World, Americas

US power abuses since 9/11: Wars, torture, illegal acts

Detention camps, wiretapping, surveillance among forms of US power abuse since Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

Ovunc Kutlu   | 11.09.2020
US power abuses since 9/11: Wars, torture, illegal acts


It has been 19 years since the US was attacked by jets flying into concrete and government buildings, attacks which ushered in a new era in fear and the national security state, years when the abuse of US power took a massive turn, to the detriment of millions of people worldwide.

After the world's strongest military and economic power declared an unjustified global war on terror, the American people more and more gave away their liberties in exchange for security, and the US government seized that opportunity to the fullest, abusing the deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent Americans who have lost their lives in the terror attack.

As suggested by Thomas Hobbes' classic 17th-century treatise on government Leviathan, the American people turned their republic into a strong unitary state with absolute power, which in return waged wars, engaged in torture, and jealously guarded its secrecy, all in the supposed name of public safety.

In this article, we review the top five abuses of power by the US government since the Sept. 11 attacks, and how they shaped US society and the global order in general.

Mideast wars

After the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the US invaded Iraq, a nation that never attacked the US nor played any role in the 2001 attacks.

The stated military objective was to deny any safe haven for terrorist groups or “weapons of mass destruction,” but the economic aim was to control the oil-rich country's natural resources. Ironically, the shale oil and gas revolution in the US that started in 2008 catapulted the US to become the world's largest crude oil producer in late 2018.

While to this day the US still has thousands of troops in Iraq, its involvement there triggered massive local rebellions against the US presence and nonstop conflict throughout the Middle East – arguably making the region not safer, but exactly the opposite.

Estimates of the number of casualties, both civilian and military, in the Iraq War range widely, from 150,000 to over a million, but one thing is certain –millions were forcibly displaced and thousands were illegally detained and tortured.

Torture in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib prisons

Illegal kidnapping, and the detention and torture of people by the US government, whether Americans or foreigners, became an ordinary practice for the sake of national security after 9/11.

The Guantanamo Bay detention camp, at a naval base located in Cuba, has become synonymous with torture, a dark hole where individuals were detained indefinitely, and often in poor conditions, without any charge or trial.

US government offenses in the camp were harshly criticized by Amnesty International, as well as being against the Geneva Convention, and for violating the 5th and 14th amendments of the US Constitution.

Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was another notorious facility where US military and CIA personnel committed a series of human rights violations against detainees, including physical abuse, torture, rape, and murder.

The horrific images released by the media in April 2004 resulted in widespread condemnation within the US and around the world. But, then-President George W. Bush claimed, implausibly, that the abuses were isolated incidents that were not committed systematically.

To this day the US government is believed to have many other detention camps and prisons across the world, as well as in international waters to bypass international law, and even detention planes using airspace.

Illegal detention, wiretapping, surveillance

Many US government agencies, such as the Defense Department, FBI, and Homeland Security, have stepped up their spying on people in the US and around the world in the post-9/11 era, joined by the CIA. Although the CIA's role is to gather intelligence from foreign nations, it has performed numerous unauthorized operations on US soil on American citizens to gather information.

Following the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, US government agencies illegally detained, gathered, and questioned thousands of Muslims in the US, without any formal charges or trial, while their testimonies were never secured.

The National Security Agency (NSA), part of the Defense Department and the largest intelligence agency in the country, started using unwarranted and illegal wiretapping on the American people and companies' communications over the phones.

After phone wiretapping came controlling cyberspace. Since 2001, use of the internet and social media has grown exponentially around the world, which means more data but an even more intrusive level of surveillance.

Data collection, mining, tracking, storage, and analysis have become the cornerstone of US intelligence power, something which threatens the privacy of not only Americans but any individual anywhere in the world.

The FBI data storage is believed to have grown close to 600 million records – almost double the US population of 331 million.

While new technologies provide people greater connection and access, they also help the government do social profiling, monitoring, understanding habits, and behavior, and to locate any person in the world faster and easier.

Censorship and secrecy

Fourth on the list comes censorship, which the US government used to tamp down critical voices in the US media, academia, and society.

While Washington tried to prosecute some journalists who were critical of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, academic intellectuals questioning the rise of government abuse and loss of civil liberties were also targeted.

The Patriot Act, signed into law by Bush within weeks of the Sept. 11 attacks, on Oct. 26, allowed the FBI to watch hundreds of thousands of Americans without formally informing them, although almost none of them had any connection to terrorism.

While the law expanded the abilities of US law enforcement to surveil domestic individuals, it also increased punishment for terror crimes.

The Bush administration also made sure of less transparency, and adopted a more secretive stance on sharing the scope and nature of government agencies' operations with the public and the world.

Many documents were rebranded as "sensitive" or "classified" as part of national security, while the Freedom of Information Act was weakened.


The Department of Homeland Security, created by the Bush administration in 2002, merged 22 US government agencies. Since then, the new agency's role, size, and power have expanded exponentially.

The country once known as "the immigrant haven" with its plaque on the Statue of Liberty declaring, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," has skyrocketed its deportation rate since Sept. 11.

Along the course of the century-plus from 1892 to 1997, the US deported just over 2 million people, but under Bush, that same number was reached in only eight years, while President Barack Obama – whose candidacy had promised a sharp departure from his predecessor – deported more than 3 million people during his time in the Oval Office.

Since 1990, removals of immigrants from the US increased from 30,000 to nearly 400,000 annually today, according to the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.

With Trump administration continuing to pour taxpayer dollars to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and taking a tougher stance on Chinese and other foreign students in the US, that figure is expected to climb higher still.

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