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Editors Note

9/11: A legacy of errors

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In “9/11 blind,” an op-ed column carried by many of the country’s alt-weeklies last week, Tom Hayden breaks down the so-called War on Terror by the numbers. Nearly 6,200 Americans dead to avenge the 2,996 Americans killed on 9/11, and an “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 last year was greater than the American death toll in either Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Downing the Twin Towers was a stupefying strike at the West, but Osama bin Laden’s real success was in luring us into conventional warfare abroad. We’ve already spent $1.2 trillion, and the global war will come to cost — after we factor in long-term care for our veterans — between $4-$6 trillion, on the conservative side, according to respected economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, quoted by Hayden. (Our total national debt is roughly $14.7 trillion.)

All week long, leading up to this bloody anniversary, stories have spotlighted the massive amount of treasure diverted to Homeland Security. The cost of the border wall. How the diversion of capital for terror-related preparedness has drained our ability to respond to weather-related emergencies even as extreme weather events have doubled since the 1990s. True, we haven’t had another 9/11, but at what cost, I wonder. It will be a long time before the security state that’s grown up to replace much of our government — including those formidable private armies established to circumvent Republican commitments to limited government — is dismantled. And yet real security is far from attained.

A remarkable book released recently demonstrates the ocean of difference that continues to separate the New Yorkers who lived through 9/11 and the feds hellbent on preventing a similar attack elsewhere in the country. In I Heard the Sirens Scream, author Laurie Garrett, a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, Newsday journalist, and public-health professor, describes how the New York Police Department adopted a “non-combative, intelligence-gathering approach” to the attacks at odds with the federal counter-strike mindset. By rapidly building up a team of 600 linguists from across the city’s immigrant populations, Gotham not only was gathering better intelligence in those days following 9/11, but creating a more harmonious city, she writes.

It’s fascinating reading, particularly when considered in tandem with the passel of feature stories in the most recent Mother Jones that demonstrate how many of the frustrated domestic terror attacks you may have read about in the last decade were essentially plots hatched by the CIA and FBI. Or when you consider the racial tempest being stirred up today by right wingers on the immigration front as an outgrowth of our 9/11 jitters compounded by economic recession. Which has injured our nation more, Osama or our response to him?

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