11 September 2009

Eight Years Evaluated

Today's date does not go unnoticed.

In about four years, a replacement for the World Trade Center buildings that were destroyed, called the Freedom Tower, will be ready for occupancy.

The Pentagon building has been repaired and a memorial has been errected.

When the damaged section of the Pentagon was rebuilt, a small indoor memorial and chapel were included, located at the point of impact. For the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, a memorial of 184 beams of light shone up from the center courtyard of the Pentagon, one light for each victim of the attack. In addition, an American flag is hung each year on the side of the Pentagon damaged in the attacks, and the side of the building is illuminated at night with blue lights. After the attacks, plans were developed for an outdoor memorial, with construction underway in 2006. The Pentagon Memorial, which consists of a 2-acre (8,100 m2) park with 184 benches, according to the victims' ages, from 3 to 71, was opened to the public on September 11, 2008.

A temporary Flight 93 memorial has been established while a permanent one is built, at the crash site.

Many, probably most, of the legal claims of 9-11 victims have been settled. One such mediation result was just released last month.

The Military Response and Anti-Terrorism Response

The main rsponses to 9-11 that are visible to the average American are increased airport security measures and an increased bureacratic burden to get identification documents. There have been military, quasi-military, criminal, legislative, and judicial reseponses as well. But, there has been no draft to raise personnel for these ventures which have relied on Reserve and National Guard forces instead, the active duty military is only slightly larger, and the trillions of dollars of spending for these efforts has been financed almost entirely with borrowed money rather than tax increases.

Less than a month after the 9-11 attacks in 2001, the U.S. had intervened militarily against al-Qaeda which was behind the attack, and the Taliban, the leading political force in a civil war torn Afghanistan which was al-Qaeda's base of operations and was not cooperative enough with U.S. authorities in taking action against al-Qaeda to suit it. The ultra fundamentalist Taliban regime was routed in less than fourteen months.

Low level conflict has continued since then as a civilian regime in Afghanistan was rebuilt around the Northern Alliance of warlords who had opposed the Taliban. al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders fled mostly to Northwest Pakistan's frontier provinces where active military conflict with Pakistani and U.S. forces continues. Taliban ressurgence in Afghanistan has led President Obama to increase troop levels in Afghanistan while moving towards the slow withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The scope and details of the Central intelligence agency campaign against alleged terorists in the wake of 9-11 that included secret prisons and torture of detainees are starting to be revealed. CIA torture carried about before high level approval was obtained from the Bush Administration, who were not granted a Congressional amnesty as those who took actions with legal cover were, are being investigated criminally. The role of many senior Bush Administration officials and White House lawyers who approved and provided legal cover to the CIA's illegal actions have been disclosed.

Hundreds alleged terrorism figures were detained indefinitely without due process at at a U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Large numbers of those detained there have been deported. An Australian man pleaded guilty at a military tribunal and served his sentence in his home country. The right of the detainees to habeas corpus review has been recognized by the courts and the first cases are starting to come to judgment, some ordering the release of prisoners, although no release purely due to a court order has taken place yet. The legal process for these detainees, now numbering a little more than two hundred, is still in flux, and President Obama is considering moving them to a U.S. based detention facility. Many rural towns that already have prisons would welcome the opportunity to handle such a facility.

The handful of enemy combatant detentions of U.S. citizens or of legal aliens present in the United States have had their cases concluded, either through transfer to the criminal justice system for terrorism related charges (Padilla and Al-Marri), or through deportatioon (Hamdi). There are some bad precedents supporting the authority of the government to take these actions that remain on the books. Jose Padilla was convicted of conspiring to carry out deadly terrorist acts by a Floridaa jury and his case is now being appealed. A number of terrorism related criminal cases in the United States have produced convictions.

Some leading al-Qaeda and Taliban figures have been detained or killed. Osama bin Laden, the putitive leader of al-Qaeda, is not among them.

Civil liberties litigation over abuses of material witness warrants, mistreatment of Muslim detainees in jail, "extraordinary rendition" of terror suspects to countries that practice torture, illegal wiretaps, and other abuses of state power that followed 9-11 are at various stages, often involving defenses unique to national defense cases. The U.S. Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, one such case, narrowed the substantive scope of civil rights liability for supervisors and heightened the standard for dismissing lawsuits for failing to state a claim in all lawsuits cases. The U.S. Supreme Court has now handled a number of war on terrorism related cases.

There is also some possibility that federal courts may grant some habeas corpus review to those held as enemy combatants in foreign prisons controlled by the United States, particular in Baghram, Afghanistan, which appears to be the largest such prison, where many detainees were captured elsewhere and brought to Afghanistan, undermining an extigencies of the battlefield justification for a lack of U.S. court review. The question of the extent to which U.S. Constitutional rights apply outside U.S. territory in placces the the U.S. controls remains an open one.

Torture and the intrusive search measures instituted that do not rely on probable cause have not produced meaningful benefits, and have come at high civil liberties and war on terrorism success costs. For example, some CIA agents face indictments for their unlawful actions in key ally Italy, where the U.S. relies on an Air Force base for its Middle Eastern operations.

The Obama Administration is still in the process of coming to terms with what practices of the prior administration it will defend and which ones it will abandon. The results to date have been less of a change than many of the President's supporters in the election expected.

President Bush commenced the Iraq War in 2003 on two main pretenses, first that Iraq was a supporter of Al-Qaeda, and second that it had weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to the region. Both of these pretenses were false. There was no link between 9-11 and Iraq until after President Bush (the younger) created that link. More U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq than were killed on 9-11. The Iraqi deaths have numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The removal of the old Iraqi regime without providing a prompt replacement produced a cauldron of ethnic violence that has physically segregated the country, produced hundreds of thousands if not millions of refugees (most numerously in Jordan and Syria), degregated the economic standard of living and safety for almost everyone in the country, and left an weak civilian government that will be hard pressed to continue to operate Iraq as a true single country. Detainee abuses by U.S. forces in Iraq together with widely perceived injustices and abuses in the U.S. War on Terror has provided a rallying cry for anti-American militant groups worldwide making Americans less safe and undermining America's reputation as a defender of human rights. U.S. troops are in the process of a measured and phased withdrawal that will take more than a year from now before it reaches a more or less permanent low level presence.

The U.S. has rendered impotent two of the main potential military threats to Iran, from Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran, meanwhile, recently publicly put down public unrest in response to an unfair election and has been not very responsive in addressing international concerns about its nuclear programs. The new Iraqi government, because it is Shi'ite dominanted, is a natural friend for Iran, while the old regime was a natural enemy for it.

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