There are certain events throughout our lives that change us forever. The birth of a child, the death of a loved one or falling in love can all shape who we are. There are also events in history that change who we are as human beings and as Americans. On September 11, 2001, the American psyche, as well as my own, was changed forever. I was a junior in high school and I remember being told that planes had struck the World Trade Center. I did not believe it. I thought that some type of small single engine plane had collided with the building. When my Chemistry teacher turned on the television, I realized that the world had just changed forever.
Our great beacon of democracy would be tested and the democratic systems that make our nation so great would be diminished as Americans traded freedom for security in an effort to prevent further attacks. My mother had educated me about politics and democracy from a young age, so on September 11, 2001 as I watched the footage of the planes hitting the towers over and over, I knew in my heart that these attacks would be used for years to come as a means to reduce freedom in the name of safety.
The Bush Administration used the legitimate fear people had to push through a massive new state security apparatus that gathered intelligence on thousands of Americans guilty of no crime, usually because of political affiliation or other constitutionally protected activities. Following 9/11, our government made a conscious choice to declare a sort of existential war on terror rather than a war on a physical group such as Al-Qaeda or a person such as Osama Bin Laden. When can we win a war on terror? Now we are kept in a constant state of emergency in which we are told that the terrorists can strike at any time and any place. We are now in a perpetual state of war that will carry on long after the last American soldiers leave Afghanistan and Iraq.
Indefinite military detention has become a permanent fixture in the war on terror. Since 9/11, the government has labeled people as terrorists and held them indefinitely. Only after years of challenges from groups like the ACLU and review in the courts was it found that the government’s evidence was exaggerated, wrong, or non-existent. Much of the way in which people were detained overseas was in and of itself dubious. Accusations made by a former aide to Colin Powell reveal that many detainees captured in Afghanistan were picked up by Afghani and Pakistani warlords for bounties of $5,000 with no evidence of what part, if any, these detainees played in the insurgency and terrorist groups. The United States is one of the greatest democracies in human history, yet we are now left with the dubious distinction of being a democratic nation that maintains a military detention center in Guantanamo Bay that continues to hold people without trial, without charges, and without reason. This has tarnished our image at home and abroad.
When America went to war with Iraq in 2003, I joined millions of people around the world in protesting an action that turned out to be based on misinformation. The post-9/11 security apparatus that was promised to be used only against terrorists was also used against my fellow war protestors across the country as a means to quell political dissent protected in the Constitution of the United States. In a report released by the ACLU in 2010 called, “Policing Free Speech,” there are numerous instances in which Military Intelligence and agencies like the FBI spied on anti-war protestors and activists involved in other causes such as animal and environmental groups.
The most horrific post-9/11 practice employed by our government was and is, without a doubt, torture. Hundreds of detainees in Guantanamo Bay and abroad were subjected to torturous methods such as water-boarding, isolation, stress positions and sexual humiliation. Our government refuses to prosecute many terrorism suspects in civilian courts because torture was used to extract information. This has severely damaged our legal system for the foreseeable future. Even before the United States had captured any terrorism suspects, a conspiracy to undermine our longstanding ban against torture was being fostered at the highest levels of our government. The torture advocates from the Bush Administration still contend that “enhanced interrogation techniques,” are humane and gave us immense amounts of intelligence but fail to acknowledge the fact that these inhumane practices have undermined everything America stands for.
It has been ten years since that fateful day that changed America forever. In those ten years, some of the cornerstones of American democracy have been chipped away and replaced by a massive permanent security apparatus that has eroded elements of American democracy that make us so unique. The rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right against illegal search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment and the right to a jury trial have all been weakened by the fear of another terrorist attack. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has stated that it will not prosecute high ranking Bush Administration officials who blatantly violated the constitution and circumvented the rule of law. President Obama insists on “looking forward,” but there can be no closure without justice. The Obama Administration continues to use drone warfare to target suspected terrorists and American citizens accused of terrorism. For all of those people who lost their lives on 9/11, it is our duty to keep America safe and free.