By Richard B. Muhammad
With the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the incident still casts a huge shadow across the earth—whether the issue is civil liberties, human rights, notions of security or prospects for peace in the world.
While the attacks that brought down the World Trade Center buildings in New York initially engendered a wave of sympathy for the United States and shock at the horrible loss of life, this tragedy was also exploited and sadly used to usher in more tragedy.
After some initial strikes in Afghanistan, the Bush administration used the attacks to justify a war in Iraq that was a disaster. Though the U.S. helped keep the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in power for decades, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld—with a fawning media at his heels—and the neo-conservatives, sold the American people on a quick and noble war. The U.S. would remake democracy in Iraq and remake the Middle East, the neo-cons declared. Instead billions of dollars have been wasted—often tied to the awarding of no-bid contracts—and the lives of U.S. soldiers have been lost far from home.
Soldiers found themselves “stop-lossed” and forced to return to multiple tours of duty—as their enlistments ran out—but other little noticed provisions for additional service kicked in. Little has changed in a positive way in the Middle East.
Later came pictures and revelations of abuses and outright torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and allegations that military contractors recklessly fired on civilians—not to mention stories of rape and murder committed by U.S. servicemen. There was news that the death of former pro football player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan came at the hands of his American comrades in a friendly fire incident. More disturbing were charges that the military covered up the death, concocted a blaze of glory tale about the end of his life and lied to members of his family.
The war in Iraq, even as the U.S. winds down its participation, has inspired more hatred of the United States and the administration is shifting to fighting in Afghanistan, while questions about insurgents and their power in Pakistan remain. The U.S. is using claims and fear of “Islamic militants” to justify meddling in African affairs and setting up a military command on the Motherland.
Around the globe, nations have been able to declare nearly any bothersome group a terrorist organization and move to eliminate it. Whether it was targeting of the Uighur ethnic group in China or the Russian military crackdown in Chechnya, a kind of “I’ll let you target your terrorist, if you let me target mine” pact has developed.
“Terrorist” was a catchall label that could be used to justify snatching people from their countries, depriving people of their rights, holding people without trial and ignoring long-accepted definitions of civil rights, human rights, and rules for war in the modern era. Ghost prisons were set up by the CIA and prisoners have told tales of flights to “torture friendly” U.S. allies and abuses at the hands of nations eager to please America.
There are questions about the conditions and treatment of detainees at Bagram Airforce base in Iraq that no one in government seems to want to answer.
Now comes news of nudity, alcohol, dancing and disgusting acts by contractors paid to protect the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan—dealing another blow to America’s image and prestige.
Muslims in the United States have found their faith besieged, besmirched, condemned and disrespected, while Arabs, “Arab-looking” or “maybe Muslims” have been subjected to disdain and outright attack. Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, some Muslims and Arabs were held in detention as their families wondered where they were and later worried about what happened to their rights. Mosques have been vandalized and construction of Islamic houses of worship have drawn protests. Government agents have infiltrated mosques and been leading bearers of witness to government claims of domestic terrorism.
The Patriot Acts, legislation hurried through Congress as a fearful and grieving nation barely paid attention, increased government power, expanded surveillance and checked individual liberties and protections.
Van Jones, a presidential advisor for green jobs, was a 2009 political victim of fallout from the tragedy of Sept. 11th. He was forced to resign Sept. 6 after Fox Network host Glenn Beck and right-wingers attacked him for signing a petition about 9-11 and asking what the government knew and when.
But even YC CAN, a self described “non-partisan organization comprised of 9/11 Families, First Responders, Survivors and proud, concerned citizens committed to bringing about an independent, impartial investigation into the events of September 11,” is still asking the same kind of questions. The group maintains the official U.S. panel that looked at the tragedy only answered about 30 percent of questions it raised—and left unresolved some 250 questions.
Health concerns associated with the aftermath of the collapse of the two buildings remain. The Mount Sinai School of Medicine has reported incidents of a blood cancer usually found in people ages 60 and above in younger World Trade Center responders. There are worries that rescue workers and even workers who did clean up were exposed to carcinogens linked to cancers in the blood.
The hospital has found Ground Zero first responders suffer from persistent lung illnesses. In a February report, the Mount Sinai Medical Center Monitoring Center said there was a connection between toxic dust that billowed in the air at the fall of the World Trade Center towers and chronic lung and respiratory illness. “Researchers conducted follow up exams on more than 3,000 responders between 2004 and 2007. Just over 24 percent of the control group had abnormal lung function, according to the report, and in earlier examinations, 28 percent of the group had similar results,” according to a CBS News report.
“The patients scored ‘below normal on pulmonary function tests,’ and suffered from a variety of ailments, including ‘shortness of breath, asthma, and reactive airway disease,’ ” CBS reported.
As America marks this poignant anniversary, it is an appropriate time to consider the president’s call for change made during his campaign. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from the loss of life in the World Trade Center tragedy and subsequent suffering. Human life is precious and leadership has a responsibility to do its best to preserve life and to carefully consider those decisions that may cause the loss of life.
(This was originally published as an editorial in The Final Call newspaper.)