“Never forget” is a peculiar slogan. Americans don’t need to be reminded of the most epochal event of our era, but that’s not really the point. The phrase is an invocation—a call to engage in the ritual of remembrance.
Every year, when the country marks this anniversary, we’re called upon to remember in a very specific way. We’re asked to personalize it: Where were you when it happened? How did it make you feel?
This is all designed to conjure up the powerful—not to mention politically useful—emotions everyone felt that day, namely fear and anger. I’ll personally never forget sitting on my couch watching the towers burn and listening to Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall:”
I saw a black branch with blood that kept dripping / I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I cried at these words, thinking to myself that the violence had only just begun.
The strong sentiment that the Sept. 11 attacks unleashed was cynically harnessed to launch a war we’re still fighting. America’s collective desire for vengeance was transmuted into public support for the Bush Administration’s geopolitical goals.
Every year, an attempt is made to return us to that state, so that our emotional recollections of that day crowd out the memories of everything that followed. Today, every news channel will be filled with moving tributes to the American victims of Sept. 11, rendering another memorial here superfluous.
Instead, let us honor their memory by calling out the way their deaths were callously exploited to justify nearly two decades of needless slaughter. To that end, here are some things you may have forgotten about Sept. 11 and the War on Terror.
The Taliban was ready to give up Bin Laden
Within a couple months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Taliban officials made repeated overtures to the United States, saying they were willing to negotiate the surrender of Osama bin Laden, but the Bush Administration refused.
They offered to turn him over with a few conditions, namely that he be transferred to a third country for trial and that the United States provide evidence of his involvement. US State Department officials maintained that their position was non-negotiable.
This was before bin Laden confessed to orchestrating the attacks, so the Taliban’s request for evidence wasn’t entirely unreasonable, and the other conditions were designed to save face. Documents show that the Taliban and US officials had been negotiating the extradition of bin Laden in secret for three years prior to the attacks.
Ultimately, the Bush Administration was intent on regime change and had made up its mind to invade months before Sept. 11.
Hijackers mostly backed by Saudi money
The ostensible target of the War on Terror is state sponsors of terrorism. After the attack, George W. Bush famously declared: “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”
Of course, this only applies to weak enemy states like Afghanistan and Iraq while exempting powerful US allies, such as Saudi Arabia.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, and though the 9/11 Commission found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization,” it identified “Saudi Arabia as the primary source of al-Qaeda funding.”
However, a partially redacted portion of the commission’s report declassified in 2016 offered evidence of ties between the hijackers and Saudi officials, including Prince Bandar, a former ambassador to the United States, as well as Saudi intelligence officer Omar al-Bayoumi.
Given the role of Saudi Arabia in US trade and foreign policy, it should come as no surprise that efforts to cover up and/or downplay the country’s role in the Sept. 11 attacks have been bipartisan.
President Obama unsuccessfully attempted to veto the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which opened the door for victims of the attacks to sue the Saudi government. Trump, who had slammed Obama over his JASTA veto, continues to withhold information needed by the 9/11 victims’ lawsuit that resulted from it.
Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11
Aside from the false claims that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction, the case for war against Iraq rested largely on unproven allegations that Hussein was a major sponsor of terror who had a working relationship with al Qaeda.
While the Bush Administration never explicitly stated that Saddam provided material support for the Sept. 11 terror attacks, it did much to plant the idea in the public mind. In December 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney said on Meet the Press that Iraq was “harboring terrorists,” including Abdul Rahman Yasin, who was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
In the same interview, he also claimed that was “pretty well confirmed” that 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague, though it was later shown that the administration knew this to be false at the time.
Prior to the invasion a number of stories came out about training exercises that were purported to have taken place in Iraq’s Salman Pak military facility in which foreign terrorists practiced hijacking a Boeing 707. These accounts were later found to be the fabrications of a defector from the Iraqi National Congress.
By the time the war began, 70 percent of Americans believed Saddam was involved in the attacks.
War brought death but not justice
The post-Sept. 11 wars punished a country that was willing to cooperate with US counter-terror efforts and absolutely destroyed another that had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks while leaving alone the country that provided most of al Qaeda’s funding.
What’s more, the wars had little to do with bringing the masterminds behind Sept. 11 to justice—and possibly made the task more. The capture and killing of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Osama bin Laden, respectively, could both have been accomplished during peacetime using normal intelligence methods.
Sheikh Muhammed was captured with help from an informant known only as “Asset X” whose relationship with the CIA extends back to before the attacks. He was reportedly paid $25 million for the information.
Hassan Ghul, the al Qaeda courier who provided the crucial tip leading to the bin Laden raid, was captured by Kurdish forces working on information from the CIA at a border checkpoint. A known quantity in intelligence circles, Ghul gave up the information almost immediately without being tortured. He was however shipped off to a black site afterward for “enhanced interrogation” and subsequently used as an example in conservative media for why torture is effective.
The exhortation to “never forget” is actually a call to selectively remember. We are asked to return to that state we were in at the time of the attacks and in doing so, remind ourselves that all that came after was somehow justified—but it wasn’t.
As of 2018, almost half a million people are estimated to have died in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the post-Sept. 11 wars, including roughly 244,000 civilians. Just counting civilian deaths, that’s the equivalent of 9/11 happening nearly five times a year for 17 years.
And what, if anything, was bought with all that blood? Certainly not safety or security. There’s a consensus within the intelligence community that the War on Terror has actually increased the threat of global terrorism while the instability wrought in the Middle East has given rise to radical groups like the Islamic State.
While we memorialize our dead, we must never forget the way opportunistic Washington ghouls used them to drive us to war, and we should also count among the victims of Sept. 11 the hundreds of the thousands who died because of the lies they told.