A group of 10 or so men, all wearing suits but no tie, entered the conference room and moved towards the front. I noticed a few them had in their hands what looked like multiple passports they were thumbing their way through. One of them then said, “If you’re American, come with us.” I glanced around for a few seconds before slowly standing up and moving towards the area the men were directing us towards. As we moved in their direction, all of us seemingly as unaware as to what was going on as another, I looked more closely at what I had thought were passports and determined that indeed they were. I thought for a second about how the day before, when checking into the hotel, we had been required to leave our passports at the front desk for the duration of our stay, which I had found a bit odd and unnerving, and was wondering if mine was in the stack. I also observed, as we were moving towards these men, that some of them had guns holstered on their hips under their jackets. They seemed to be plain-clothed law-enforcement of some type or another.
They took us into a separate area and began to go through the passports they had one by one to account for each of us. The “us” to whom I am referring was about 30 fellow American humanitarian-aid workers who were attending an international gathering and conference in Egypt on relief and development work in the Middle East and North Africa region. There were about 300 attendees total from all over the world. After they had determined that every American in attendance at the conference was with them, one of the men said: “We are Egyptian security. Something has happened in America. We don’t know details.” At that point several Americans began talking and asking questions, and along with two or three others, I engaged the Egyptian security official nearest to me for what turned into a fruitless conversation. If he knew anything more than what they had already told us — which was next to nothing at all — he sure as hell wasn’t going to say. For the next several hours or so they kept all of us in an isolated area, not answering any of our questions with any actual answers until all of a sudden, out of nowhere one of them said, “The airport in Egypt has been closed. We do not know when it will open. You will stay here with everyone else.” And that was it. They opened the door and used their arms to motion for us to go out and return to the conference room from which they had taken us several hours earlier. We went back into a room filled with the nearly 300 other conference attendees, all of whom had incredibly disturbed and pained looks on their faces. They knew something we did not. They knew what had happened. They knew America had been attacked by evil jihadists.
That was September 11, 2001 – the day 19 militants, aligned with the radical Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda, hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. In total, nearly 3,000 people died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Seven days later, on 18 September 2001, President George W. Bush signed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists bill, which was passed by Congress a few days prior. This bill authorized the President to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determined planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on 11 September 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or individuals. On 20 September 2001, during a televised address to a joint session of Congress, then President Bush said, “Our war on terror begins with Al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”
Within a few weeks, in early October 2001, U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan, and the so-called “war on terror” was officially underway. Yet, what began as the U.S. government sending soldiers to hunt down and destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda in one single country, Afghanistan, continues 17 years later in what is now 76 different countries on the planet, being engaged through air and drone strikes, combat troops, US military bases and training in counterterrorism. The war on terror that began in one single country is now the never-ending war that envelops much of Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia.
This never-ending war has already cost U.S. taxpayers an astronomical $5.6 trillion, has taken the lives of 370,000 people total, including more than 7,000 members of our U.S. military, thousands of civilian contractors, and more than 200,000 Afghan, Pakistani, and Iraqi civilians. Each and every single one of us should be absolutely appalled and infuriated and asking why and how this could happen.
How on earth can it be that the United States, the country with the strongest, most powerful military history has ever known – was not capable of going after the bad guys in 2001, hunting them down, destroying them, and ending the war many, many years ago? Why couldn’t we have done that? Or the ethical question is: Why didn’t we do that? Because we could have. We could have won — and ended — this war a long, long time ago.
War is absolutely the most horrific thing human civilization has ever or will ever know. There is nothing more devastating to our humanity than the unspeakable atrocities that accompany war, and the un-healable after effects that emerge from war. Since this war began in one single country in October 2001, our elected leaders have repeatedly promised us the war is coming to an end. Yet under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and current President Donald Trump, these pledges to end the war have metamorphosed and been delivered in the form of the mass expansion into what is now 76 countries and counting.
76 countries and counting.
This never-ending war must come to an end. Where is the victory we have been assured? When will we, the American people finally say enough is enough? For the sake of our humanity, this war must end.
This is article one in a series of four.