wars the U.S. military has launched or participated in since 2001 — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — have produced 8 million refugees and asylum seekers and 29 million internally displaced people,” although the figure could be as high as 59 million, because the US has been at war with 24 nations in total since 9/11.

The Public Anthology Clinic estimates the displacement figures as follows:

  • 5.3 million Afghans (26% of the pre-war population) since the invasion in October 2001
  • 9.2 million Iraqis (37% of the pre-war population) since the invasion in March 2003 and the post-2014 war against the Islamic State
  • 3.7 million Pakistanis (3% of the pre-war population) since the Afghan invasion spilled over the border into Pakistan
  • 4.2 million Somalis (46% of the pre-war population) since 2002
  • 4.4 million Yemenis (24% of the pre-war population) since drone assassinations began in 2002, and since 2015 as part of Saudi Arabia’s war
  • 1.2 million Libyans (19% of the pre-war population) since the toppling of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011 
  • 7.1 million Syrians (37% of the pre-war population) since the US began waging war against the Islamic State in 2014
  • And finally, in a war of which I was only dimly aware, 1.7 million Filipinos (2% of the pre-war population) since the US military joined the Philippine government in its decades-old war with Abu Sayyaf and other insurgent groups in 2002

As an article publicizing the report also explains, it must also be noted that “displacement is just one facet of war’s destruction.”

As the article proceeds to explain:

In Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen alone, an estimated 755,000 to 786,000 civilians and combatants have died as a result of combat. An additional 15,000 U.S. military personnel and contractors have died in the post-9/11 wars. Total deaths on all sides in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen may reach 3–4 million or more, including those who have died as a result of disease, hunger and malnutrition caused by the wars. The number of those injured and traumatized extends into the tens of millions.

Five years ago, in ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’, a song for my band The Four Fathers, about the perceived value, in the west, of western lives in relation to those of other countries and cultures, I wrote:

When you’re white and killed by terrorists, your value is the maximum
And that’s what happened with the Twin Towers
But in Afghanistan and in Iraq in retaliation
Half a million were killed at a minimum

It seems that one Western life is worth 200 Muslims
And that’s the truth that they don’t want us to know
Warmongers only want to keep on warmongering
Leaving us to ask in vain

How much is a life worth?

19 years after 9/11, it is time for the wars to stop, for the concept of endless war to be repudiated, and for Guantánamo — the endless prison — to be closed down.

* * * * *

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 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, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from eight 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 the 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. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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.

2 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, marking the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, in which I reflect on its long and bitter legacy, via the US’s endless wars, its torture program, and the continuing existence of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, where 40 men are still held, for the most indefinitely and without charge or trial.

    In addition, I look at the shockingly large number of people displaced by the US’s many wars waged over the last 19 years – at least 37 million people, as just revealed in a report by the American University’s Public Anthropology Clinic and Brown University’s Costs of War Project.

    A sad anniversary – and salutary to realize that, in just four months time, the prison at Guantanamo Bay will also have been open for 19 years.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Please feel free to check out Moazzam Begg and I on South Africa’s Salaamedia this evening, discussing 9/11 at 19: https://www.facebook.com/salaamedia/videos/321206229151705/

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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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