Twenty years since the September 11 terrorist attacks

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which killed more than 2,900 people, were the deadliest terror attacks in the history of the United States. Nineteen supporters of Al Qaeda, 15 from Saudi Arabia, crashed two passenger planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York; a third plane into the Pentagon building outside Washington; and a fourth into the ground.

The horrific massacre of civilians was immediately exploited by the imperialist powers, led by the United States government itself, to justify far-reaching attacks on the democratic rights of their own populations, and the launching of decades-long wars in the Middle East and Africa. The “war on terror,” embraced by the entire political establishment and corporate media, became the justification for wars and interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

Twenty years on, the analysis made by the WSWS of these events has stood the test of time. We present below the major statements and analysis made contemporaneously by the WSWS over the past two decades.

The response of the WSWS to the 9/11 attacks

The initial response of the WSWS, written only hours after the attack and posted the following day, “The political roots of the terror attack on New York and Washington,” laid out all the central political questions. The WSWS “unequivocally condemns the terrorist attacks,” it began.

“Those responsible for the hijacking of four commercial passenger aircraft and their conversion into flying bombs are guilty of mass murder... These acts of homicidal terrorism manifest a toxic combination of demoralized pessimism, religious and ultra-nationalist obscurantism, and, it must be added, political opportunism of the vilest character.”

The WSWS, however, placed central culpability for the attack on American imperialism. Since 1983, the US government had been bombing one or another Middle Eastern country, including Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan.

The invasion of Afghanistan

Less than a month after the September 11 attacks, on October 7, 2001, Washington and its allies launched a military assault against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda bases in the country.

“The World Socialist Web Site condemns the American military assault on Afghanistan,” we wrote on October 9. “We reject the dishonest claims of the Bush administration that this is a war for justice and the security of the American people against terrorism.” The WSWS explained that Washington's real aims in the war were to secure hegemonic control over the resource rich and geostrategically vital region of Central Asia and the Middle East. We wrote:

But while the events of September 11 have served as the catalyst for the assault on Afghanistan, the cause is far deeper. The nature of this or any war, its progressive or reactionary character, is determined not by the immediate events that preceded it, but rather by the class structures, economic foundations and international roles of the states that are involved. From this decisive standpoint, the present action by the United States is an imperialist war.

The official cover-up of the 9/11 attacks

Since 2001, the circumstances of the September 11 attacks have been covered by an official veil of secrecy. Immediately after the attacks, the WSWS noted that the official explanation, that the intelligence agencies had simply failed to 'connect the dots' in the lead-up to the attacks, could not withstand serious analysis. The fact that the individual behind the attack was Osama bin Laden, “whose every move is tracked with the aid of the most technologically sophisticated and massive intelligence apparatus,” raises “a host of troubling questions,” the WSWS wrote.

The WSWS rejected the official explanation of the events of 9/11 and conducted its own review of the information that was coming to light about the US government’s own role in permitting the attacks to take place, despite extensive warnings and direct monitoring of the conspirators.

Over the years since, the WSWS has analysed the subsequent revelations that were made publicly available by the government and intelligence agencies, including with two four-part series by Patrick Martin. The role of the Saudi Arabian monarchy was the subject of the final chapter of the official Congressional report into 9/11, which remained completely secret for 13 years before being made partially available in 2016.

The “war on terror” and the assault on democratic rights

Within weeks of the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration enacted the Patriot Act, which contained sweeping restrictions on the democratic rights of the American population. Internationally, terms such as “enhanced interrogation,” “Abu Ghraib,” “rendition,” “waterboarding” and “Guantanamo bay” entered the global lexicon.

These policies were continued seamlessly under the Obama administration, through such practices as drone killing, targeted assassinations, kill lists and indefinite detention. Expressed ever more clearly was the criminal character of the American ruling class itself.

The assault on democratic rights has been continued and escalated to this day, in the United States and internationally, as revealed in the vast illegal network of spying operations on the world population exposed by Edward Snowden, and the pursecution of whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange.

Academia and the media enlist in the drive to war

A critical role in preparing and promoting the Afghanistan War, and the build-up to war with Iraq, was played by the US media. This included systematically concealing the catastrophic impact of the Afghanistan War. CNN instructed its cable news presenters to downplay the toll of death and destruction caused by American bombing, for fear that such coverage will undermine popular support for the US military effort.

The media, epitomized by such figures as Judith Miller and Thomas Friedman, functioned as accomplices of wars based on lies, providing a propaganda machine designed to legitimize the launching of wars of aggression that claimed millions of lives. The WSWS drew attention to the routine publication of articles in the media aimed at portraying President George W. Bush in a flattering light, having supposedly undergone a transformation from mediocrity to greatness in the course of a few months.

