Our panel examines the cultural and political legacy of the al-Qaida attacks and the US response in the decade since
Michael Ratner: ‘The loss of liberty in the wake of 9/11 will remain the legacy we have left our children’
In the ten years since 11 September 2001, fundamental protections embedded in the American and international legal landscape over centuries have faced systematic evisceration, each encroachment justified by an endless war on terrorism.
The moment the Bush administration chose to label the attacks acts of war, rather than the heinous crimes they were, a careful groundwork was laid to allow for a future of cherrypicking which laws of war would apply and which would be ignored. As a result, thousands have been kidnapped: whisked away to detention facilities, from Guantánamo to medieval prisons like those at Bagram and Abu Ghraib, and to secret sites employing unspeakable acts of torture.
Detainees were held incommunicado, a fancy word for “disappeared”: never informed of the charges against them. The few who were charged face trials before kangaroo courts called military commissions where newly-minted rules assure conviction; the majority, however, will remain prisoners of this so-called war indefinitely.
Habeas corpus, the legal means to test one’s imprisonment in court, was abolished by President Bush and Congress. Though restored through legal challenge in the US supreme court, the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as the courts, continue to undermine that victory – best evidenced by Obama’s retracted promise to close Guantánamo within a year of his inauguration.
Today, Obama has adopted almost all of the draconian Bush practices, save for permitting the worst forms of torture like waterboarding. But hooding, sleep deprivation and isolation are still permitted. The president has also ruled out any semblance of accountability for Bush administration officials responsible for waterboarding, practically ensuring its recurrence.
The United States is a changed country. Most don’t seem to care. Until they do, the loss of liberty in the wake of 9/11 will remain the legacy we have left our children. None of us are safer. All of us are less free.
Michael Ratner is president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights