After witnessing the first jetliner crash into the Twin Towers on that Sept. 11 morning, a friend of mine’s wife and 7-year-old daughter fled to their nearby Manhattan loft and ran to the roof to look around. From there, they saw the second plane explode in a rolling ball of flaming fuel across the rooftops. It felt like the heat of a fiery furnace.
Not long after, the girl was struck with blindness. She rarely left her room. Her parents worked with therapists for months, trying various techniques including touch and visualization, before the young girl finally recovered her sight.
“The interesting new development,” my friend reports, “is that she no longer remembers very much, which she told me when I asked her if she would be willing to speak with you.”
That’s what happened to America itself 10 years ago this Sunday on 9/11, though it might be charged that many of us were blinded by privilege and hubris long before.
But 9/11 produced a spasm of blind rage arising from a pre-existing blindness as to the way much of the world sees us. That, in turn, led to the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Afghanistan again, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia—in all, a dozen “shadow wars,” according to The New York Times. According to Bob Woodward’s crucial book Obama’s Wars, there were already secret and lethal counterterrorism operations active in more than 60 countries as of 2009.
From Pentagon think tanks came a new military doctrine of the “Long War,” a counterinsurgency vision arising from the failed Phoenix program of the Vietnam era, projecting U.S. open combat and secret wars over a span of 50 to 80 years, or 20 future presidential terms. The taxpayer costs of this Long War, also shadowy, would be in the many trillions of dollars and paid for not from current budgets, but by generations born after the 2000 election of George W. Bush. The deficit spending on the Long War would invisibly force the budgetary crisis now squeezing our states, cities and most Americans.
Besides the future being mortgaged in this way, civil liberties were thought to require a shrinking proper to a state of permanent and secretive war, and so the Patriot Act was promulgated. All this happened after 9/11 through democratic default and denial. Who knows what future might have followed if Al Gore, with a half-million popular-vote margin over George Bush, had prevailed in the U.S. Supreme Court instead of losing by the vote of a single justice?
In any event, only a single member of Congress, Barbara Lee of Berkeley-Oakland, voted against Bush’s initial Sept. 14, 2001, request for emergency powers (war authorization) to deal with the aftermath of the attacks. Only a single senator, Russ Feingold, voted against the Patriot Act.
Were we not blinded by what happened on 9/11? Are we still? Let’s look at the numbers we almost never see.
Fog of war
As for current American war casualties, the figure now is beyond twice those who died in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., on 9/11. The casualties are rarely totaled, but they are broken down into three categories by the Pentagon and Congressional Research Service.
There is Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes Afghanistan and Pakistan but, in keeping with the Long War definition, also covers Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Second, there is Operation Iraqi Freedom and its successor, Operation New Dawn, the name adopted after September 2010 for the 47,000 U.S. advisers, trainers and counterterrorism units still in Iraq. The scope of these latter operations includes Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
These territories include not only Muslim majorities but also, according to former Centcom Commander Tommy Franks, 68 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and the passageway for 43 percent of petroleum exports, another American geo-interest that was heavily denied in official explanations. (See Michael Klare’s Blood and Oil and Antonia Juhasz’s The Bush Agenda for more on this.)
A combined 6,197 Americans were killed in these wars as of Aug. 16, 2011, in the name of avenging 9/11, a day when 2,996 Americans died. The total American wounded has been 45,338 and rising at a rapid rate. The total number rushed by Medivac out of these violent zones was 56,432. That’s a total of 107,996 Americans. And the active-duty military-suicide rate for the decade is at a record high of 2,276, not counting veterans or those who have tried unsuccessfully to take their own lives. In fact, the suicide rate for 2010 was greater than the American death toll in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Pentagon has long played a numbers game with these body counts. Accurate information has always been painfully difficult to obtain, and there was a time when the Pentagon refused to count as Iraq war casualties any soldier who died from his or her wounds outside of Iraq’s airspace. Similar controversies have surrounded examples such as soldiers killed in noncombat accidents.
The fog around Iraqi and Afghan civilian casualties will be seen in the future as one of the great scandals of the era. Briefly, the United States and its allies in Baghdad and Kabul relied on eyewitness, media or hospital numbers instead of the more common cluster-sampling interview techniques used in conflict zones like the first Gulf War, Kosovo or the Congo.
The United Nations has a conflict of interest as a party to the military conflict, and acknowledged in a July 2009 U.N. human-rights report footnote that “there is a significant possibility that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is underreporting civilian casualties.” In August 2009, even the mainstream media derided a claim by the White House counterterrorism adviser that there hasn’t been a single “collateral,” or innocent, death during an entire year of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, a period in which 600 people were killed, all of them alleged “militants.”
As a specific explanation for the blindness, the Los Angeles Times reported on April 9, 2010, that “Special Forces account for a disproportionate share of civilian casualties caused by western troops ... though there are no precise figures because many of their missions are deemed secret.”
Sticker shock of war
Among the most bizarre symptoms of the blindness is the tendency of most deficit hawks to become big spenders on Iraq and Afghanistan, at least until lately. The direct costs of the war, which is to say those unfunded costs in each year’s budget, now come to $1.23 trillion, or $444.6 billion for Afghanistan and $791.4 billion for Iraq, according to the National Priorities Project.
But that’s another sleight of hand, when one considers the so-called indirect costs like long-term veterans care. Leading economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes recently testified to Congress that their previous estimate of $4 to $6 trillion in ultimate costs was conservative. Nancy Youssef, of McClatchy Newspapers in D.C.—in my opinion the best war reporter of the decade—wrote recently, “It’s almost impossible to pin down just what the United States spends on war.” The president himself expressed “sticker shock,” according to Woodward’s book, when presented cost projections during his internal review of 2009.
The Long War casts a shadow not only over our economy and future budgets, but over our unborn children’s future, as well. This is no accident, but the result of deliberate lies, obfuscations and scandalous accounting techniques. We are victims of an information warfare strategy waged deliberately by the Pentagon.
As Gen. Stanley McChrystal said much too candidly in February 2010, “This is not a physical war of how many people you kill or how much ground you capture, how many bridges you blow up. This is all in the minds of the participants.” David Kilcullen, once the top counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, defines “international information operations as part of counterinsurgency.”
Quoted in Counterinsurgency in 2010, Kilcullen said this military officer’s goal is to achieve a “unity of perception management measures targeting the increasingly influential spectators’ gallery of the international community.”
This new “war of perceptions,” relying on naked media manipulation such as the treatment of media commentators as “message amplifiers” but also high-technology information warfare, only highlights the vast importance of the ongoing WikiLeaks whistle-blowing campaign against the global secrecy establishment.
Consider just what we have learned about Iraq and Afghanistan because of WikiLeaks: tens of thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq never before disclosed; instructions to U.S. troops not to investigate torture when conducted by U.S. allies; the existence of Task Force 373, carrying out night raids in Afghanistan; the CIA’s secret army of 3,000 mercenaries; private parties by DynCorp featuring trafficked boys as entertainment; and an Afghan vice president carrying $52 million in a suitcase. The efforts of the White House to prosecute Julian Assange and persecute Pfc. Bradley Manning in military prison should be of deep concern to anyone believing in the public’s right to know.