9/11, 9/11 fifteen years on, Afghanistan, Iraq, latest

Fifteen Years of the “War on Terror”

by Rebecca Barrigos from redflag.org.au


September marks 15 years since the US state turned the tragedy of the World Trade Centre attacks into a justification for years of brutality and horror inflicted on the population of the Middle East.

The “war on terror”, launched by the administration of president George W. Bush in the weeks following 9/11, revealed the naked barbarity of US imperialism. It extended far beyond the borders of Afghanistan, where the US first invaded, to subject the populations of Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan and beyond to sickening violence.

This war was never about delivering democracy or protecting human rights; it was always about expanding US power. The US state saw an opportunity to occupy and reshape the Middle East in order to control its oil reserves, thereby obtaining leverage against economic rivals and ensuring the future profitability and dominance of the US economy.

The Iraqi city of Fallujah is testament to the human toll of the project. It has been razed three times since the US first occupied in 2003. Once home to a bustling population of 300,000, it was reduced to rubble in 2004, when US troops twice laid siege to the city, unleashing a wave of brutal repression on its civilians. Troops indiscriminately shot and killed protesters, conducted weeks of aerial bombardment and bathed the city in white phosphorus.

Exposure to the depleted uranium employed in US weapons resulted in a fourfold increase in the cancer rate in the years between 2004 and 2010, and a 12-fold increase in cancer for children, according to a study by doctor Chris Busby entitled Cancer, infant mortality and birth sex-ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009. Busby’s extensive research led him to conclude that the toxic fallout of the US assault on the city is worse than that suffered by the survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (another crime of US imperialism).

In 2013, paediatricians at the Fallujah General Hospital told Al Jazeera journalists that, frequently, children were born with birth defects so numerous, rare and extreme that doctors do not even have a medical name for the conditions they cause.

The atrocities once committed by US troops in Fallujah are now being carried out by the client regime it installed after the fall of Saddam Hussein. In June, Fallujah again became the scene of mass devastation, this time stormed by Iraqi government forces and the militias it commands. This time it was in the name of saving civilians from ISIS, a force that arose out of the sectarian divisions stoked by years of US intervention in the region.

Five years after Obama declared the US occupation of Iraq over and troops were “officially withdrawn”, Human Rights Watch reports that Fallujah’s remaining population is currently starving and barely subsisting on date-seed bread and grass soup. Most of its residents have been forced to flee and now languish in refugee camps. In the commemorations for the victims of 9/11, it is unlikely that the victims of Fallujah will be asked to give their account of the war. Sabah Hassan, an elderly refugee from Fallujah in a refugee camp outside Baghdad, recently told Al Jazeera: “Civilians are the only ones who pay the price of the conflict. What is happening to us is unfair, we have done nothing”.

It has not been enough to kill and maim; the US also tried to break a population besieged and terrorise them into subordination. It sought to crush resistance to the occupation by torturing thousands in prisons such as the now notorious Abu Ghraib.

The death toll

In March 2015, Physicians for Social Responsibility calculated that the war on terror has, directly or indirectly, murdered around 1 million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan – a total death count of 1.3 million. That is a conservative estimate; the researchers concluded that the real casualty rate is probably much closer to 2 million.

Obama’s election in 2008 was promoted as bringing an end to US wars in the Middle East. Instead, the Nobel Peace Prize winning president has overseen a troop influx into Afghanistan and authorised further military operations in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Libya, extending the theatre of war and escalating the use of drone warfare.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, since 2002, drone strikes have killed more than 7,000 people. This doesn’t take into account drone strikes in Iraq and Syria – which are on the rise as the US seeks to maintain its military presence in the region without the further deployment of troops on the ground.

Despite this expansion, the US has not been able to accomplish its objectives. In fact, after 15 years of war, the US global position is weakened.

Worldwide offensive against civil liberties

Justifying these crimes against humanity required the creation of a hysterical climate of fear. The stoking of Islamophobia and demonising and criminalising of Muslims have become the key means by which the US and its Western allies excuse both imperialist interventions and a mass offensive against civil liberties.

Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, where the US has detained and tortured accused terror suspects, is the embodiment of this. Within its walls, almost 800 people have been incarcerated. Of these, 674 have never been charged. These people are victims of the war on terror, their lives destroyed by US imperialism.

The Bush administration introduced draconian anti-terror laws such as the Patriot Act – passed in 2001 in part to intimidate domestic opposition to war. Governments around the world followed suit, seizing on an opportunity to increase state powers and further spy on and repress their own citizens under the guise of “fighting terrorism”. The Obama administration has expanded the domestic US security state, and rabidly pursues whistleblowers, such as Chelsea Manning, who have heroically exposed the depravity of US imperialism.

Inside the belly of the beast

Capitalism’s wars have always gone hand in hand with class war against workers in the belligerent countries. The war on terror is a case in point. A partial costing by Neta C. Crawford, a professor of political science at Boston University and co-director of the Costs of War project, suggests that to date, the war on terror has cost a whopping US$1.8 trillion to prosecute.

Meanwhile, since the global financial crisis of 2007-08, US workers have been bearing the brunt of the crisis, even as the Wall Street bankers were being bailed out. As the populations of cities such as Detroit, beset by mass unemployment, are left to rot, and funding for public schools and infrastructure is cut, the US military budget expands. There is always money for imperial slaughter.

Resistance to war

No retrospective of the past 15 years would be complete without also remembering that the war on terror has provoked unprecedented protest. The world’s largest single day of anti-war protest that has ever occurred took place in February 2003, before the bombs started to fall on Iraq. All over the world, millions saw through the rhetoric and lies of their pro-war leaders and took to the streets to demand “No blood for oil!”

The largest rallies took place in Europe. In Australia, 250,000 marched in Melbourne, and half a million rallied in Sydney’s Hyde Park, with protests also held in almost every other city in the country. These mobilisations were larger than the famed anti-Vietnam War moratoriums of the 1970s.

Despite their size, a few mass protests were never on their own going to stop an empire hell bent on war to enforce its rule around the globe. Bush and his Western cronies were able to dismiss the global opposition to war and bomb and invade Iraq anyway. Nonetheless, the protests indicated the immense capacity of people to show international solidarity in spite of the considerable divide and rule efforts of our governments. They also demonstrate that, for all the horrors capitalism inflicts, people are more than capable of resisting the system. Our rulers can lie, scapegoat and repress, but inevitably the brutality of capitalism, always made most concrete at times of war, inspires rebellion.

More than anything, what the last 15 years of war have demonstrated is that imperialism has to be resisted.


  1. Alan says

    The facts presented cannot be denied, however the motives don’t explain horror, on such a scale as we witness. To blame individuals and particular nations driven by capitalism appears to hide the causes and reality of where we are. Wholesale slaughter and invasion wasn’t kicked off by the events of September 11th, nor was it instigated by one clique of psychopaths. Every country throughout history is guilty of inflicting horror against those it believes to be their enemies, in each case supported by what our meaning of democracy terms, the majority. Who benefits from such misery? What did the horrors of Palestine, Biafra or East Timor enable within the economies of those who decry the so called war on terror? The present only exists because we helped create it. To believe it to be a corrupt strata in society or a belief in an ‘ism’ is merely pandering to ones own delusion, it softens the reality. When we next vote or pay taxes within the structures that enable this misery, who are we to blame?

    • BigB says

      ‘blockquote’ The present only exists because we helped to create it.

      I’m all for collective creation and shared responsibility; in a sense, we are the architects of the world as it is; we give away our consent every five years or so and pay our taxes to support the current system, so who are we to blame?
      Well yes, but is that it? Is our sole purpose to be reduced to footing the bill whilst not seeking to blame externally? What sort of mind cult is this?
      Whilst as a vague intellectual construct the world is experiential as Self; that doesn’t offer scope for practical solutions. The world is interactive – not passive. Rather than be the unresisting agents of our own global demise could we not instead harness the power of collaboration and mobilise for peace?
      There comes the time when “those who love peace will have to organise as effectively as those who love war” (MLK) : not sit by exiled by their own docility .

  2. Kevin Morris says

    I praise off Guardian for publishing so much about 9/11 on its fifteenth anniversary. It is much needed.

