War on Terror

On 18 September 2001, the US Congress passed a measure called the Authorization for Use of Military Force. Spencer Ackerman says about it:

The Authorization for the Use of Military Force is sixty words. It says that in order to avenge the 9/11 attacks and anyone who had remotely anything to do with them — which includes states, unnamed regimes, unnamed entities — the United States is authorized to respond anywhere in the world with any tool of its choice, at any time it sees fit. It is about as literal a definition of a blank check for war as you can imagine. The enemy is not fixed, which means a politician, and particularly the president, can define the enemy as they see fit.

One month later, the US invaded Afghanistan. The justification was that the US drew no distinction between al-Qaeda and any entity that had given any kind of support to al-Qaeda (the Taliban had allowed al-Qaeda to have training camps in Afghanistan). At the time, the US invasion of Afghanistan was pretty uncontroversial within the “international community” (i.e. governments), with almost every NATO country as well as some others, like Australia and New Zealand, deploying troops to help in the war effort.

In March 2003, the US went on to also invade Iraq. This war was more globally controversial, considering the US’s justifications were so pathetically unconvincing. Among ordinary people of the world there was a huge outpouring of opposition – between six and ten million people attended protest marches in over 600 cities – including some of the largest anti-war protests ever seen in Western countries (for example, in Melbourne 500,000 marched, the largest mobilisation since the moratorium marches against the Vietnam War). Of course, this meant nothing; the war went ahead anyway.

Both wars were characterised by extensive human rights abuses (surprise surprise). The US used torture (or, as they called it, “enhanced interrogation”) widely against captives they accused of being “enemy combatants” (a designation designed to let them escape granting captives the rights they were due as prisoners of war). They didn’t do this only in Iraq or Afghanistan themselves, but in a network of prison camps around the world, most notoriously Guantánamo Bay in a US-occupied patch of Cuba. There have been a number of whistleblowers (like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden) who leaked details on these programs to journalists; Julian Assange is being persecuted for his role in WikiLeaks, a website which made it easier for whistleblowers to leak material securely.

See Also / References