George W. Bush’s took away your rights?

Jackson Rees, Journalist

On September 11, 2001, two planes were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. This attack, carried out by terrorists associated with AL-Quaeda is one of the most important events in recent U.S. and world history. The fear 9/11 caused in the American people allowed politicians and other government officials to use that fear to further their own goals both domestically and abroad.


“Every nation has a choice to make.  In this conflict, there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers, themselves.  And they will take that lonely path at their own peril.”

-George W. Bush


Former President George W. Bush, who was president from 2001-2009, held a presidential address on October 7, 2001, in response to 9/11. Former President Bush stated during this address that the United States would go to war with the Taliban, and other known Islamic terrorist groups. This is the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, and the Global War on Terror. During the war on terror, the United States sent the military to Afghanistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Tunisia, Mali, Nigeria, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa rica, Panama, and Mozambique. Although intervention in these 21 countries varied, from the years-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to a couple hundred soldiers assisting the local government in the Philippines they all started with 9/11 and a decision made by George W. Bush’s administration.


Following 9/11 the American government didn’t only look outward, but also inward to the possibility of domestic terrorism. To prevent this, the government passed legislation to prevent domestic terrorism, notably the Patriot Act, which allowed for increased surveillance on American citizens, and the ratification of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) which changed the rules for the CIA and how they operated. 


The USA PATRIOT act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) was introduced in following 9/11, and its stated goal was “to protect innocent Americans from the deadly plans of terrorists dedicated to destroying America and our way of life” according to a summary by the Department of Justice. The act did this by doing things like increasing punishments for terrorist actions and increasing or even removing the statute of limitation on some crimes. The USA PATRIOT act also broadened the legality of surveillance measures, like wiretapping and other electronic surveillance. The PATRIOT act also allowed for law enforcement to gain business records without getting a subpoena through a Grand Jury, instead allowing law enforcement to go through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court, which could allow them to get business records, called the National Security Letter (NSL). In 2008, the Southern District of New York heard Joe Doe, Inc vs. Mukasey. Joe Doe, Inc had been issued a National Security Letter and asked to provide the FBI with the information and internet records of an individual. The National Security letter had a nondisclosure subsection which prevented Joe Doe, Inc from disclosing the information that the FBI had asked for. The court found this violated our 1st amendment rights, by prior restraint. In his decision the judge said prior restraint is “a heavy presumption against constitutional validity.” This particular subsection was deemed unconstitutional in 2008, 7 years after the PATRIOT act was passed.


CAT was originally introduced to the United Nations in 1984, and ratified by the United States in 1994, was intended to be the starting point for the Commision of Human Rights to prevent “torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” as written by former justice of the Supreme Court of sweden, Hans Denelius. Although the purpose behind CAT was to prevent torture, when CAT was ratified again by the United States in 2008, hidden behind loads of legislative language was a change to the legal definition of torture in the United States. In the original ratification of CAT in 1994, torture was defined as “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person”. But in the 2008 ratification this definition was changed to include where the resulting pain and suffering had to come from, including severe physical pain, mind altering substances, the imminent threat of death, or threat another person will be subjected to torture or death. This definition was further clarified by the Judicial branch in 2002 in a memo to the white House General Counsel stating “Where pain is physical, it must be of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure. Severe mental pain requires suffering not just at the moment of infliction but it also requires lasting psychological harm, such as seen in mental disorders like posttraumatic stress disorder.” Although this briefing was later said to “not be treated as authoritative for any purpose” in 2010, 8 years after the original briefing. Two days after his inauguration, former President Barack Obama signed executive order 13491. This executive order said “All executive directives, orders, and regulations inconsistent with this order, concerning detention or the interrogation of detained individuals, are revoked to the extent of their inconsistency with this order.” 


9/11 changed the culture of Americans, which also changed what was important to the government who started wars and brought legislation which reflected this. With hindsight, the actions the government took around this time aren’t all they were initially made out to be. Legislation that took away the freedoms of Americans, and wars which entangled the nation in foreign conflicts.

Former president George W. Bush in Sarasota Fl. on September 11, 2001. (Eric Draper)