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Grave New World

How Life in the United States has Changed since Sept. 11, 2002

By Don Hazen, Tai Moses and Lakshmi Chaudhry

The smoke and dust from the ruin of the World Trade Center towers has finally cleared, and visitors to the site—an estimated 3.6 million of them, according to The New York Times—can now breathe easier as they gaze down into the hulking crater and up at the gap in the skyline that reveals the patch of new sky that came into view when the towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001. Not much is left in that gash in the ground but a skeleton of scaffolding, construction in its earliest stages. What are they looking for, these curious millions? Are they remembering the past or imagining the future? It is safe to say that the future in which we find ourselves is very unlike the one we imagined on that dark day a year ago, the day when everything changed. And things have changed—just not in the way we expected.

What were you afraid of on Sept. 11? What frightens you today, one year later? Chances are, the two answers are quite different. On that horrifying day, we had a common enemy: the individuals who committed this unspeakable crime. Americans had never been more united. But today, our fears have largely dissipated, and it is no longer clear who the real enemy is. Despite the efforts of Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Bush administration to keep the public at a fever pitch of paranoia, most of us are afraid of threats that are far more real than lurking terrorists, “dirty” bombs or anthrax.

We are afraid of corrupt corporate executives, afraid of what a crumbling economy and a crashing stock market will mean to our jobs and our retirement savings. We are afraid of predatory pedophile priests. Increasingly, we are afraid of our own government. One year after 9/11, we are finally learning to distinguish real menaces from manufactured hysteria.

On this one-year anniversary, we revisit the pain and loss and disbelief of 9/11. But it is no longer possible to view the act as isolated from the consequences. New events, in many ways more far-reaching, have overtaken it. In fundamental ways, the tragedy, which could have brought us wisdom and helped chart a more sane future, has been taken away from us, devoured by our all-enveloping media and twisted by political forces intent upon imposing their wills on the public.

Everyone with an agenda to advance has taken up 9/11 as an explanation, a rationale, a reason for their point of view and way of thinking. This has provoked new battles each day, as the Bush administration, loser in the popular vote and elected by the Supreme Court, aggressively attempts to use the war on terrorism to justify its destructive policies, from drilling for oil in Alaska and expanding police powers to dramatically increasing the military budget and unilaterally abrogating treaties that were signed years ago.

One reason why our expectations post-9/11 were distorted is that the act was falsely framed. A singular and unbelievably “lucky” criminal act carried out by a small group of fanatics acting on behalf of no government was declared an act of war by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the mainstream media. Viewed in this lens, the attacks created an opportunity to initiate the perpetual war against terrorism that we have been fighting ever since.

As John Tirman, program director of the Social Science Research Council, writes, “It is conceivable—likely, even—that the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, were a one-time catastrophe; if there is a determined network of terrorists ready to strike again, expect them to set forest fires, not to ram a truck into the Lincoln Memorial. . . . The plain fact is that not a single, credible threat has been revealed by the U.S. government since that sad day. . . . The thought that we need to spend $100 billion of tax money annually, and much more in private funds and opportunity costs, to ‘protect’ against such a threat is, at the least, questionable.”

In his first address to the nation after 9/11, President Bush said America had been attacked for being a beacon of freedom and opportunity in the world. Yet over the past year, his administration has done its best to deprive us of some of those very freedoms. The USA PATRIOT Act (passed hastily and with little dissent in October) was the first salvo in a series of new legislation aimed at arming the government with an expansive array of powers, putting our very basic rights, be it due process or privacy, in jeopardy.

One of the most disgraceful consequences of post-9/11 hysteria was a rash of hate crimes directed against people from the Middle East and South Asia. Overnight, simply looking Arab created the suspicion of guilt. Anyone wearing a turban or a scarf was a target not just for enraged citizens but also law enforcement.

Nowhere has the Bush administration’s agenda found greater expression than in U.S. foreign policy, which shows signs of returning to its ugly Cold War roots. The modest gains of the past decade have been wiped away within a year: Controls in military spending, declassification of documents, limitations on the drug war, renewed emphasis on human rights and environmental standards, negotiations with Iran and North Korea, are now a distant memory.

The United States has consistently undermined new multilateral human-rights agreements, including the creation of an International Criminal Court to try war crimes and the international torture convention. Since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has offered law enforcement or military training to a growing list of new and old allies—such as Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Colombia and Indonesia—who have shameful records of ongoing human rights violations, including torture and assassination. In June, the president asked for and received from Congress an additional $1 billion for training programs and permission to lift all aid restrictions based on human-rights concerns. The most significant change, which will have both international and domestic consequences, is the skyrocketing increase in military budgets. In February, the president proposed a $2.1 trillion wartime budget over the next five years, which included $396 billion in military spending for fiscal year 2003 as well as a contingency for another $10 billion to pay for the war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s total proposed budget will be the biggest since the Cold War. “In combination with the tax cuts,” John Tirman writes, “this Pentagon spree is likely to sink the economy with deficit spending.”