    I couldn’t avoid the observation that one really doesn’t have to be a marxist to recognise the outrage of 9/11 and its aftermath. More- although i find little to take exception to in the above article, I do despair of interpretations that talk in glib marxist terms of ‘capitalism’.

    We no longer live in a capitalist society but a plutocratic one. If we were truly living in a capitalist system with, say, a return to the gold standard and the checks and balances in place that successful capitalist systems have tended to have, we would end up with a rather juster and far more equal society than the one we have now.

    • michaelk says

      I think we’ve already entered the post-democratic era. Our socio-economic system increasingly resembles a modern form of… fascism, with the military, state institutions, media, business and politics all bunched together and bound by common interests, much like the original fascist symbol, the fasces.

      And it might be even worse. We seem to be abandoning the progress the Enlightenment brought with it and are returning to a pre-industrial social structure and economy that looks fuedal, witht the vastly wealthy and powerful gradually retreating once more behind their castle walls protected by men-at-arms. Superstition, rather than observations and facts increasingly dominate the corporate media and mass entertainment. Facebook is massively intrusive and reationary. It’s Zuckerberg’s rules and his world.

    • Capitalism is plutocracy and an absence of democracy. In the West, where the population has been subdued and pacified, it masquerades as democracy, but more often than not, throughout its history, it has been murderously brutal, as the article above makes amply clear. If the observation is Marxist, it is only so because it was first clearly enunciated to the case by Karl Marx, who insisted on the “fact” that the ruling class, empowered by its monopoly on private property in finance, industry and resources, rules on its behalf only, and not in the interest of the property-less majority — propety-less in the means of finance, industry, and resources — and when it feels that it has to, will resort to the most barbaric means of repression. Is Marx wrong, in your opinion?

      • michaelk says

        Well, I don’t consider myself a Marxist and never have. Though I did visit his grave and sat in the corner of the library in Manchester where he sat doing his research and writing. Marx wasn’t wrong, as far as he went, which for obvious reasons, wasn’t far enough. He was stating the obvious, wasn’t he? Any powerful ruling elite, capitlist or not, nearly always resorts to babaric repression when faced with a serious challenge to their role. Or, rather, they sometimes do. Sometimes they leave it too late. My Russian family and the Russian state they were part of, definitely left it too late. But, to be fair to them, it was the times that ‘did for them.’ They were unlucky to be drawn into WW1. I get nostalgic about life before the fall, considering what came after them, the deluge the tsunami of blood.

  3. Pete says

    A good point suggested in the article, which I’ll extrapolate: despite illegal invasions, civilian massacres, foreign bombing campaigns, detention without trial, torture, drone strikes, poisoned weaponry (e.g., depleted uranium), engineered coups d’état, whipped-up Islamophobia, massive MSM propaganda (Putin is a ‘thug and a murderer’, to quote a recent Graun subtitle, unlike any Western or Western-backed leader, of course), scare campaigns, manufactured crises, wide-spread secret surveillance and all the rest of it, the Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning war criminal (too bad, he’ll never be prosecuted) and presidential flop Barack Obama will leave the Empire and his own home country in a much worse state than he found them.

    His successor probably won’t be much chop, either. Out of the two ‘main’ US presidential candidates, it’s a tossup who’d start WWIII quicker. Drink your fine wine while you can, fellow off-graunistas, there doesn’t seem to be much point in hanging on to it.

    Finally, a message for the comments posters: careful, boys and girls. This website may still be small, but THEY are undoubtedly reading it. Perhaps They even post some comments Themselves, as crazy as possible (typos and grammar mistakes included) to see what the reactions are. Maybe I’m one of Them.

  4. Florence says

    As long 911 remains the iconic sacrificial act, we are bound and gagged to prevent open criticism of US military imperialism. We need to resist the US commentariat and it’s obsession with the totemic attacks and with its daily diet of the “heroism of US armed forces.

    • Brian Harry, Australia says

      There’s nothing wrong with the American soldiers, it’s the Scumbags in the Pentagon that send them to war, realizing that they are totally expendable, as long as the USA(and its Masters) who benefit politically from their blood that is spilled………..

