Editorial: Overkill of US 9/11 response ill serves victims

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A sad legacy of 9/11 is that many Americans are happy to retain restrictions on their personal freedoms even though the threat that created them has much diminished.The Editor's view

A curious but telling finding emerged from a poll taken to mark the 10th anniversary of the day on which hijacked airliners destroyed the World Trade Centre.

More Americans said that what happened on September 11, 2001 had an impact on their lives than was the case five years ago.

Clearly, time has done nothing to dull the mixture of emotions felt that day. The shock, the anger, the pride and the resolve still resonate.

Indeed, nothing changed more as events unfolded in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania than the American mindset.

To a degree, it's incongruous that the terrorist attack should still loom so large. In the decade since, the threat posed by al-Qaeda has been substantially removed. Its leadership has been systematically eliminated.

Most importantly, its aim of a new, unified Islamic empire lies in tatters. The secular uprisings of the Arab spring are a renunciation of that goal. Free elections, free speech and social reform, not a caliphate, are the ambitions of the often young and educated leaders of these revolts against the established order.

The United States can claim no credit for this development. It occurred despite, rather than because of, its response to 9/11. An important consequence of its over-reaction was to drive recruits towards al-Qaeda.

If intervention in Afghanistan was justified, the Iraqi invasion poisoned US relations not only with the Arab world but with many of the allies that had flocked to its side. Subsequent aspects of the "war on terror", such as Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib prison and the use of torture, only further sullied America's reputation.

These appalled because they ran counter to some of the most prized American values. So, too, did the inaptly named Patriot Act and other security and surveillance measures said to be necessary to keep the country safe. In the US, and elsewhere, insufficient regard was accorded civil liberties and privacy. Rights once lost in this manner can be difficult to retrieve.

A sad legacy of 9/11 is that many Americans are happy to retain restrictions on their personal freedoms even though the threat that created them has much diminished.

The ongoing damage to the US doesn't stop there. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have been estimated to have cost $4 trillion. That's about the cumulative budget deficits for the period 2005 to 2010.

A heavy price has been paid for both financial and military over-reach. The buoyant economy inherited by President George W. Bush wasted away, as did America's belief in its omnipotence as the world's only superpower.

A crisis of self-confidence led eventually to President Barack Obama. But if he has played a more astute hand in some instances - making the US a minor player in Libya, for example - it is, nonetheless, true that Guantanamo Bay is still open and much of the over-the-top security apparatus remains intact.

In one way, it's perhaps unsurprising that the events of 9/11 continue to haunt Americans. They had considered themselves inviolate. They had never been victims of terrorism on anything like this scale.

But their ongoing trauma pays no heed to the absence and likelihood of a subsequent outrage on their soil. As such, the legacy of 9/11 ill befits those who perished that day.

- NZ Herald

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