It is uncertain how much longer the Bush administration’s preoccupation with the war on terrorism will hold the public’s attention, as citizens grapple with real, day-to-day problems. Many signs point to a growing backlash that may soon reach its tipping point. There is powerful momentum in the activist community as groups organize protests against civil-liberties abuses and the ongoing bombing of Afghanistan. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have been working tirelessly to protect the rights of immigrants. And many Americans are waking up to the reality that there is a war to be fought, but it is not in Iraq. As Richard Grasso, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, said recently, “We’ve got to wage a war against terrorism in the boardroom, against misleading investors.”

It is the public’s loss of confidence in business and corporations—the loss of faith that corporate America could be counted on for our sources of wealth and progress—that will likely far outweigh the impact of 9/11 in the long run. “Big business is increasingly viewed as the biggest threat to America’s future,” writes pollster Ruy Teixeira in The American Prospect.

“Is there any doubt that the chicanery of Enron executives and that of a growing who’s who of corporate CEOs has done more long-term damage to the U.S. economy than the efforts of anti-American terrorists?” asked columnist Robert Sheer. “We ought to wake up to the reality that business greed is subverting the American way of life—and hurting the image of American capitalism and democracy—more effectively than the ploys of any foreign enemy.”

It is no surprise that in the face of failed domestic policies, the stock-market plunge and tense Congressional contests, the White House has tried hard to put the invasion of Iraq front and center. Yet public support for attacking Iraq is dwindling, and the false consensus built on fear and apathy is finally showing signs of falling apart. An Aug. 23 USA Today poll shows just 53 percent of Americans in favor of sending ground troops to the Persian Gulf, down from 74 percent in November 2001. The same poll found Bush’s approval rating at 65 percent—still healthy, but at its lowest since before 9/11.

Fear of terrorism is now a distant fifth in the list of top issues in the upcoming Congressional races. The economy is the number-one issue for voters, followed by Social Security and Medicare, education, and affordable health care. In a vivid example of how restless the populace is growing with the direction of its leadership, 56 percent of Americans now think the country is headed in the wrong direction, up from 39 percent just one month ago.

One of the most dramatic signs of the backlash are the woes that have lately plagued Attorney General John Ashcroft, the main advocate for repressive legislation. In a front-page article in July, The New York Times revealed that several members of the Bush administration have expressed concern that Ashcroft “seems to be overstating the evidence of terrorist threats.” Even religious conservatives, typically Ashcroft’s most staunch supporters, “have become deeply troubled by his actions. . . . They cite his antiterrorist positions as enhancing the kind of government power that they instinctively oppose.”

On the heels of this revelation came an order by a federal judge demanding that the Justice Department release the names of those detained after Sept. 11, some 1,200 immigrants of Arab and South Asian descent. Recently it was made public that the secretive U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, concerned about Ashcroft’s aggressive tactics, has ordered him to scale back his spying efforts considerably. And then there is the downfall of the attorney general’s pet project, TIPS (the Terrorist Information and Protection System). After harsh condemnation from across the political spectrum, and efforts (led by an arch-Republican, House Majority Leader Dick Armey) to ban the measure, TIPS is dead in the water.

For months after Sept. 11, the media responded to virtually every announcement of an arrest or bomb alert with a feeding frenzy, but little critical analysis. News coverage was a constant flurry of dramatic events, stripped of their broader context, thereby exacerbating the climate of fear. But the media are finally showing signs of maturity, asking tough questions on a wide range of issues, including civilian deaths in Afghanistan, the suspension of civil liberties and constitutional rights domestically and the rampant corruption in many corporations.

CBS anchorman Dan Rather is a bellwether for the mainstream media’s change of heart. Just after Sept. 11, many highly visible media commentators felt the need to prove their patriotic credentials at the expense of their commitment to their trade. Rather went on the David Letterman show to declare his fealty to George Bush: “Wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.”

The same Dan Rather recently admitted that many members of the U.S. media were reluctant to ask tough questions about the war on terrorism out of fear of being labeled unpatriotic. “What we are talking about here—whether one wants to recognize it or not, or call it by its proper name or not—is a form of self-censorship. I worry that patriotism run amok will trample the very values that the country seeks to defend.”

One astonishing post-9/11 phenomenon has been the popularity of radical authors like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky, who have each sold hundreds of thousands of books highly critical of Bush and the war on terrorism. The popularity of these writers “as dissenting authors has extended beyond the liberal fringe and represents the fruits of a grassroots movement that corporate America and potentially the government can no longer ignore,” writes Eric Demby in The Village Voice.

After battling with publisher Harper Collins to get his book distributed, Moore promptly sold more than 500,000 copies of Stupid White Men. The book has perched on the New York Times bestseller list for 25 consecutive weeks, sitting at No. 1 for 13 of those weeks, making it one of the top sellers of 2002.

Moore has become convinced, as he travels around the country, that he is no longer preaching to the converted. “I look out at the auditorium and I don’t see tree huggers and the granola heads. I see Mr. and Mrs. Middle America who voted for George Bush and who just lost $60,000 because their 401(k) is gone. And they believed in the American Dream as it was designed by the Bushes and Wall Street, and then they woke up to realize it was just that a dream,” he told the Voice.

