9/11 twenty years on
The full facts about Saudi complicity are still unknown. But we do know that the ‘war on terrorism’ had nothing to do with fighting terrorism, only spreading US terrorism. Yassamine Mather looks at the aftermath of September 11 2001
The events of September 11 2001 marked the opening of a new chapter in the politics of the Middle East and the world as a whole. George W Bush and his neocons found the excuse they had been waiting for. The New American Century could now begin.
After the terrorist attacks on US soil, we faced a relentless, widespread propaganda campaign by the US and its allies on the need to ‘punish’ and ‘eradicate’ not just the organisers of these acts, but ‘jihadist Islamic fundamentalism’. Laura Bush and Cherie Booth cried for the women of Afghanistan suffering under the rule of the Taliban. After all, the west was not just invading and occupying Afghanistan (and later Iraq!), but was engaged in bringing about ‘democracy’ and ‘nation-building’.
For a start the real culprit was not just al Qa’eda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, but the Saudis and other Arab Gulf states, which financed al Qa’eda. Yet there was little or no mention of the oil emirates of the Persian Gulf, even less about the origins of the movement that gave birth to al Qa’eda, or how the cold war strategy of financing and arming Islamic fundamentalists had led to the current situation. A recent book, The rise and fall of Osama bin Laden by Peter Bergen, reminds us how the Saudi state sent bin Laden and other Arabs to participate in the jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. It describes how bin Laden became a mascot for the jihad, although he and the Arabs who joined the holy war against the communists engaged in very little fighting.
Later bin Laden fell out with the Saudi royals, who had no intention of allowing him to intervene in the country’s internal politics. However, none of this stopped Saudis and other wealthy Arab citizens from supporting al Qa’eda and its subsequent even more murderous offshoots.
Of course, now, 20 years later, we are told by the current US president that the country has ‘abandoned’ nation-building! Yet no-one can explain why bombing a country to smithereens and occupying it was going to achieve this in the first place.
The invasion of Afghanistan started on October 7 2001. As the bombing got underway, we know from statements by then White House press secretary Ari Fleischer that the Taliban were ready to hand over bin Laden. The Bush administration rejected the offer of negotiations. Replying to a reporter in October 2001 Fleischer said: “The president could not have made it any clearer two weeks ago, when he said that there will be no discussions and no negotiations ... what they say is not as important as what they do.”
The 20-year misery that followed is now blamed on Afghan leaders, yet, as Spencer Ackerman told Democracy Now,
The United States contribution ... to the misery in Afghanistan came through the corruption that it always blamed on the Afghans, but was a significant driver of itself ... Development aid and development money poured into Afghanistan far beyond a consideration of what a devastated Afghan economy could in fact absorb. And some of this money was very deliberately flooded in from the CIA to pay off warlords, to ensure that they would ultimately be responsive to American interests - which would often be violent interests, which would often be things like ... the Joint Special Operations Command would perform throughout the Afghanistan war ... raids on people’s houses suspected of being, aiding or facilitating the Taliban: ... not even al Qa’eda, not the thing that attacked the United States, certainly not the core of al Qa’eda that plotted, planned and executed 9/11. The United States was now in extended war with a one-time harbourer, ally of al Qa’eda, rather than the thing itself. [The US was] responsible for all of Afghanistan, but never [acted] responsibly toward the Afghan people.1
What followed 9/11, using the now well rehearsed excuse of the ‘war on terror’, was, of course, the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The Taliban had given sanctuary to bin Laden and were Islamic fundamentalists. However, no such excuses could be found with Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi Ba’athist dictator ruled a country more secular than most Middle Eastern states. More, he actually served US and western interests, not least during the 1980-88 war with Iran’s Islamic Republic. No-one could find even a tenuous connection with al Qa’eda and jihadism.
However, by invading Kuwait - either through a misunderstanding (the infamous meeting with a US ambassador, who, according to the Ba’athists, offered support for Hussein’s plans in relation to Kuwait) or consciously ignoring American ‘concerns’ - he had dissed the US and was not going to be forgiven. As a result, another country was destroyed by the US, and this time the ideological battle was taken one step further. We had ‘year zero’ and the dismissal or detention of anyone associated with the previous order, plus the imposition of a new set of corrupt rulers under the watch of an even more corrupt US command based in the Green Zone.
This was obviously ‘nation-building’ at its best: while many Iraqis could not even get access to water or electricity, billions were pocketed by US companies directly associated with those in power in Washington, by profiting from the invasion - including vice-president Dick Cheney and the company he was associated with. According to Senator John Kerry,
Dick Cheney’s old company, Halliburton, has profited from the mess in Iraq at the expense of American troops and taxpayers .... While Halliburton has been engaging in massive overcharging and wasteful practices under this no-bid contract, Dick Cheney has continued to receive compensation from his former company.2
This was a reference to Halliburton selling towels and water at exuberant prices to the US military. Kerry continued:
While Dick Cheney claims that he has gotten rid of all of his financial interests in Halliburton he's actually received $2 million in bonuses and deferred compensation from his former company since taking office in 2001.
These were the people who were going to teach Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of the Middle East how to combat nepotism and corruption. The people who now complain about the corruption of Iraqi and Afghan leaders!
The Baghdad government brought to power by the US was a dream choice for Iran - that other element in the ‘axis of evil’. Most members of the sectarian Shia government in Baghdad had been in exile in Iran or had very close connections to that other ‘Islamic republic’. What an excellent way of securing civil liberties and women’s rights in occupied Iraq.
We then had George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney turning a blind eye (at least that is what they claimed) to atrocities against Iraqi (mainly Sunni) prisoners before they were exposed in the press and media. Water-boarding, humiliation and blatant torture were part of the routine in both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons - in fact a breeding ground for a new generation of jihadists and suicide bombers. Several former prisoners became leading figures in al Qa’eda offshoot, Islamic State. Last week a leading Taliban figure boasted that he was in Guantanamo for 15 years. Contrary to what the west wants us to believe, the suicide bombers were not born that way: it is imperialist actions in the region that promote corruption, violation of basic rights, torture …
This was the ‘scorched earth’ policy of burning down a region for the sake of the hegemon power’s global interests - and for internal consumption. The bulk of the western media bought into this nonsense and there were very few dissenters. Those who did expose what was going on, those who showed footage or revealed documents contradicting US lies have suffered the consequences. Julian Assange has spent years living in fear of extradition to that wonderful land of democracy and human rights: the United States of America.
The jihadists who graduated form Abu Ghraib found allies in the military leaders of the former Ba’athist regime, as well as in IS. Between them they have brought still further suffering to what was left of Iraq and Syria. But who cares? Israel has no powerful enemy in these countries. Saudi Arabia, the source of many of the region’s troubles, remains a close US ally and can still get away with murder. The killing and dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey earned Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, not even a public reprimand.
In fact Israel is keen to make sure the new US administration does not criticise Saudi Arabia or Egypt for human rights violations. According to the Times of Israel, “while the Biden administration has maintained its rhetoric in favour of upholding human rights abroad”, it has “thus far avoided upending US relations with [Cairo and Riyadh] entirely”.3
Finally, note this. Under concerted pressure from 9/11 survivors and the families of 9/11 victims, Biden has finally agreed to make public the findings of Operation Encore, the secret FBI investigation into Saudi complicity in the attacks on New York and Washington, particularly the contacts between Saudi officials and two of the hijackers. But there is a catch: it will be done in tranches, over six months and, furthermore, the release of information will not be “indiscriminate”. US national interests cannot be jeopardised.