America's Reaction

On September 20, 2001, President Bush addressed a joint session of Congress, members of the various branches of the national government, and the American people from the House of Representatives. He was quick to get to Al-Qaeda, bin Laden, and the hosting government, the Taliban:

And tonight, the United States of America makes the following demands on the Taliban: Deliver to United States authorities all the leaders of al Qaeda who hide in your land. (Applause.) Release all foreign nationals, including American citizens, you have unjustly imprisoned. Protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in your country. Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, and hand over every terrorist, and every person in their support structure, to appropriate authorities. (Applause.) Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating.

These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion. (Applause.) The Taliban must act, and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.

On October 7, 2001, after the Taliban failed to respond to their demands, the United States, Great Britain, and coalition forces launched a bombing campaign on the Taliban government and Al-Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan. Although the immediate goal was to destroy Al-Qaeda and capture bin Laden, the president stated that the “battle was broader.” Perhaps the intentions of the administration were already on Iraq. Within two months the Taliban government had fallen. Although Osama bin Laden was not caught, the Al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan were seriously weakened.

The Patriot Act

Forty-five days after the September 11 attacks, Congress, with little if any debate, passed the 342-page USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act). The vote in the House of Representatives was 357 to 66 and in the Senate 98 to 1, with Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin being the only senator to vote against the act. Included in the legislation were sections that provided:

  • Domestic terrorism definitions and greater authority to subject political organizations to surveillance

  • Greater powers to law authorities to conduct secret searches of phone, Internet, medical, banking, and student records with minimal judicial oversight

  • Greater powers to conduct investigations of American citizens without probable cause if it's for “intelligence purposes”

  • Power to incarcerate noncitizens for indefinite periods on mere suspicion with no right of counsel, habeas corpus, or opportunities to appear before public tribunals

  • Since its passage, nearly 200 cities/towns and three states have passed resolutions stating that the Patriot Act is not enforceable within their jurisdictions, claiming that among other concerns, the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments are being threatened. The USA Patriot Act has raised the tension that exists when a country is at “war” and national security is pitted against civil liberties. The balance that must be maintained is the protection and security of society without sacrificing the very system that is being kept secure. Following successful constitutional challenges to some sections of the act, the Patriot Act was renewed in March 2006.

    Section 213 of the USA Patriot Act contains the first authorization for the issuance of “sneak and peek” search warrants in American history. These warrants allow search and seizure without notifying the individual being searched at the time of the search. This section is not restricted to terrorists or terrorism offenses; it may be used in connection with any federal crime, including misdemeanors.

    The Department of Homeland Security

    On November 25, 2002, President Bush signed into law legislation creating a new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security and appointed Tom Ridge, ex-governor of Pennsylvania as secretary of homeland security. The new department would employ 170,000 people and combine all or part of twenty-two other agencies, including Immigration and Naturalization, the Coast Guard, and Border Patrol to better protect the United States from terrorist attacks. The creation of Homeland Security would bring the total number of departments to fifteen: Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Office of the Attorney General.

    The Fall of the Taliban Government

    After nearly a month and a half, the Taliban had lost their seat of government in Kabul, Afghanistan, and by December 9 they had been completely overpowered. On December 22, 2001, Hamid Karzai, who attended college in India, speaks fluent English, and enjoys strong support from the West, was sworn in as interim chairman of the government. Karzai initially supported the Taliban and is respected by many former Taliban leaders. Karzai was a candidate in the October 9, 2004, Afghanistan presidential elections. He won twenty-one of the thirty-four provinces, becoming the first democratically elected leader of Afghanistan. The Taliban has demonstrated resurgence in 2006 and remains a very credible force within Afghanistan.

    Operation Iraqi Freedom

    The military invasion of Iraq set to begin on March 19, 2003, at 9:34 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, was known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. These military operations would be against the state of Iraq to rid the country of its weapons of mass destruction and remove Saddam Hussein and his government from power. On February 26, 2003, President George W. Bush stated:

    The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people. Yet, we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected.

    Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own: we will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more.

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