Noam Chomsky’s book 9/11, in which he calls the United States one of the world’s leading terrorist states, has passed the 200,000 mark in sales, and has also sat on a number of bestseller lists, surprising even Chomsky. “For many people,” he said, “the atrocities of 9/11 were a kind of wake-up call, which has lead to considerable openness, concern, skepticism and dissidence.”

As the nation reflects on the one-year anniversary of the attacks, Americans struggle to make sense of it all. We are blanketed by media coverage from every conceivable angle, confused by powerful emotions. In many cases, the lessons and the personal sorrow of 9/11 have been exploited by the media: the attacks turned into spectacle and the disaster site reduced to maudlin entertainment.

As Michelle Goldberg writes on Salon, “Some people, perhaps many, visit Ground Zero to pay their respects—to get a sense of the enormity of what happened. Yet, the atmosphere at Ground Zero is nearly devoid of somber reverence. It feels like just another sentimental landmark, a place for people to get their picture taken so they can tell the folks back home that they were there.”

One of our greatest challenges is to treat 9/11 with respect and sensitivity—to honor those who were lost and the sacrifices they made, and help each other with the necessary work of moving forward. It has been a difficult year, but we are learning to put the event and its aftermath into perspective. Many Americans now appreciate the profound consequences the tragedy has had on individual lives, but they no longer allow 9/11 to exclusively shape their way of looking at the world. We are gradually becoming more aware of what is truly important. On this anniversary of the darkest day in American history, we must remind ourselves of what we still have: the power and the means to make a difference.

Secrets and Lies

A year after the tragic events of Sept. 11, many troubling questions remain unanswered. What does the government know that it is keeping from the American public—and why?

By Ted Rall

One year has passed since Sept. 11, 2001. Yet we, the American people, still don’t know exactly what happened. There are still no plans for a public investigation of how approximately 3,000 Americans lost their lives, of what could have been done to prevent the attacks or reduce their impact. Secrecy has been the watchword of the obsessively inscrutable Bush administration. So preoccupied is the administration with keeping the people’s business away from the people that, rather than spark a national discussion of what went wrong and what we could do better, these public servants are asking members of Congress to take lie-detector tests to find out who’s been leaking plans to attack Iraq.

Without a doubt, military intelligence requires secrecy. But there is no conceivable national security interest in keeping Americans in the dark about Sept. 11. A crisis whose first few weeks were marked by patriotic unity rapidly devolved into a divisive “war on terrorism” marked by opportunistic assaults on the Bill of Rights, old-fashioned oil wars and a cynical neo-McCarthyism whereby those who questioned Bush and the Republican Party were smeared as “anti- American.” “United We Stand” bumper stickers aside, the terrorists have skillfully turned us against each other: citizen against immigrant, Republican against Democrat, Christian against Muslim. Secrecy only deepens those divisions.

To hell with closed-door Congressional hearings. America needs a full, open, publicly televised investigation into Sept. 11, and it needed it last October. Using the post-JFK assassination Warren Commission as a model is a start, though that panel’s lack of openness fed conspiracy theories that continue to cause Americans to distrust their government four decades later. The best way to avoid alienating the public from its public servants is to keep an investigation 100-percent transparent. During times of crisis, both the electorate and the elected forget that this country belongs to the people. As American citizens and taxpayers, therefore, we deserve—and should demand—honest answers to the following still-unanswered questions:

What did Bush know and when did he know it? A few months ago it was revealed that, while vacationing in Crawford, Texas, on Aug. 6, 2001, Bush had received an “analytical report” warning from National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that a terrorist attack was imminent. What was the exact nature of that warning? How detailed was it? Should Bush have cut short his vacation and headed back to Washington? Bush and his administration have stonewalled on this issue, but they can allay suspicions of a September Surprise only by coming clean now about the briefings he received before Sept. 11.

Did Echelon cough up the Sept. 10 warnings? The National Security Agency acknowledges that it “intercepted” two messages (one said “tomorrow is zero hour”) from terrorists indicating that the next day, Sept. 11, would be the date of a major attack. Unfortunately, those messages weren’t processed and evaluated until it was too late, on Sept. 12. The NSA maintains a sophisticated voice- and keyword-recognition computer system called Echelon. A former NSA director told the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur that Echelon uses automation to monitor every phone call, fax transmission, e-mail and wire transfer in the world. Did the Sept. 10 warning come from Echelon? Is Echelon being used to monitor ordinary Americans? Is there any way to speed up the rate at which the NSA processes important intercepts?

Why didn’t our Air Force shoot down the hijacked planes? Air-traffic controllers lost contact with all four aircraft within minutes of takeoff. Two were off course and ignored controllers for more than an hour and a half, yet the mightiest air defense network in the world failed to prevent the suicide bombers from striking their targets. Did overworked air-traffic controllers fail to notice the errant planes? How long did it take them to get the word to military authorities? Did a bureaucratically inept Air Force fail to react quickly enough?

