2001 September 11

Terrorists Attack U.S. – War on Terrorism, Violations of Civil Liberties Escalate


Terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on this day, crashing hijacked airplanes into the buildings and killing almost 3,000. The attack was the worst such disaster in the U.S. since Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

In response, Congress and President George W. Bush adopted a set of laws and policies that involved massive violations of civil liberties: (1) Congress passed the Patriot Act on October 26, 2001, which vastly expanded search and seizure powers of federal authorities and included other provisions that threatened civil liberties.

(2) The Bush administration engaged in secret and illegal spying on Americans by the National Security Agency (which The New York Times exposed on December 16, 2005).

(3) The administration engaged in the torture of suspected terrorists (see the infamous “torture memo” of August 1, 2002, which the administration itself withdrew in 2004).

(4) To try terrorist suspects, President Bush created military tribunals, which violated a number of due process principles.

(5) The treatment of terrorist suspects at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba violated international human rights standards, and Guantanamo became an international symbol of the indifference of the U.S. to standards of decency.

(6) In a practice known as extraordinary rendition, the CIA kidnapped terrorist suspects around the world and held them in secret prisons known as “black sites.”

(7) The administration’s policies were also enveloped in a massive secrecy campaign, engineered largely by Vice-President Dick Cheney, which is probably unprecedented in American history.

(8) The administration also made unprecedented claims of presidential power, which the Supreme Court rejected in four important decisions: Rasul v. Bush, June 28, 2004; Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, June 28, 2004; Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, June 29, 2006; and Boumediene v. Bush, June 12, 2008.

Read: Susan Herman, Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy (2011)

See the ACLU’s “Keep America Safe and Free” program: https://www.aclu.org/keep-america-safe-and-free-0

Follow a timeline on post-9/11 events in the war on terrorism: http://www.investigatingpower.org/timelines/9-11/

Read the ACLU Report on “Ten Years After 9/11”: https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/acalltocourage.pdf

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