Memories of the last 20 years are rarely focused on increased state violence and repression in the post-9/11 world. The damage has largely been forgotten.
The constant demand that we “Never forget!,” the events of September 11, 2001, is rather laughable. Forgetting is difficult after enduring 20 years of war propaganda. News stories about that day are plentiful albeit useless, that is to say they add nothing to our understanding of why the U.S. was attacked and depend upon sentiment, jingoism, and tried and true claims of exceptionalism to maintain fear, hatred, and support for war.
The aftermath of September 11 gets surprisingly short shrift but it is just as important as the who, what, when, where, why, and how of that date. It was just three days later that the Senate and House of Representatives voted to begin what are now called the forever wars. On September 14, 2001 California’s congresswoman Barbara Lee cast the lone vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force. It gave George W. Bush broad authority to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001…”
The 9/11 event isn’t forgotten, but the near universal approval of the attack on Afghanistan is rarely mentioned now. The corrosive impact of that war on international and domestic law is also swept under the rug. In the past 20 years presidents have claimed the right to kill anyone they claim is a threat, deny the right to civilian trials, and gather and keep electronic information on everyone in the United States. These assaults on human rights have been largely forgotten, as the shock of the day turned otherwise intelligent people into supporters of aggression.
Thanks to the state’s collusion with corporate media, there was even an unwillingness to find out how the attacks were carried out and ascertain who in Bush’s administration should have known what was going to happen. During that summer of 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to fly on commercial airlines. He obviously knew there was a threat.
Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford was one of many eyewitnesses to strange activity on the day in question. He recounted meeting two men in Jersey City, New Jersey watching the towers burn. They claimed to be Polish but spoke Hebrew, had fake press passes, brand new cameras, and a joyful attitude about the unfolding tragedy. There were other reports about Israelis ostensibly working for a moving company who also watched the towers fall and celebrated as they did. These documented incidents inconvenience the official narrative and were given insufficient attention by the government and their friends in media.
The shamefully inadequate 9/11 commission didn’t take place until months later. George W. Bush and his national security team garnered fawning media attention but hardly any scrutiny about what they knew and how the attacks were carried out. No one was fired, no one resigned, and hard questions were eschewed in favor of deference to the people who failed their country so badly.
Even when there was reporting on links between Osama bin Laden, the U.S. government, and the Saudi royal family, the stories cast suspicion everywhere except where it should have been directed. They rarely delved into bin Laden’s beginnings as an ally of the U.S. in the Afghanistan regime change effort, and his ties to the Saudi allies that would have embarrassed the Bush family and the entire foreign policy apparatus. It is true that bin Laden relatives and Saudi royals were whisked out of the country when airspace was shut down for everyone else. But tales of evil Arabs predominated instead of real reporting which would have asked hard questions about every president from Jimmy Carter onward who funded jihadists like bin Laden as proxies for U.S. foreign policy designs.
By all means let us remember. Remember the drone strikes, the kill lists, the Abu Ghraib torture, and the Guantanamo Bay prison where men still languish after 20 years. Remember that the rush to war in 2001 was followed by the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Remember that Secretary of State Colin Powell lied at the United Nations about non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Remember that even our popular culture has been impacted, and that film makers are given access to classified documents if they agree to produce pro-torture propaganda. The New York Times wouldn’t even print the word torture if the U.S. was the perpetrator. “Harsh interrogation techniques” and other such euphemisms were substitutes for the truth.
Twenty years later the U.S. is a changed country and not for the better. Congress still gives presidents broad authority to bomb, change foreign governments at will, and sanction any country that becomes a target. Regime change is acceptable as long as U.S. troops aren’t directly involved in the dirty work. The media follow suit and citizens who object to wars of terror and a growing surveillance state are marginalized. Even politicians who call themselves progressive go along to get along and eagerly vote to support a defense budget that is now more than $750 billion.
Memories are limited to September 11, 2001 and not to what happened afterward. The attacks were a pretext for doing what the imperialists always wanted. Glen Ford put his strange experience in perspective. “In effect, Washington was claiming revenge as the motive for crimes that it had long been planning to commit. Precise causality for the specific events of 9/11 becomes near-irrelevant, submerged in the much larger aggression that was conceived long before the towers fell.”
It is little wonder that there is so much confusion about the world we live in now. War, austerity, and inequality were just what the ruling class ordered. They needed a war against humanity and they have been waging it for the last 20 years. If there are going to be shared memories about post-9/11 life, that harsh truth must be among them.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly at Black Agenda Report and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She is the author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents. Her work can also be found at patreon.com/margaretkimberley and on Twitter @freedomrideblog. Ms. Kimberley can be reached via e-mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.