Why were only 12 jets patrolling U.S. airspace? According to The New York Times, only 12 Air Force National Guard planes, most of them on the ground, were assigned to patrol the entire continental United States at the time of the attacks. Whose judgment determined that this level of protection was adequate? What would happen in the event of a nuclear first strike against the United States? Would an increased budget have increased that number, and what is our current field strength?

What is American policy concerning hijackings? Had an Air Force jet successfully intercepted one of the doomed flights, would its pilot have been ordered to shoot it down? If so, would that order have had to come from the president, or would a lower-ranked official be sufficient? If a shooting were authorized, would it ever be implemented over a densely populated area? Passengers need to know where they stand before they board a plane.

Was United Airlines flight 93 shot down over Pennsylvania? The Pentagon has neither denied shooting down flight 93 nor confirmed that its heroic passengers caused the flight to crash while trying to wrest its controls from the hijackers. The flight was airborne some two and a half hours before crashing outside Shanksville, leading many to speculate that it was fired upon to protect the White House or other likely targets in Washington, D.C. It seems unlikely that a cockpit voice recording of a struggle between passengers and jihadis exists; if it did, why not release such an inspiring artifact to a public hungry for inspiration? All 9/11-flight information, including any flight 93 recordings, ought to be given to the media. And it’s time for the military to indicate whether or not it, rather than the passengers, brought down the jet.

Why didn’t federal law require reinforced cockpit doors? This common-sense proposal had been adopted by carriers in other countries years earlier, but not in the United States. Did the airlines lobby against the move because of increased costs? If so, which airlines? And which federal officials and/or members of Congress are criminally responsible for jeopardizing the safety of the flying public for the sake of a few bucks?

Who locked the roof doors at the World Trade Center? During the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, hundreds of workers escaped smoke by going to the roofs. On Sept. 11, hundreds died when they went up dozens of flights of stairs only to find those same roof doors locked. Why did city fire officials order those doors locked between 1993 and 2001, and more important, why didn’t they post notices through the World Trade Center complex to advise that roof doors would no longer be unlocked?

Prosecutions may be in order for criminal negligence. Who skimped on FDNY communications? Scores of New York firefighters died in the stairwells of the World Trade Center after they’d been ordered to evacuate the buildings—because they couldn’t hear those orders on their antiquated radio system. The fire department had requested up-to-date equipment years earlier. Which city officials refused to allocate the necessary funding, causing firefighters to die needlessly? Do the FDNY and other urban fire departments now have better communications?

How much asbestos was released by the World Trade Center collapse? The center was one-third completed when builders stopped using asbestos fire retardant, which means that the equivalent of four normal-width 60-story skyscrapers full of a banned carcinogen was pulverized and released in a cloud that blanketed lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Environmental Protection Agency has never come clean on what may eventually become known as America’s Chernobyl, but New Yorkers deserve to know the full extent of their exposure.

Why was the Pentagon so vulnerable? Not only did Defense Department employees perish at the Pentagon, the attack revealed that even the headquarters of American military power can be successfully targeted. Does the Pentagon have a surface-to-air missile system that could avert similar catastrophes in the future? If not, one should be constructed. What about the other knives? After American planes were grounded, investigators found box cutters attached under seats on Delta flights out of Boston’s Logan airport and from Atlanta bound for Brussels. Was anyone ever arrested in connection with would-be hijackings of these other flights? What were the intended targets of those aborted hijackings? Were those box cutters, and those on the four hijacked flights, placed there by personnel who service aircraft (“These look like an inside job,” a U.S. official told Time magazine) or were they smuggled aboard through lax security checkpoints by would-be hijackers?

Were there other plots? American officials have questioned thousands of individuals in connection with 9/11. Have they uncovered other schemes intended for that day, or for later on?

Did anyone take responsibility or make demands? It’s difficult to imagine that the group that carried out an act as expensive and carefully planned as 9/11 chose not to claim credit for it. Furthermore, terrorist organizations typically make demands—requests for changes in policy, say, or the release of political prisoners. Secretary of State Colin Powell initially promised to provide proof of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda group’s leading role as instigators of 9/11, but has since reneged on that pledge. Moreover, that assertion doesn’t fit bin Laden’s known methods; rather than plan or carry out operations himself, he usually agrees to fully or partially fund plots conceived and executed by other Islamist groups. If the Bush administration received communiqués from a group or groups claiming responsibility for 9/11, Americans need to know that.

When did the United States decide to invade Afghanistan? As recently as April, 2001, the Bush administration funneled millions of dollars in aid to the Taliban in order to reward the hard-line Islamic regime for virtually eliminating opium production. By June, however, relations had cooled noticeably and invasion plans were being prepared. Would we have invaded Afghanistan if Sept. 11 hadn’t happened? Were there any discussions between future U.S. puppet Hamid Karzai and the Bush administration before or immediately after 9/11?

