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Criminal Inquirer: Accountability for the War on Terror

Twenty years ago, the War on Terror as we know it began. What has unfolded since then has been a myriad of mistakes, lies, deaths, and of course, wars. So many people who started or authorized the War on Terror remain in power, or are having their images rehabbed. As we mark 20 years since the War on Terror began, we need to remember how it started and who is responsible for it. Take a look through our list of eight figures and institutions that are still around today who authorized or facilitated the forever wars over the last two decades. 

History has the duty to remember George W. Bush as a war criminal. His rehabilitation has been taking place over the last few years, and specifically during the Trump Era. Videos of Bush sharing candies with Michelle Obama and the news covering Bush’s new hobby of painting are all geared towards one thing: to have the American people forget what he did to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and more. 

The presidency of George W Bush was marked by the murder of civilians, torture blacksites like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and the disregard for civil liberties. The murder of over a million Iraqis cannot be undone because George Bush paints murals now. 

What we need to take away from the legacy of George W Bush and his war mongering friends is that the powerful will use whatever means necessary to bring us into war. They will lie to us, to international bodies, and to Congress. They will give us a villain to go to war with, and they will profit off of it. Years later, they will try and make everyone forget any of it happened. We cannot forget the consequences of the war on terror, or the means they used to bring us into it or else something similar will happen again.

Dick Cheney is a name that many people know and associate with the War on Terror. He can be considered its main architect, driving home the need for war in the Middle East when he served as George W. Bush’s VP. In the immediate wake of 9/11, Dick Cheney was already constructing a war with Iraq. Cheney’s oil company, Halliburton, was one of the top profiteers of the Iraq War, gaining $39.5 billion in government contracts. One wonders how someone could put their oil company over the lives of millions of people and feel no remorse for it. Cheney has said that if he could go back, he would do it all over again. 

Cheney is a notorious war criminal, and disdain for him crosses party lines. However, he too is being rehabilitated by a number of figures, but one being the lone representative of Wyoming and his daughter, Liz Cheney. On her Twitter you can find quirky photos of Dick, Liz posting advice from her father, and more. Joe Biden has even said, "I actually like Dick Cheney, for real," and "I get on with him. I think he's a decent man."

Established during the War on Terror and in the wake of 9/11, Guantanamo Bay prison held almost 800 people. A major breach of civil liberties, Guantanamo was placed in the shadow of the American empire. 

The men held there, all Muslim, had no rights. They were held indefinitely, many without charges. Figures like Donald Rumsfeld authorized the use of torture during interrogations of detainees. The men were subject to sexual abuse, stress positions, and the infamous “interrogation technique”: waterboarding. The abuse and trauma that took place at Guantanamo Bay can only be understood by the detainees. 

The prison remains open despite Obama’s promises to close it down. Forty men from various countries remain there. All accused of being terrorists or terrorist affiliates; US officials act as if it is a coincidence that they are all Muslim. As put by Maha Hilal, Guantanamo Bay is an “enduring symbol of US Islamophobia”.

Ending the War on Terror after twenty years requires the immediate closure of GITMO, and freedom and reparations to all who were detained there. President Biden says he will close Guantanamo by the end of his presidency, but we’ve heard that one before. 

After 9/11, George W. Bush requested the largest Pentagon budget increase in twenty years. Weapons companies had to start producing more weapons with the slew of new government contracts coming in. Raytheon even added a third shift to produce more of their laser-guided missiles. The Institute for Policy Studies said,Among the top gainers for the week of September 17-21, 2001, were military and space contractors like Raytheon (+37%), L-3 Communications (+35.8%), Alliant Techsystems (+23.5%), and Northrop Grumman (+21.2%).”

Weapons manufacturers made billions from Pentagon contacts during the War on Terror (funded by US taxpayers), and so did the firms that invest in weapons, like Blackrock. War profiteers are everywhere you look, and as we approach twenty years since the War on Terror began, we have to ask ourselves how to move from the war economy to a peace economy. Many of our schools, cities, and states are actively invested in companies that make a killing on killing. When something as tragic as 9/11 happens, how do we pressure politicians to respond with solutions rooted in care and healing? We can't continue to allow them to hand the Pentagon over $740 billion and pretend that this is in the interest of anyone but the private companies that make a huge profit.

