On the morning of September 11, 2001, four Boeing planes (two 757 and two 767, two American Airlines and two United Airlines) took off from Boston, Newark and Washington airports. Everyone went to California, but they never reached their destination. Instead, what happened to them forever changed 21st century history.
Read also: Learn about the history of the Brazilian woman who survived September 11
American Airlines Flight 11, with 11 crew and 76 passengers, was dominated by 5 hijackers and collided with the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York at 8:46 am. Just 17 minutes later, the plane carrying United Flight 175, with 9 crew, 51 passengers and 5 terrorists, collided with the South Tower.
The world was still trying to understand what was happening when the aircraft flying American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, a US Department of Defense building in Washington, with 6 crew, 53 passengers and 5 hijackers, at 9:37 am. The last plane, on United Airlines Flight 93, was targeting the US Congress, but crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 10:03 am, after some of the 7 crew and 33 passengers tried to regain control from 4 terrorists.
In a 77-minute interval, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists managed to carry out the biggest and boldest terrorist attack on US soil in history. In total, 2,996 people died as a direct result of terrorist actions. The consequences of that day, however, last for two decades.
“It is the moment when the great international power, which emerged victorious in the post-Cold War era, shows itself to be vulnerable. The first fundamental thing is to demonstrate the vulnerability of the great global power to terrorist attacks. And this will trigger a series of reactions on the part of that make September 11 a great watershed”, analyzes Felipe Loureiro, coordinator of the International Relations course at USP.
The event fundamentally changed the position of the US, which spent a decade as the world’s leading hegemonic power after the collapse of the Soviet Union. From a foreign policy more based on economic expansion, the country started to invest heavily in interventions elsewhere. The result was two of the longest wars in American history, thousands more deaths and trillions of dollars in military expenditure.
“On September 11, everything changed. The US started to intervene much more directly in certain regions that were geopolitically sensitive. There was the invasion of Afghanistan three months after the attack and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. There is a change in the way the The US deals with the world, an interventionist policy, but it has a very high cost”, says political scientist Guilherme Casarões, professor at FGV-SP.
Less than a month after the attacks, on October 7, US and British forces attacked Taliban positions in Afghanistan. The extremist group that ruled the country provided shelter and resources to Osama bin-Laden’s al Qaeda, who later took over planning the attacks, and refused to hand them over.
Then began the invasion of Afghan territory, which quickly defeated the Taliban and resulted in a long-term intervention, which ended only on August 31 of this year, with the withdrawal of troops and employees from the US and allied countries through the airport in Kabul, and the retaking of the country by the extremist group.
In 2003, at the insistence of then US President George W. Bush, who alleged an involvement of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq with al-Qaeda, in addition to alleged weapons of mass destruction, US troops and allies invaded the country.
Experts say this operation took the focus off Afghanistan, where there was a smaller contingent at a time when it would be possible to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda for good, undermined US credibility on the international stage and helped to further radicalize the region.
“The invasion of Iraq was much contested by historical allies, such as Germany, France and Brazil, at the beginning of the Lula government. Some allies helped, but most adopted a posture of reticence. Russia and China also did so. heavy criticisms about the legitimacy of the action in Iraq, which generated a series of problems in the country”, recalls Casarões.
“This ended up fostering more instability in these territories and consequently gave rise to new terrorist organizations to emerge. Some were even more deadly and more destabilizing for the local and international order than the previous ones, as was the case of the Islamic State, which is a direct consequence American intervention in the Middle East,” adds Loureiro.
Attacks and destabilization
Evidence of this destabilization could soon be felt in two large European cities. On March 11, 2004, explosions in Madrid’s trains and stations killed 193 people and injured more than 2,000. On July 7, 2005, subway bombings and a London bus left 56 more casualties and 700 injured. The actions were attributed to al-Qaeda cells, as a response to the participation of Spain and the United Kingdom in the invasion of Iraq.
“I think there would be no reason for these attacks without 9/11. Both the attacks in London and Madrid come as a consequence of the occupation of Iraq, the United Kingdom and Spain were in the coalition. That is the fundamental point. The attacks by the Islamic State against France and Belgium happened because of bombings in Syria. All the attacks were based on this notion that there was a foreign presence,” argues Casarões.
An example of this, according to the FGV professor, is the fact that bin Laden had already ordered at least three previous attacks against the US: the simultaneous suicide bombings against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on 7 August 1998, and against the destroyer USS Cole, a large military vessel, in Yemen, in 2000. His intention was to end the Western presence in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, cradle of the Islamic religion.
Read also: US looks back on 20 years of 9/11 with Biden in tough times
In the US, the military actions that supported Bush at home in the first years of his term began to become a burden on the country. In 2008, Barack Obama was elected on a campaign promise that he would end occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least in the first one, it achieved the objective in 2011, but the country would return to the presence of troops later, due to the fight against the Islamic State.
“Obama made it very clear that he wanted to focus foreign policy in Asia, focusing more on trade issues, but he was stuck with the various crises that arose in the region, such as the growth of the Islamic State, the Arab Spring and the war in Syria,” argues Casarões .
In addition to urging the US to respond with military actions on the international stage, 9/11 also caused a rush to expand internal security. There was a rearrangement of the country’s intelligence agencies, with the creation of the Security Department, but it also caused numerous problems of civil rights violations, from illegal surveillance to arbitrary arrests.
“The world realized how vulnerable the richest countries were to attacks and this led to an increase in security devices, a very broad restructuring of the sector, especially in civil aviation and intelligence. This ended up translating into certain violations of rights, monitoring of data, of people, often without basis or authorization”, emphasizes Loureiro.
One of the greatest symbols of the darkest face of the so-called “war on terror” remains in operation today: the prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, opened in early 2002 to house those accused of participating in the attack on the WTC. In total, 780 people were detained there, most without trial and many without even knowing the charges, suffering torture and other violations of international conventions.
Read more: Born on 9/11, young man saved his uncle who would be at the World Trade Center
“Another Obama campaign promise was to close Guantanamo, a prison that has a series of problems with respect to human rights, but he failed because of Congress,” ponders Casarões. Democratic and Republican parliamentarians opposed the idea and approved bills that prevented prisoners held in the Cuban prison from being brought to US soil.
At present, 39 men remain detained in Guantanamo, all captured between 2002 and 2008, according to a New York Times survey. Of these, 14 are from Yemen, 6 from Pakistan, 4 from Saudi Arabia, 2 from Afghanistan, 2 from Algeria, 2 from Libya, 2 from Malaysia. Indonesia, Iraq, Palestine, Kenya, Somalia, Tunisia each have one citizen, in addition to one considered stateless.