Where was Osama bin Laden on Sept. 11? Afghans told reporters that bin Laden and his entourage fled Afghanistan for Kashmir on Sept. 10, yet military officials were saying as late as January that the world’s most wanted man was holed up in the Tora Bora region. Did the United States really know where Osama was on Sept. 11, and if so, where was he? Why weren’t American commandos inserted into Afghanistan or Pakistan in order to apprehend him? If the United States knew that he had left Afghanistan, is this why it refused to negotiate with the Taliban for his extradition?

How many civilians died in Afghanistan? Perhaps the most deliberately underreported story of 2001-2002 was the number of Afghan civilians killed by American bombs, missiles, mines and bullets. (Estimates begin at CNN’s conservative 3,500.) While the Pentagon’s argument that it is difficult to track these things from satellites and high-flying planes rings true, there’s no doubt that they know more than they care to admit. We deserve to know how many innocent people our tax dollars have killed, and how many of their relatives now have reason to despise America.

Is the government spying on American citizens? Not only is the federal government asking postal workers and meter readers to report on anything unusual they see in our homes, anecdotal evidence suggests that opponents of administration policy are being targeted for wiretaps and other forms of harassment and intimidation by government intelligence agencies. Obviously there is no place for such retro-Cold War behavior in this country; the FBI, CIA and NSA must reveal and cease all such unconstitutional activities against Americans.

Why doesn’t the Bush administration want a real investigation of 9/11? The House and Senate, whose intelligence committees are now meeting in private, are considering bills that would set up limited, closed-door independent investigative panels, but Bush has stymied even those watered-down efforts at openness, arguing they “would cause a further diversion of essential personnel from their duties fighting the war.” What is he hiding? Americans pay George W. Bush’s salary, and Americans deserve to know what he’s doing.

Ted Rall is a syndicated columnist and cartoonist, and author of To Afghanistan and Back, which is available at nbmpub.com.

One Nation, Under Investigation

In its zeal to increase domestic security, the government has aggresively investigated Arabs living in America—but critics contend it’s more persecution than protection

By Nancy Guerin

Shokriea Yaghi (foreground, right) and her three sons. Photo by Teri Currie.

While it’s true that life for many people has changed dramatically since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, perhaps no other community has felt the backlash of that day as much as Arabs living in the United States. Racial profiling, hate crimes, physical violence, undue FBI questioning, threatening phone calls and deportation have become part of what many Arabs in America—whether native-born or immigrants—have experienced since 19 men successfully terrorized the United States just one year ago next Wednesday.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, incidents of harassment began cropping up across the United States, and have continued throughout the year. Just last month in Tampa, Fla., Dr. Robert Goldstein was arrested after police foiled his plans to blow up a Muslim education center. In Ohio, a car was driven straight into a mosque, on which the assailants spray-painted, “All Muslims Must Die” before fleeing the scene. Meanwhile, in California, an Indian man mistaken for an Arab was stabbed to death, and numerous reports of others being beaten and killed across the United States have made their way into the media—though they have received less coverage than seems appropriate for such serious crimes. Hussein Ibish, communications director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, says that at least eight murders have been committed as a result of hate crimes in the past year [see “9/11 and Its Aftermath: a Timeline,” pages 10-18].

In the Capital Region, there have been few actual incidents of violence. However, many Muslims feel they are viewed as suspect and now live with a new sense of fear.

While President George W. Bush continues to state that he condemns the mistreatment of Muslims by Americans, many of his administration’s policies don’t appear to align with what he is saying. Under the instruction of Attorney General John Ashcroft, many Arab-Americans have been dragged in for questioning by the FBI, based solely on when they entered the United States and their country of origin. Since Sept. 11, 1,200 immigrants of Arab decent have been detained.

“We don’t know exactly how many of those people have been deported,” says Ibish. “The government won’t tell us. But, obviously, the figure is in the hundreds and may well be in the thousands.”

One such deportee is Ali Mounnes Yaghi, a former Albany business owner and father of three. Yaghi, who ran a pizza shop on Delaware Avenue, was picked up for questioning by the FBI on Oct. 3, 2001, after someone called the police and reported that he had made anti-American remarks about the terrorist attacks. “My husband was picked up after there were reports circulating of him being anti- American,” says his wife, Shokriea Yaghi. “People said that he was dancing in the streets the day of the attacks. But that is just not true. He was perhaps speaking critically of the United States’ foreign policies and why others may have resentments against this country. This may have been at a time when people were not ready to hear such criticism. But he was not celebrating the fact that these people took such extreme measures and killed thousands of innocent people. I’m from Afghanistan and we are Muslims, but that doesn’t mean that we support the Taliban.”

The FBI found that Yaghi, who has lived in Albany since 1985, had violated his immigration status by overstaying his visa by 10 years—according to his wife, however, his green card had been approved and was in the process of being issued. It was also revealed that he had a record for weapons possession and charges of menacing. At first, he was held in Schenectady County Jail, but was soon transported to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. His wife says that federal prosecutors in Manhattan, who had been heading the Sept 11. investigation, wanted to question him to see if he had any connection with last year’s terrorist attacks.