      • Florence says

        Read what I said – nothing about the actual soldiers,……many join the US military as the only way to fund Higher & Further Education. Many US states are economicially destitute, and teh military is the only way to get a wage.

        This does not change what I said – the US press as servants of the military industrial complex have a narrative about the glories of the overseas wars.

        • Brian Harry, Australia says

          I wasn’t disagreeing with you, just pointing out the hypocrisy of the Pentagon and the psychopaths therein.

  5. michaelk says

    One could actually launch an entire academic career based on examining, describing and explaining, the lurch or sea change, in the Scandinavian countries from anti-war to pro-war over the last few decades. From critics of US grand imperial strategy, to eager supporters of the tsunami of blood, destruction and suffering they’ve unleashed on the world.

    • deschutes says

      Not to mention Sweden’s justice department and especially prosecutor Ms. Nye are eager, willing obedient servants of Washington: the trumped up, bogus ‘rape’ charges against Assange are a travesty of justice. The two ‘rape’ victims only wanted Assange to be tested for STDs. They never went to the police to press rape charges. Assange has been locked up in the Ecuadorian embassy for a freakin’ 5 years!

      • michaelk says

        Having lived in Sweden and knowing the culture and language… I was staggered by the level of ignorance shown by the Guardian’s journalists, especially about Sweden’s system of justice, which in substantially different from the UK’s. For example, the use of imprisonment without bail, which is unknown, in order to ‘soften up’ a prisoner,often in solitary, and enforce a form of punishment before the ‘uncertainty’ of a trial. The lack of jury trial by one’s peers. Politically appointed Judges and prosecutors. And all this is before one gets into the social context. The toxic minefield that Swedish ‘gender and identity’ politics has become. Needless to say the Guardian ‘offed’ me for expressing such views and pointing out gross factual errors in their awful coverage of the Assange affair.

    • JJA says

      A couple of months ago, it seemed like there would be some rebellious voices in Denmark, now in the throes of joining the destroy the welfare state wave and the need for cuts, on the announcement that Denmark was going to splurge countless billions on the new cant yet fly F35 fighter plane. The government is riding roughshod over any protests.

  6. michaelk says


    This article shows the extraordinary power to corral perceptions and stigmatize opposition ‘bad thoughts’ the corporate media possesses. Imagine convincing the leaders of a country that should antagonize their most important trading partner – China, the market that’s gilded the Australian economy for decades and helped it escape recession for over a quarter of a century… and, instead, support the military policies of a foreign state, the United States, that wants to turn Australia, contrary to its most basic national interests, into a frontline, target in a coming war with China. It beggars belief. It illustrates what real power is and how ruthlessly the Americans use it. The ability to convince or force other nations to ‘willingly’ choose mass suicide for the benefit of US interests, which are the opposite of Australia’s.

  7. elenits says

    Unfortunately this is only half the story, and passed through a socialist strainer (maybe there is still socialism in Australia?) Socialists for whatever reason never mention the elephant in the room: Israel and its plans for a wildly expanded Greater Israel, the strategy for which became official US/NATO/Israeli policy in 2006, the New Middle East Plan. This policy is well underway and still playing out.

    • Not to forget that almost all of the leading neocons who wrote and/or backed the Project for the New American Century (which called for a “new Pearl Harbour” …. Bush then wrote in his diary that 9/11 was “the Pearl Harbour of the 21st century) had dual US-Israeli nationality. Also worth mentioning: Bibi Netanyahu was in New York on 9/11 and in London on 7/7. Pure coincidence of course …

  8. michaelk says

    It’s been almost half a century since an important western political leader has spoken out and criticised US power and how it’s devastating vast tracts of the world. That was Oluf Palme the then Swedish PM, who savaged the Vietnam War and the illegal bombing of North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, attacking cities full of defenceless civilians. My, my, how the world has changed since then. Today it’s virtually unthinkable that a serving leading western leader would dare follow in Palme’s footsteps. Palme was despised and disliked by Sweden’s rightwing who hated everything he stood for.

