MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: Sharmini, it’s good to be with you and, of course, The Real News.
PERIES: So, Michael, what are your thoughts on this somber occasion of the 13th anniversary of 9/11?
RATNER: As you said, today is the actual day 13 years ago when the attacks of 9/11 happened. It’s the 13th anniversary. And just yesterday evening, the night before the 13th anniversary, on the 10th, Obama told us again that we can all look forward to more U.S.i war in the Middle East. And, of course, that’s a really somber reflection. As if all of the U.S. wars in that part of the world since 9/11 were not enough, apparently we now need more. And it’s a good moment to reflect on the world, both abroad and at home, and a world that the U.S. has shaped since 9/11.
I see two major trends. One is incredible destruction of people and countries abroad, and the other is the coterminous or co-destruction of fundamental human rights both here in the United States and around the world, all brought to you by the United States.
First, to state what seems to me to be the obvious: the U.S. war machine has not only failed to destroy al-Qaeda and similar groups, but its methods of purportedly doing so have made matters much worse.
Here are some of the consequences. First, the U.S. is now responsible since 9/11 for killing hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of people, almost all civilians, in the Middle East. Second, the U.S. has destroyed and shattered country after country–Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, and more–supported the restoration of a killer dictatorship in Egypt, and continues to enable Israeli war crimes. Third, these U.S. actions have exacerbated the underlying tensions in country after country, religious, ethnic, national; increased the number of militant groups, including jihadists and others, by the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands; and made the U.S. perhaps the most hated country in the Mideast.
The U.S. failed not at just what it claimed was its goal; it has made the world a much more dangerous place, particularly for people in the Mideast. And it has, sadly, lived up to what Martin Luther King characterized of this bloody country as the, quote, “greatest purveyor of violence in the world”. Now Obama is bringing us more of the same, more of not just a war without end, but more death and destruction.
On a personal note, I was present and saw from the street below the Twin Towers the planes actually fly into the towers and the subsequent destruction, our downtown neighborhood like a huge morgue for months. I also soon heard Bush calling for war, war against Afghanistan and then Iraq, and actually using the word crusade to talk about those wars. But after seeing the pain and destruction and killing caused by our 9/11, I recall saying to myself, the last thing we want to do is visit that destruction on others. Do not treat these act as wars or acts of war; treat them as crimes. Arrest the perpetrators, conspirators. But that, of course, is not what happened. Instead, we got the AUMF, the authorization to use military force, in 2001 from our U.S. Congress. It was a Gulf of Tonkin resolution from our sheep-like Congress. For people who don’t remember the Gulf of Tonkin, that was the open-ended resolution that allowed our presidents, one after another, to kill millions in Vietnam. That’s what authority Congress gave to the president.
The president still claims the AUMF gives him the authority to make war anywhere in the world, and he is relying on that to now bomb and drone Iraq and Syria, and of course Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and who knows where else. To the extent it ever mattered, that war could or must have the consent of Congress and the United States, that constitutional restraint on the dogs of war is an utter nullity. The president is now acting with the power of an absolute monarch. The academics that I’m involved with debate this back and forth. Does the president have the power? Does he not have the authority? Is he misusing the AUMF? Those debates are about as useless at this time as the aged Roman senators when they’re debating the power of Caesar.
And then, of course, after the AUMF and the president’s attack on Afghanistan, the U.S. got into the war in Iraq–a criminal and unjustified war if there ever was one. And just remember, the Democrat who may become our next president or is vying to do so, Hillary Clinton, voted for it. That war, more than any other single act, has brought us to where we are today–utter chaos and destruction of peoples in the Mideast. Not only did Bush treat 9/11 is a criminal act, but to the extent they’ve wanted to prevent the next 9/11 and hold people responsible, as Patrick Cockburn recently pointed out in his new book, The Jihadis Return, they went after the wrong countries. The countries they should have gone after, not Iraq, not Afghanistan, but Saudi Arabia–Saudi Arabia, where 15 of the 19 hijackers came from and much of the funding for the militants came from–as well as Pakistan [incompr.] intelligence agencies, were deeply involved in supporting jihad though the jihadists. Not only did Bush treat 9/11 as a criminal act, but to the extent the government decided to go after certain countries, they chose, as Patrick Cockburn pointed out in his recent book The Jihadis Return, the wrong countries. They should have tried to get Saudi Arabia to cut its funding, ’cause it was funding the militarists, it was funding the jihadists. Likewise Pakistan. Instead, they went after Afghanistan and Iraq, the wrong places if they really wanted to stop 9/11. But in fact they went after–they refused to go after U.S. allies.
So the major trend that I see is war and more war carried out by the United States and making matters worse. That’s trend number one.
Trend number two, which I’ll briefly discuss, is that these wars, this imperialism abroad, has deeply impacted, in a negative way, democratic and human rights in the United States and the world. As other countries say, if the U.S. tortures, so can we. The list of rights destroyed as we have made war abroad and brought war home is long, and their deprivation is not tempering it, especially as the U.S. continues these wars. We have fought these deprivations. Mostly we have lost. We’ve lost in Congress, we’ve lost in the courts, and we’ve lost in the executive. The primary victims of these rights denials, as the primary victims have been of our wars abroad, have been Muslims, but ultimately these deprivations have affected us all. Here’s just a list of a few. We all may recall the roundups, fingerprinting, and arrest after 9/11 of Muslim men in the United States. Second, the deep surveillance of all our movements, writings, and actions, whether by NSA or our local police, and especially of Muslims, federal and local. In New York, for example, until recently, we had a special police just examining, looking, surveilling, and going after Muslims.
Third, an issue I’ve worked on deeply, what I call forever detention, detention without trials, without charges. That’s Guantanamo, where we still have 149 people sitting there, half of them cleared for release, going on 13 years now. It’s an utter human rights outrage. But it’s not just Guantanamo; it’s what we’ve done all over the world. To the extent we’ve ever tried people, we try them in special courts. The 9/11 suspected perpetrators, conspirators, still, after many years, have not completed a trial at Guantanamo in the special courts. And lastly, although we could make the list longer, are torture and renditions–torture, which has become, unfortunately, part of the fabric of this country and others around the world.
None of this, none of these two major trends–war abroad, deprivation of rights at home and around the world–makes for a very pretty picture. I cannot in any way put a positive face on it. But we must understand that this is the world of our U.S., of our leaders, of our politicians, and the pundits that have brought it to us. Many of us and many of you viewing this program have understood this and fought against this. To say we must fight harder, not give up hope, is an understatement. We really have no choice.
PERIES: Michael, thank you so much for your reflections on the 13 years after 9/11. While you describe a devastating reality that we have all been living through since then, it is quite grim indeed. You have dedicated your entire life, however, to fighting these oppressive policies of the U.S. both here and abroad, but you ended on a very inspirational note as well, pointing out that the role we must all play as journalists and as viewers and political organizers to resist, as you have–. So thank you so much for joining us and sharing your thoughts.
RATNER: And as a last note to that, I know that Real News covered very heavily the president’s press conference declaring us involved in more wars, and I would recommend strongly that viewers go to those pieces, because get an antidote to what we’re seeing on the rest of the networks.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.