After several months, it was determined that he had no ties to the terrorists or the Taliban. The FBI signed off on his case, passing it on to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

“They told us he was cleared and that they were done with him, so we enlisted the help of an immigration attorney in Manhattan in hope of getting him released and reunited with his family in Albany,” Thomas O’Malley, the family’s local attorney, told the Times Union in a July 21 article. “He still had rights, but immigration officers were telling us that at the time the feds wanted him deported anyway.”

Yaghi says that her husband then spent six months in the Brooklyn detention center but was never charged with a crime. For most of his stay, she adds, he was kept alone in a tiny cell for 23 hours a day, where the window was painted black.

On June 24, unbeknownst to his family, Yaghi got his first taste of freedom since the previous October, when federal agents placed him on a plane back to Jordan.

“He had no money,” says Yaghi. “He was dressed in the clothes that they gave him at the detention center, and he was in shackles when they dropped him off in Jordan. My husband is not a criminal, yet they have treated him this way. Even the FBI said that he did not do anything wrong.”

Yaghi says that her husband’s mother still lives in Jordan. But after living in the United States for so many years, he is having a difficult time adjusting to his new life.

“I did not even know that he was sent back until two weeks after he arrived,” said Yaghi. “I received a package with his belongings from prison on July 8. The paperwork said that he had been transferred, but it did not say where.”

Federal prosecutors and the FBI did not return calls to comment for this story.

“What we have been seeing in regards to Arabs living in the United States is a major shift in the way immigrations law enforcement is conducted,” says Ibish. “Right now it would appear that the policy is that if you are an Arab who is in any way out of status, even in the most trivial way, you are going to be arrested, held indefinitely without process and in many cases without your legal rights, and in hundreds of cases, following secret hearings or no hearings at all.”

Ibish adds that these types of procedures are all new. “Deporting people for being out of status is not new, but deporting people for minor offenses is new. Having secret hearings is new, and the kind of speed in which this is all done is new. It’s only being applied to people from the Arab world and South Asia. That’s the way people are being treated: It’s discriminatory. It’s outright racism.”

Yaghi says that the hardest part of this whole ordeal has been trying to explain to her three sons—who are 9, 7 and 5—why their father has not been home for close to a year. “Our whole world has been turned upside down,” says Yaghi. “We used to have a normal life, a house and a backyard. Now we live in this tiny apartment with very little money. We would have Sunday outings and the kids would see their father all the time. But now I haven’t seen my husband in a year, and my kids haven’t seen their father in a year. They don’t understand. They think he just left us.”

Yaghi says that before her husband was deported to Jordan, they coerced him to sign a waiver saying that he would never try to return to the United States.

“We tried to live in Jordan just last year before all of this happened, but it is not the kind of life that I want for my children,” said Yaghi. “Albany is my home. I have lived here most of my life. The boys just will not have the same kinds of opportunities in Jordan that they have here. Most of my family is here, and this is where we want to stay.”

Yaghi moved to the United States when she was 9 years old, and has since become a citizen. She was born in Afghanistan but made the dangerous trek across the deserts of her home country with older relatives into Pakistan—after her father and older brother were taken away by religious militants, tortured and killed. She met her husband in Albany through her brother. She graduated from Albany Shaker High School and was attending Siena College but decided to leave school to raise her children.

Yaghi says that money is tight, and she has already incurred significant legal debt. She is seeking the assistance of Islamic Council of North America to help her in her fight to get her husband back home.

“I do think that the government has the right to secure the country,” says Yaghi. “But my husband is not a threat. They only deported him because they had no more time left to hold him. Osama bin Laden and other terrorists want to destroy families, and America is helping them achieve this goal by destroying all these immigrant families.”

A Time to Learn

Activists and educators hope the events of the past year will inspire more Americans to seek a greater awareness of the rest of the world

By Travis Durfee

Activist Yunus Fiske. Photo by Joe Putrock.

What, if anything, has the United States learned from the events of the past year? Have we merely gained another national anniversary? Have we taken a critical look at the events that led up to Sept. 11 and begun piecing together an answer to the question: “Why?”

According to linguist, activist and author Noam Chomsky, the United States must answer that very question. He says that refusal to answer “Why?” is to “choose to increase significantly the probability of further crimes of this kind.”

Many other Americans, especially those who oppose the Bush administration’s latest plans for an attack on Iraq, agree. “Nobody has addressed the root problem as to why this happened and until we do we’re never going to be secure,” says Yunus Fiske, a local activist and organizer of the 17-day Interfaith Peace Walk that began in Schenectady and will end in New York City on Sept. 11. “The root hasn’t been addressed because that implies criticizing ourselves, and we don’t want to criticize ourselves. It’s a person’s normal reaction to blame everyone else, but we really have to take a good look at ourselves and ask, ‘What role did we have to play in this?’ Until we do, there will never be security in America.”