Accountability for the War on Terror can look like many things. Certainly one way to seek it would be to divest from the companies and firms that made billions of dollars at the expense of millions of people.

In February 2003, then Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a speech to the United Nations where he told lie after lie to convince the world that Iraq needed to be invaded. He said things like, “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” He said there was “no doubt” in his mind that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program. Eighteen years later, we know that the US had no real, valid evidence. Colin Powell was respected by the international community at the time, and he was vital to making the case for war in Iraq. 

Now he says he regrets it. He claims the speech was “painful”. The speech Powell gave at the UN holds immense historical significance that we cannot afford to forget. We’ve been lied to before, and we know what it looks like. We know the human cost of war. Powell, despite being instrumental in one of the biggest foreign policy disasters of the last twenty years, works comfortably in the private sector, serving on the boards of some of the most profitable companies in the country.

 There is perhaps no better example of disaster capitalism than the private mercenary firm Blackwater. Blackwater was started by Erik Prince, brother of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and has been the recipient of billion dollar Pentagon and State Department contracts overseas. 

In December of 2020, President Trump  made headlines when he pardoned four Blackwater mercenaries who had massacred Iraqi civilians. In 2007, these private mercenaries opened fire in Nisour Square in Baghdad, killing unarmed 17 Iraqi civilians and wounding 20 more. This is the result of Erik Prince’s founding vision of creating a more “efficient” version of the military. 

A facet of the war on terror, drones were seen as keeping boots off the ground in places where the US was “fighting terrorism”. However, drones are terrorism. President Obama conducted ten times more strikes than President George W. Bush. 

Way less accurate and more deadly than advertised, the leaders who authorized drone strikes have countless civilian deaths on their hands. President Obama had knowledge of the horrific nature of drone strikes. Right before he came into office, the CIA killed 41 attendees of a funeral in Pakistan with unmanned systems. 

All with the press of a button on a joystick thousands of miles away, entire generations will be affected by Obama’s drone war. All the while, brave people who blew the whistle on the drone program like Daniel Hale serve out their multi-year prison sentences for telling the truth. 

President Obama’s persistent use of drones must be a part of our collective memory about the War on Terror. Even when his legacy is described in relativity to Trump and Bush, Obama is still a guilty war criminal. 

Democrats like Obama built and maintained the War on Terror too. The ones in Congress continue to vote, support, and profit off of wars. If we learned anything over the last twenty years, it is that we must look at what politicians do rather than what they say. 

Not a march to war but a “march to peace and security” is what Joe Biden called the plans to invade Iraq just a few days before he voted to authorize the use of military force. He voted for the war that killed a million Iraqis. He voted for the war that incited fear and violence against Muslims domestically and internationally. He voted for the war that continues to leave its mark on Iraq through consistent instability and continual US military presence. 

Now, he is President. Although he may have expressed regret for that vote, there has been no accountability. He hasn’t been truly repentant. The lives he voted to take have been taken, torture victims from Abu Ghraib are scarred for life, and a generation of Iraqis are marked by the lasting affects of war. They see someone who voted for their country’s destruction in the highest office of power, in the most powerful country in the world, wielding the title “Commander in Chief” with enough ammunition to wipe out entire countries. 

As we approach the 20 year anniversary of 9/11, an attack that launched us into forever wars, increased surveillance, & justified the inflated budget of the Pentagon, how do we see accountability? How can someone who voted for the Iraq War be elected President? 

Moving forward requires us to seek justice with those affected by the War on Terror. It also requires us to examine forever wars being waged today. Who is the new “enemy”? How can we see through the lies that are being told today, so that we don’t go to war tomorrow? Out of respect and love for our fellow human beings, we can’t forget the lessons we learned from the War on Terror. We can’t forget about the leaders who authorized it.