    Today it’s the ‘media battlefield’ that’s as important as the battlefield where the wars are taking place. This is why there is so much emphasis on ‘winning the battle for hearts and minds’ when we are fighting in some far-flung corner of the world. What isn’t properly understood or appreciated is the crucial battle for hearts and minds that takes place at home. The battle for perceptions about what we’re doing fighting on the other side of the world. The media has become the political wing of the military and journalists increasingly resemble political commisars directing opperations on the home front and rallying support for our boys.

    The US military learned an awful lot from Vietnam, crucially the vital importance of manipulating domestic public opinion. Finding a dramatic narrative that explained why we were being forced to fight these wars. In this respect the war on terror has been a remarkable propaganda success, with most of the corporate media docile and coralled and hardly a single newspaper voicing fundamental opposition.

    Crucially, the Americans have gotten lots of other western countries ‘on side’ and countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, who fifty years ago openly criticised and opposed US policies, now join them in sending their soldiers and jets to attack enemy targets. So this is a massive and important changed. One can’t underestimate the value of these countries supporting the US war on terror in relation to domestic US public opinion. If tiny, peace-loving, friendly, ‘socialist’ Denmark’s supporting us, how could there be anthing wrong with what we’re doing? The deaths of Danish soldiers, in this context, their blood is incredibly valuable for the US military narrative. In fact it’s almost like ‘human sacrifice’ or a ‘blood thithe’ has been introduced in these small countries. Their leader are, today, not people like Palme; but more like Aztek priests sacrificing to the Sun. Actually, they are probably far worse. At least the Aztek priests were honest and weren’t sacrificing and showing the loyalty to a foreign power who doesn’t give a shit about them.

    • JJA says

      Palme was assassinated for that very reason.
      The Swedish media are no different from today’s Guardian and New York Times in whipping up tales of ‘Russian Aggression’, ‘Russian invasions’, Russia’s ‘illegal annexation of Crimea’ etc., and that poor little Sweden better run and hide under NATO’s skirts as soon as possible.

      Even Obama once admitted he didn’t want to end up like Martin Luther King.

  9. Brian Harry, Australia says

    The Military Industrial Complex is by far, the World’s largest Terrorist Group. Adolph Hitler is starting to run a poor second these days…………

  10. If only one Western leader had the intestinal fortitude to speak truth to power, it would create a well spring of support Worldwide because everyone is thinking it but afraid to speak!

    • elenits says

      Archie, “Western leader”s will NEVER speak truth to power because they are well-paid stooges who are vetted and often ‘placed’ [think Blair, Tsipras] whose sole role is to constitute a chorus of approval.

    • CloudSlicer says

      Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this would happen. In order to become a political ‘leader’ in the West, one must be prepared to compromise one’s core beliefs (assuming these differ from those of the political status quo in the first place) and eventually one’s personal integrity. If this isn’t done then the chances of any ‘anti-Establishment-Power’ politician rising to any kind of leadership status are approximately nil. See the current destructive backlash against Corbyn, for example.

      These general points were well illustrated and explored in a Radio 4 interview I heard several years ago in which former MPs Matthew Parris and Estelle Morris spoke about their experiences in government, and how they each, as bright and enthusiastic newly elected MPs with a keen desire to change things for the public good, rapidly found themselves having to toe the party line and become am isolated cog in a large machine. Any attempt to assert and pursue an independent line would be quickly slapped down, and any ambition to gain a more influential position in order to assert such independence would first require compromise. A terrible catch-22 position. They both said that this requirement inevitably led to a loss of personal integrity, and this was one of the principal reasons they left the job. I have been unable to find the link to this Radio4 programme, which I would like to hear again – if anyone can help I would be grateful.

    • The Western Countries do not support these wars, their governments are cow towing but not with the will of the people. In the UK we have one of the most unrepresentative governments in power but the opposition is just as smitten with self aggrandisement at the feet of the almighty US. The masses are discouraged from adopting any opposition by many different means, lies, corruption, vote rigging, all ensure that the people have no real democracy and are thus effectively hog tied except through mass demonstration, certainly not by democratic representation.

      • CloudSlicer says

        Agreed. That is why a mass social movement is the only thing which can effectively oppose this madness. It is the fear of such a movement gaining a toe-hold that is driving the current attempts to destroy Corbyn’s leadership.

        Somehow, we must wake up, and soon.

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