Monday, May 2, 2011

Was It Worth It?

I can't answer the question because I don't know what would have happened if the United States had not chased down and killed Bin Laden.  All I can do is look at the monetary and moral costs that can be directly linked to 9/11 and the United States's response to the terrorist attack.

Writing in Salon, Justin Elliot asserts, "Amid the celebration today, a sobering note from a recent congressional study: Since Osama bin Laden's organization launched the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress has appropriated $1.3 trillion on wars, extra security measures and veterans' healthcare."

Elliot points out that that $1.3 trillion might be on the low side.
There have been fierce debates among economists about how to tally war costs. The Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, for example, wrote a book about Iraq titled "The Three Trillion Dollar War." Here's an example of costs Stiglitz included that the congressional study -- which looked merely at appropriations -- did not:
There is no question that the Iraq war added substantially to the federal debt. This was the first time in American history that the government cut taxes as it went to war. The result: a war completely funded by borrowing. U.S. debt soared from $6.4 trillion in March 2003 to $10 trillion in 2008 (before the financial crisis); at least a quarter of that increase is directly attributable to the war. And that doesn't include future health care and disability payments for veterans, which will add another half-trillion dollars to the debt.
Financially, Bin Laden and the efforts to fight an open-ended war on terror cost anywhere from $1 to $3 trillion. However, Bin Laden and the efforts to capture or kill him also cost the United States in other ways.

Radley Balko lists moral and constitutional costs.
We have also fundamentally altered who we are. A partial, off-the-top-of-my-head list of how we’ve changed since September 11 . . .
  • We’ve sent terrorist suspects to “black sites” to be detained without trial and tortured.
  • We’ve turned terrorist suspects over to other regimes, knowing that they’d be tortured.
  • In those cases when our government later learned it got the wrong guy, federal officials not only refused to apologize or compensate him, they went to court to argue he should be barred from using our courts to seek justice, and that the details of his abduction, torture, and detainment should be kept secret.
  • We’ve abducted and imprisoned dozens, perhaps hundreds of men in Guantanamo who turned out to have been innocent. Again, the government felt no obligation to do right by them.
  • The government launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign implying that people who smoke marijuana are complicit in the murder of nearly 3,000 of their fellow citizens.
  • The government illegally spied and eavesdropped on thousands of American citizens.
  • Presidents from both of the two major political parties have claimed the power to detain suspected terrorists and hold them indefinitely without trial, based solely on the president’s designation of them as an “enemy combatant,” essentially making the president prosecutor, judge, and jury. (I’d also argue that the treatment of someone like Bradley Manning wouldn’t have been tolerated before September 11.)
  • The current president has also claimed the power to execute U.S. citizens, off the battlefield, without a trial, and to prevent anyone from knowing about it after the fact.
  • The Congress approved, the president signed, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a broadly written law making it a crime to advocate for any organization the government deems sympathetic to terrorism. This includes challenging the “terrorist” designation in the first place.
  • Flying in America now means enduring a humiliating and hassling ritual that does little if anything to actually make flying any safer. Every time the government fails to catch an attempt at terrorism, it punishes the public for its failure by adding to the ritual.
  • American Muslims, a heartening story of success and assimilation, are now harassed and denigrated for merely trying to build houses of worship.
  • Without a warrant, the government can search and seize indefinitely the laptops and other personal electronic devices of anyone entering the country.
  • The Department of Homeland Security now gives terrorism-fighting grants for local police departments across the country to purchase military equipment, such as armored personnel carriers, which is then used against U.S. citizens, mostly to serve drug warrants.
In short American citizens are less free from their government than they were before 9/11.  By the way, Balko is no flaming liberal.  He's works for Reason magazine and has previously worked for Fox News and the Cato Institute.

I'm glad we won't have to worry about Bin Laden anymore, but I'm scared that the damage he has caused and the efforts to prevent him or someone like him from repeating that damage may be permanent and debilitating.

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