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September 19, 2011

Ten lessons of 9/11

The commemorative ceremonies that are planned for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 massacre are those of pathos for the victims and their families, of praise for both the pursuit of the supporters of the attackers and the performance of first responders and US soldiers abroad.

Flags and martial music will punctuate the combined atmosphere of sorrow and aggressive defiance to those terrorists who would threaten the United States. These events will be moments of respectful silence and some expressions of rage and ferocity.

But many Americans might also want to pause to recognise, or unlearn, those reactions and overreactions to 9/11 that have harmed their country. How, in this forward-looking manner, can we respect the day of 9/11?

Here are some suggestions:

- Do not exaggerate the adversaries' strength in order to produce a climate of hysteria that results in the repression of civil liberties, embodied in the overwrought USA Patriot Act, and immense long-term damage to the economy. Consider the massive diversion of trillions of dollars from domestic civilian needs because of the huge expansion and misspending in military and security budgets.

- Do not allow leaders to lie and exaggerate, as when they told us there were funded, suicidal and hateful Al-Qaeda cells all over the US. They were never there. Actually, the wholesale invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan became recruiting grounds for more Al-Qaeda branches there and in other countries, a fact acknowledged by both then US army chief of staff George Casey and then CIA director Porter Goss.

- Do not create a climate of fear or monopolise a partisan definition of patriotism in order to silence dissent from other political parties, the citizenry or the unfairly arrested or harassed.

- Do not tolerate presidents who violate the Constitution and start wars without congressional deliberation and a declaration of war (article 1, section 8, clause 11). Do not let them disobey federal statutes and international treaties in pursuing unlawful, misdirected quicksand wars, as in Iraq, that produce deaths, destruction and debts that undermine the country's national interests.

- Do not have Congress write a blank cheque, outside the normal appropriations committee hearing process, for the huge budgetary demands from the executive branch for funding of the Iraq, Afghan- Pakistan and other undeclared wars.

- Do not allow the executive branch to engage in unconstitutional and illegal recurrent practices such as wiretapping and other methods of surveillance of Americans without judicial approval, in addition to arrests without charge, indefinite imprisonment, torture and denial of habeas corpus and other due process rights established by the Founding Fathers. Congress has passed no reforms to check the continuing exercise of unchecked dictatorial presidential power.

- Do not let the government hide the horrors of war from the people by prohibiting photographs of US casualties, operating cruel and secret prisons, harassing reporters, and refusing to count civilian casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is too much intimidation of returning soldiers, so many of whom are harmed for life, from telling the people what they experienced and think about these wars and their heavy outsourcing to profiteering corporations.

- Do not allow leaders to violate American principles with torture or other war crimes prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. Nor should top military brass or members of the executive branch be above the law and escape accountability.

- Do not allow the Congress to abdicate or transfer its own constitutional authorities to the president. We, the people of the United States, have not exercised our civic duties enough to make our representatives in Congress fulfil their obligations under the constitution to decide whether to go to war and act as a watchdog of the president's conduct. US involvement in the Libyan war was decided and funded by President Barack Obama without congressional approval.

- Call out those in the news media who become the mouthpieces of the president and his departments involved in these hostilities. What more is the military really doing in Libya, Somalia and Yemen as compared with the official line and under what legal authority?

In addition to these ten points, demand that news media outlets seek the inconvenient facts, wherever they might lead, unlike during the pre-Iraq invasion period.

The celebrated American theologian-philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr aptly wrote decades ago that "to the end of history, social orders will probably destroy themselves in the effort to prove that they are indestructible."

All empires eventually eat away at and devour themselves.

The writer is a consumer advocate and three-time US presidential candidate.

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