Yesterday marked 13 years since the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001, one of the worst terrorist attacks in history, killing 2,996 people and injuring over 6,000.
Every year 9/11 is, and will continue to be, remembered for the sadness of the day. Families lost their loved ones; the lives of many people collapsed with the towers; and the fabric of the city was changed forever.
But what should not be forgotten is the change 9/11 inspired in the realm of national security. The attacks prompted a refocus, not just on the security of airports and planes, but on the protection of a nation.
September 11th should also be remembered as the catalyst for change in national security and anti-terror thinking and practice. Efforts to stamp out terrorism across the globe escalated, not just with political rhetoric but also with military action.
All of this came as part of the so-called War on Terror, an anti-terrorist military-backed campaign primarily spearheaded by the United States and the United Kingdom in Afghanistan, initially to eliminate Al Qaeda but later becoming an umbrella term encompassing the spread of its scope across Iraq, northern Pakistan and other areas of the Middle East.
Although U.S. officials no longer use the term, this campaign still rages today. And with this comes torture. Since 9/11, terrorist attacks have risen and, as more suspects are detained, torture incidences have risen too.
The September 11 attacks and the War on Terror that followed led to the ill-treatment of many suspected terrorist detainees – something President Obama acknowledged by stating that the United States military and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “crossed the line” in the post-9/11 context by torturing many suspects.
The upcoming CIA torture report, for example, details how suspects were intentionally tortured for information.
Leaks from the report, four-years in the making, show how the CIA misled policymakers about the inhumane nature of their torture techniques primarily at CIA ‘Black Sites’ by rebranding torture as ‘enhanced interrogation’. The seriousness of the torture allegations was then routinely downplayed to the media and politicians. The CIA also relied extensively on outside contractors, such as now-infamous psychologist James Mitchell, to devise horrific torture techniques designed to simply cause harm.
The Committee concluded, as noted back in July 2014, that the torture techniques were unnecessary and yielded “no critical intelligence on terror plots”.
The practices described in the CIA torture report were banned from 2009 alongside the closing of the Black Sites. Despite this, the CIA’s rampant torture campaign inflicted pain and suffering “to the point of death” in many cases, causing long-term damage to the victims which has yet to be addressed. Some of the victims even died from the torture.
While much of the blame for the human rights abuses has been placed on the Bush administration, Obama’s presidency has ensured a culture of impunity has prevailed. The lengthy political process to release this report has meant many victims have been forced to remain silent for years as their experiences have yet to be heard or believed. The continual leaking of different pieces of the CIA report also detracts focus from the overall picture: the U.S. is flagrantly using torture in its anti-terror arsenal yet those who commissioned the torture still remain untouched.
Also impunity will always be ensured all the time figureheads leading the torture programme are still in power. For example, the current CIA director, John Brennan, is still in office and was highly complicit with the torture focus under the Bush administration. Guards – and the administration as a whole – at camps such as Guantanamo Bay remain in place and functional, albeit scaled back.
Post-9/11 torture was not restricted to the CIA though and, as noted, the U.S. military played a large part.
While not strictly under the War on Terror banner, from 2003 to early 2004 U.S. Military Police personnel from the U.S. Army and the CIA committed, and photographed, human rights violations against prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq.
The pictures are some of the most famous of the 21st century, stirring chilling recollections of a time when vigilantism – mainly perpetrated by outside contracted soldiers from the Blackwater company – ruled the conflict.
But the pictures revealed at the time were only a small batch. Now there is further pressure on the U.S. to disclose the full extent of its activities with one US judge calling on the administration to release the full batch of 2,000 pictures.
All this is the result of just one day in September 2001 – a horrifying, heartbreaking day which will forever remain in human memory as one of the worst attacks on a population.
But the activities following 9/11 gave state officials across the globe an excuse to torture. In many of these cases the perpetrators will never be brought to justice.
So while 9/11 is rightly marked by remembrance for the dead and the profound impact it had on America, take time to also remember those who suffered, and are still suffering, from torture perpetrated under the guise of national security.
Torture victims are victims of 9/11 too.