Two days after the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, I was sitting in front of my institute’s office around the corner from the White House. We had just been evacuated again. The police patrolling the streets didn’t have a clue what was going on. So we sat on the curb with red pens, marking up the draft of what would become Congress’s gift to President George W. Bush: Authorization for the Use of Military Force. It should never have been passed in the first place.
We put a lot of red marks in that draft. The text abandoned any campaign to bring to justice the perpetrators of this massive crime against humanity in favor of permanent war unlimited by time, borders, targets or victims. The next day Congress passed it almost unanimously – only the brave Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif., voted no.
Authorization Used to Justify Illegal Wars
First came Afghanistan. Then Iraq, and then the authorization was used to justify even broader illegal wars. The text authorized force only against those who committed the 9/11 attacks and those who harbored them. Now Pentagon and administration officials routinely include organizations that didn’t even exist in 2001. They reference “associated forces” of al-Qaida, as if that phrase was part of the authorization. It wasn’t.
CIA and other top intelligence officials admit that al-Qaida, who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001,” has been reduced almost to an empty shell. They admit only 50–100 al-Qaida fighters are left in Afghanistan, though there are still 66,000 U.S. troops and more than 100,000 U.S.-paid contractors occupying the country. Pretty much everyone admits that the Taliban, who “harbored” the perpetrators, were never a direct threat to Americans, except to U.S. soldiers occupying their country.
And yet. The global war on terror – now in Yemen and Somalia, the Philippines and Djibouti, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Syria and beyond, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan – continues. It continues far beyond the already too-broad mandate Congress voted for almost twelve years ago. That war has not made us safer. It has violated international law. It has killed, directly and indirectly, hundreds of thousands of people, the vast majority innocent civilians, thus creating more anti-Americanism and yes, more terrorists. It’s time to end the global war on terror. And it’s past time to repeal the authorization that has allowed two presidents to claim their wars were somehow legal. Φ
Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Her books include Before & After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the War on Terrorism.