Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror

9 mins read

Earlier this month, the world remembered the 20th Anniversary of 9/11.

Silences were held to remember the exact minutes two planes crashed into the two World Trade Centre towers and two others crashed into the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania on Tuesday September 11 2001. Netflix released a five-part series exploring that day as well as the aftermath and the eventual war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The format of the documentary is incredibly smart. We begin in New York city with the twin towers before eventually travelling to the Pentagon and Pennsylvania in episode two. As the series progresses we delve into the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At first, it’s a shocking watch for those of us unable to remember the day. For those of us who were children when 9/11 happened, it’s harrowing as survivors recount their normal Tuesday mornings that slowly descended into total destruction and devastation.

Slowly you watch as the two towers eventually collapse in on themselves and the classic city is covered in a smog of ash. The iconic video of President Bush being told “America is under attack” paired with Andrew Card’s, White House Chief of Staff at the time, is haunting and gives you real chills as we begin to understand the beginning of the ‘War on Terror’.

After 9/11, it was clear the majority of Americans wanted revenge, the documentary shows videos of streets filled with hurt and angry Americans shouting for revenge. It’s from here that we now experience the invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq.

The Americans invaded Iraq after the interrogation of a senior Al-Qaeda member, Ibn Sheikh, revealed the country was developing Nuclear Weapons. However, it is revealed that when the Americans invaded they found none.

The documentary says over 4,400 US service members and approximately 200,000 Iraqi citizens died in the Iraq war and over 30,000 were wounded. It’s also stated that some view the invasion of Iraq as one of the biggest foreign policy errors in American history as when the Americans went back to Sheikh and asked why he lied he replied: “well, you were torturing me. I gave you what you want.”

The war in Afghanistan is constantly compared to the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, in which the American backed the Afghans. Director Brian Knappenberger looks at the role this had in the formation of Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and how this developed the mindset of men who would eventually spend three years finely planning the attacks of September 11.

We also begin to explore the controversy that is Guantanamo Bay. A prison based in Cuba that was said to house the most dangerous men in the world. A US prison based on international soil that denied the prisoners their human rights. A prison that called them ‘detainees’ instead of prisoners- as prisoners have protection under the Geneva Convention.

But in 2006, the Supreme Court ruled military commissions that tried detainees were unlawful and against international law and detainees were protected by the Geneva Convention however by the end of 2006 the Military Commissions Act was passed legalising things the Supreme Court ruled were unlawful. Honestly, it’s incredibly hard to comprehend how something like Guantanamo Bay and the torturous regime that went on there was allowed to first of all happen and second of all still be allowed to continue until today.

It’s revealed there was motivation direct from the White House to use ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ to get information. These men were denied the right to even have their day in court. A lawyer chosen to defend on of the detainees tells us the whole process of defending the men imprisoned was designed to prevent the truth about their treatment from reaching the public.

He summed up Guantanamo perfectly, for me anyway: “Guantanamo is not a place, it’s a concept. A concept about who we want to be as Americans”.

Although mostly all of us are aware of the accusations of torture at Guantanamo, the documentary slaps the truth in your face and your forced to confront the reality that the biggest, most powerful and supposedly the fairest country in terms of justice has actually committed, arguably, one of the worst crimes against human rights. It’s almost too hard to fully understand the extent to which Guantanamo Bay affected those imprisoned.

780 detainees were held in Guantanamo Bay from 2002, 741 were released and of those who remain only 2 have ever been convicted of a crime.

The documentary says more than 2,400 American service members have died, more than 50,000 have been wounded and at least 150,000 Afghans have been killed-many of them civilians.

We are then sort of propelled through time as Presidential terms ended and new Presidents came in. The war in Afghanistan remained an issue no one could solve. Obama saw Afghanistan as ‘the good war’, Trump saw it as a complete disaster, but as the war began to change American veterans explain how they began to question what objective they were there for- they had no idea what they were doing there.

Knappenberger conveys the devastation the war caused on Afghanistan. After watching the documentary, I was honestly confused as to why the war actually happened. This documentary is a perfect timeline of what happened from September 2001 until present day

The Taliban regained control of Afghanistan after taking Kabul in August 2021. After, there was a huge rush to get Western countries citizens out as quickly as possible and an attempt to get those who aided them out as well.

The past 20 years of war is really summed up in this documentary. It explores every aspect that went into the ‘War on Terror’ and honestly is a harrowing but necessary watch-particularly for those unable to remember the vast majority of the time.

It almost seemed like we went 360. I watched the documentary days before the anniversary of 9/11 and with everything that had just happened it was really hard to comprehend the war on Afghanistan as troops began leaving it almost the same as the arrived. But yet it was so different and so destroyed. The Americans spend more than $2.3 trillion on the war in Afghanistan and I was left wondering for what reason?

If the soldiers themselves couldn’t understand why they were there, how can the viewer understand it? And if the Americans wanted to bring down the Taliban and stop them from harbouring terrorists, how have the Taliban regained power 20 years later? And why has it taken 20 years for the Taliban to be replaced by the Taliban?

As the documentary ended, a voice said: “Once it became a war on terror it became a war on anything that scared us”, perfectly summing up the past 20 years and the ‘War on Terror.’

Feature Image Credit: powerofpop.com

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Journalism and Politics student// Editor-in-Chief 2021/22

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