Fiske argues that our nation has an ugly international reputation for intervening in countries only when our economic interests are at stake. His view of U.S. foreign policy is similar to that of pundits like Chomsky and English journalist Robert Fisk, who both regularly state the unpleasant fact that throughout much of the world, the United States is regarded as a leading terrorist state. The list of examples such dissidents often cite includes past U.S. support for brutal dictators in Chile, Iran, the Philippines, El Salvador and others, the training and financing of rebels throughout the’80s in Nicaragua, where the resulting civil war cost hundreds of thousands of civilians their lives, and the Gulf War, after which Pentagon officials estimated the “collateral damage” of civilian deaths at 200,000.

“America needs to change its foreign policy,” says Fiske. “Instead of looking for what we can get and what’s good for us and what’s going to benefit us, we need to realize that the people in these nations are human beings. They’re not there just for our exploitation.”

Former Naval Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll maintains a similar view from a different vantage point: U.S. military experience dating back to the Korean War.

“The fundamental dynamics are that the U.S. is the most powerful nation in the world,” says Carroll. “We are wielding hegemony around the world in many forms. We impose in economic, cultural, social ways, with our music and our clothes. Many people feel that their values and their mores are being threatened by this dominant American influence.”

Carroll, who will be one of four speakers at a Sept. 11 Teach-in Memoriam at the University at Albany, believes that the Sept. 11 attackers’ rationale was driven by fear of the pervasiveness of American culture and values. That sentiment, he says, was the driving thought behind the forces that crashed into our symbolic landmarks one year ago. Due to our nation’s dominance, says Carroll, the individuals who carried out the attacks had to communicate through acts of terror: “the weapons of the weak against the powerful.”

“That is the situation that came to focus on the 11th of September,” says Carroll. “[The attackers said,] ‘Here’s your weakness and here’s how we’ll exploit it. Now will you leave us alone? Quit occupying our countries. Quit making war on Muslims.’”

And the threat of more war in the Middle East is of the highest concern to Carroll, who fears a spreading and possibly unifying resentment of the United States throughout the region should the United States preemptively attack Iraq.

“The U.S. has turned weapons against the Middle East for too long, and they ascribe the worst motives to us,” says Carroll. “If we charge into Iraq under present circumstances, we will severely suffer in the long run.”

Siena College Professor Karl Barbir holds a doctorate in Middle Eastern Studies. An American of Lebanese decent, Barbir also will speak at the 9/11 Teach-In Memoriam on the conflicting interpretations of why Sept. 11 happened. He says that Middle Eastern animosity spawned from inept American foreign-policy decisions and U.S. military interventions driven by oil interests is a widely accepted answer to why Middle Eastern countries resent our nation.

But Barbir doesn’t entirely blame American policymakers for the collective ill feelings toward the United States in the Middle East or elsewhere, saying that the virtual cultural isolation in which U.S. citizens live accounts for some of the resentment.

“A lot of Americans were bewildered by the attacks,” said Barbir. “People were asking, ‘Who would hate us so much that they would do something like this?’ But in the ordinary course of their lives, most Americans don’t see the Middle East as something urgent or worth knowing about.”

The end of ignorance is Barbir’s hope for what can be salvaged from the intellectual and emotional wreckage created by last year’s attacks. As for Americans not being educated about the Middle East, Barbir hopes the events of Sept. 11 will continue to bring a greater awareness of the region. Barbir says that the complexity and diversity of the Middle East (and the rest of the world, for that matter) coming to the forefront of American consciousness could be a seen as one of the few positives to emerge from the tragedy’s shadow.

“If you go to the chain bookstores, not to mention the independents, you’ll find tables just groaning with books on the Middle East,” says Barbir. “I’ve never seen anything like that, and I’ve been teaching Middle Eastern history here for 25 years. Did it have to take two buildings coming down and the Pentagon being smashed? Well, I wish it weren’t that. I just wish that hadn’t happened and that people would learn that anyway.”

Who Needs Friends?

The world expressed its sympathy and solidarity with the United States after the terrorist attacks, but today it seems the lone superpower stands alone

By Gene Mirabelli

Americans may well ask why we find ourselves so alone now that we have accomplished so much in name of fighting terrorism, now that we are on the brink of attempting even more. On the evening of Sept. 20, 2001, President Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and a somber nation. It was in that speech that he proclaimed the words so often repeated since then: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”

The countries of Western Europe stood with us from the start. France, Germany, Italy and England had been battling terrorist organizations for years and saw themselves as prospective targets of the same Al Qaeda that had committed the Twin Towers and Pentagon atrocities. Spain and Turkey were engaged in combating terrorist insurgencies, and Greece was dealing with its own deep-rooted terrorist group. Israel, Egypt, Jordan, India, Russia, China, the Philippines, Indonesia—each saw a clear advantage in joining us, as did Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 hijackers. In Pakistan, a nation deeply enmeshed with the Taliban and checkered with Islamic militants, President Musharraf responded to U.S. pressure, did an about-face and chose to enlist on our side.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the whole world watched as 2,000-plus people in Manhattan were drenched with flaming jet fuel, blown to pieces, or simply crushed within the collapsing steel and concrete of two titanic skyscrapers. The United States found Al Qaeda protected in Afghanistan and did what Bush said it had to do. On Oct. 7, Kabul shook under our bombs, and on Nov. 13 Northern Alliance soldiers entered the capital. It had taken little more than a month to liberate Afghanistan, put the Taliban to flight and all but destroy al Qaeda. It had been a terrible autumn for the United States, but as the year ended we emerged with the world on our side.

