September 11th


  • On September 11, 2001, terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda hijacked and flew airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in the attacks.
  • The administration of President George W. Bush declared a Global War on Terror and sent troops to Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban regime was providing a safe haven for al-Qaeda, and to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein purportedly was harboring weapons of mass destruction.
  • Concerns about US national security resulted in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the signing of the USA Patriot Act into law. These developments sparked a debate over constitutional rights and protections, and the proper balance between security and liberty in a democracy.

The road to 9/11

In 1979, Osama bin Laden organized the Arab resistance to the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. The United States provided the anti-Soviet mujahideen with weapons and training.

Bin Laden later condemned the United States for supporting Israel and for its role during the first Gulf War. Bin Laden founded al-Qaeda, a radical Islamist terror group. Al-Qaeda organized the September 11th attacks.

Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

After September 11th, President George W. Bush declared a Global War on Terror. The first focus was Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban regime provided al-Qaeda with a safe haven and an operating base from which to carry out their attacks. The objectives of the US invasion of Afghanistan were to topple the Taliban and to destroy al-Qaeda.

The conflict in Afghanistan was one of the longest and costliest wars in American history.

The Bush administration claimed that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaeda and that he was harboring weapons of mass destruction. In 2003 US troops entered Iraq, defeating the armed forces and toppling Hussein from power. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. Iraq descended into civil war.

The war on terror at home

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the Department of Homeland Security to centralize the collection and analysis of intelligence and to coordinate US efforts to prevent future terrorist attacks.

On October 26, 2001, President Bush signed the USA Patriot Act into law. The act authorized the extensive use of wiretapping and other surveillance measures. When revelations surfaced that the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting mass cellphone data, the law was amended so that the agency could only request the data of certain targeted individuals. A public debate erupted over whether the NSA had violated the American public’s reasonable expectations of privacy.

In 2004, evidence of torture of suspected terrorists led to investigations of US human rights abuses. The revelations opened a debate about whether the use of torture was justified, or whether it was fundamentally antithetical to American principles, values, and traditions.

Source: September 11th
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