The WSWS also responded to the pro-war alignment by significant academics, who published an open letter purporting to provide a philosophical justification for the Afghanistan War.

The war of aggression against Iraq

By mid-2002, the US political establishment and media were openly preparing for a war against Iraq, a country with no connection to the September 11 terror attacks. Thus came the fabricated pretext, most infamously invoked by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a January 2003 address to the United Nations Security Council, that Saddam Husssein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Within the United States, Bush relied on the media and the Democratic Party to sell these lies to the American people. The mass media seized on Powell’s speech to unanimously proclaim that it was an “irrefutable” indictment of the Iraqi regime. No significant section of the Democratic Party opposed this criminal plot, with then Senator Joseph Biden immediately declaring Powell’s speech “unanswerable.”

The slowly unfolding nightmare of the war preparations provoked mass opposition around the world. On February 15-16, the largest antiwar protests in history took place.

The invasion of Iraq was a war of aggression, illegal under international law developed in the aftermath of the First and Second World Wars. It was carried out to seize control of Iraqi oil as part of a broader strategy to utilize military force to counter US capitalism’s economic decline.

US Secretary of State Powell holds a model vial of anthrax as he makes the case for war against Iraq at the UN

The Philosophical Society of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland held its annual debate on American foreign policy on the evening of October 14, 2004. The proposition debated before an audience of more than 200 people was: “This House Believes that America is Still the World’s Peacekeeper.”

David North, invited by the Philosophical Society to participate in the debate, spoke in opposition to the proposition. Other speakers opposing the resolution included Chris Marsden, national secretary of the Socialist Equality Party in Britain, Irish Senator David Norris, and Leonard Doyle, the foreign editor of the Independent newspaper in Britain.

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CIA torture, indefinite detention and drone assassinations

The establishment of black site prisons such as Guantanamo Bay went hand in hand with the systematic torture and abuse of prisoners by the Bush administration, in violation of all international law. It included such practices as “rectal feeding,” waterboarding, the hanging of detainees by their wrists, sleep deprivation, and death threats.

The Obama administration ensured that there would be no accountability for the torture program, protecting the Bush-era officials from prosecution. There was a seamless continuity between the two administrations in the prosecution of the “War on Terror.”

Obama earned the title of “Drone President.” Within his first year of office alone, more drone strikes were carried out than under the entire administration of Bush. This reached a qualitatively new stage on September 30, 2011, when Obama ordered the targeted assassination of a US citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki.

In May, 2012, the New York Times revealed that Obama personally plotted killings and selected victims for assassinations. The process was organized as a weekly routine, with Obama heading so-called “Terror Tuesday” meetings of military and intelligence officials in the White House, studying mug shots of those to be added to the “kill list.”

A hooded detainee imprisoned at Abu Ghraib. He is standing on a box with wires attached to his left and right hand; he was told that he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box. [Photo: US Government]
The Wikileaks revelations

In July 2010, Wikileaks published the Afghan war logs, a vast trove of leaked US military documents, which provided an unprecedented insight into the criminality of a war that has become the longest in American history. It was based on 91,000 US army logs covering the period of January 2004 to December 2009, provided to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, who had access to the material as a military intelligence analyst.

The exposures had an immense impact on popular consciousness, deepening the mass anti-war sentiment first revealed in the huge international protests against the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

After the Afghanistan War Logs, Wikileaks subsequently published other devastating revelations: the Collateral Murder video, showing a US attack helicopter gunning down a team of journalists in Iraq; the Iraq War Logs, and the Guantanamo files.

Wikileaks' role in exposing the crimes of the governments in Washington and among its allies earned it the hatred of the ruling class. Manning was subsequently imprisoned and tortured for seven years. Julian Assange remains imprisoned in the UK more than a decade later, while the Biden Administration seeks his extradition to the United States, where he faces life imprisonment or a death sentence.

The Debacle in Afghanistan and the Fight Against War

Christoph Vandreier spoke on August 22, 2021 with WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North about the debacle in Afghanistan and what it means for the fight against militarism.

The interview is in English, with an introduction in German.

Three decades of war: From “War on Terror” to Great Power Conflict

After Iraq and Afghanistan, the War on Terror was used to justify the imperialist regime-change operation in Libya, a proxy war in Syria, and interventions in Yemen and Somalia.

US imperialism is increasingly being driven into conflict with its nuclear-armed geopolitical and economic rivals, principally China and Russia, posing the ever-greater danger of a catastrophic nuclear war.

The WSWS and International Committee of the Fourth International are fighting to build an international anti-war movement of the working class and youth, directed against the source of imperialist war, the capitalist profit system. We urge our readers who want to take up this fight to join the Socialist Equality Party today.

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