The world had certainly not been on our side earlier that year. Prior to Sept. 11, Bush had alienated nations around the globe when he abruptly dumped the Kyoto accords, a treaty that had taken more than a hundred countries a decade to negotiate. The United States, the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gasses, would have had a hard time meeting the Kyoto protocols, but the assumption was that some kind of agreement could be worked out. Bush’s arrogant dismissal of the treaty, his further refusal to provide any kind of parallel legislation within this country, and his wholly inadequate voluntary plan enraged the signatories. In the end, the other countries went ahead without the United States.

After unlisting us from the Kyoto protocols, the president further alarmed the world by announcing his abandonment of our Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia. Critics here and in Europe argued that the United States could have continued missile defense tests for some years without breaching the treaty, that the threat from “rogue states” was years away, and that the so-called shield was technologically impossible. Vladimir Putin, a geopolitical realist, accepted the inevitable, though he reiterated that the United States was making a grave mistake. Bush dropped the word “national” from the defense project and asked the Europeans join us in the effort to build the system, a diplomatic flourish that solaced no one.

Much to our friends’ surprise, after Sept. 11, the president carried on the same in-your-face, we-go-it-alone foreign policy. In an amazing turnaround on free trade, he raised farm subsidies and imposed higher steel tariffs, earning the scorn of our trading partners. Most offensive of all, Bush rejected the International Criminal Court treaty.

Those were substantive issues, but there was also a matter of style. From the start, Bush appeared to relish his position as leader of the world’s solitary superpower without revealing any knowledge that great power brings with it great responsibility. Shortly after taking office, he made a big show of bad temper toward China, a rhetorical exercise that pleased only his hawks in the White House. That display ended when one of our spy planes wound up at Hainan airdrome. After toying with Bush for a while, Jiang Zemin released our crew and, having thoroughly examined the intelligence-gathering equipment inside, he allowed us to retrieve our plane in pieces. Secretary of State Colin Powell was sent in to smooth relations between the United States and China. The presumption of total power, the belligerent rhetoric, the use of his secretary of state not as a policymaker but as a man to explain away the boss’s casual threats and to moderate the tone: That became George W. Bush’s style.

Then, on Jan. 29, 2002, the president delivered a State of the Union address in which he announced, among other things, that Korea, Iran and Iraq constituted “an axis of evil.” He informed the nation—and the world—that those regimes posed a grave and growing danger. “They could provide these arms [of mass destruction] to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” Bush wanted to change the regime in Iraq, by force if necessary.

The battle in Afghanistan wasn’t absolutely over—indeed, as the year went on that country became less and less manageable—but what bothered our friends around the world was something else. They perceived that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was adding greatly to a broad Islamic antagonism toward the West, and they saw no reason to open another war before the one at the eastern end of the Mediterranean was over. Unlike the president and his secretary of defense, they saw no immediate danger from Iraq, but they did foresee that an invasion by the United States would destabilize the area and, in the absence of any concrete plan for postwar Iraq, lead to chaos.

The second Palestinian intifada had begun when President Clinton’s term ran out and negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians failed. Throughout most of 2001, President Bush had maintained a detached and strangely indifferent attitude toward the conflict, despite a chorus from all sides urging him to restart negotiations. Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat were locked in a suicide pact, each maddened by history and blinded by the chimera of total victory, and Bush clearly had no desire to get between them. But being the leader of the world’s only superpower brings with it—whether you want it or not—the responsibility to embrace, not flee, just these kinds of problems.

After Sept. 11, the president engaged in a series of halfhearted peace maneuvers that went nowhere: He glanced at the Mitchell Report, sent Powell to the region, and later George Tenent and General Zinni. Pushed by nations in Europe and every friendly power in the Middle East, he acceded, more or less, to Crown Prince Abdullah’s peace plan, but with the high-handed proviso that the Palestinians first abandon Yasser Arafat as their president. But it seems that Bush arrived too late with too little. The European nations have withdrawn their favor; Middle Eastern countries warn us that nothing can move forward until the wound begins to heal. But the bleeding still goes on.

It has been a nerve-wracking year. We’ve had horror. We’ve had victory. We find ourselves in another September, with the sky as pure and the air as clean and sweet as it was that other day in that other September. In the last several months President Bush’s arrogant, we-will-do-whatever-we-want behavior has eroded the grand alliance that arose from the rubble in Manhattan. Our president tells us we must go to war; we wait for him to tell us why and tell us how, and tell us what will happen afterward. He calls our friends from around the globe, but for now at least, no one comes to our side.


9/11 and Its Aftermath: a Timeline


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