9/11 Blind 

We're ten years past the Twin Towers attack and still fighting wars in its name. Can we open our eyes in time?

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After witnessing the first jetliner crash into the Twin Towers on September 11, my friend's wife and seven-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 ten 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. In Bob Woodward's crucial book, Obama's Wars, there were already secret and lethal counterterrorism operations active in more than sixty 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 US open combat and secret wars over a span of fifty to eighty years, or twenty future presidential terms. The cost to taxpayers for 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 US Supreme Court instead of losing by the vote of a single justice?

In any event, only a single member of Congress, Barbara Lee of Oakland, voted against the initial war authorization, and only a single US senator, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, 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 American casualties, the figure now is beyond twice those who died in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC, on 9/11. The casualties are rarely totaled, but they are broken down into three categories by the Pentagon and the 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 US 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 T. 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 August 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 that number is rising at a rapid rate. The active-duty military-suicide rate for the decade also 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 last year 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 non-combat accidents.

The fog around Iraqi and Afghan civilian casualties will be seen in the future as one of the great scandals of the era. The United States and its allies in Baghdad and Kabul have 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 UN human-rights report footnote that "there is a significant possibility that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is underreporting civilian casualties." Even mainstream media derided a White House counterterrorism adviser's claim 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 six hundred people were killed, all of them alleged "militants."

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