Armed Hostilities

United States War on Terror

Table of Contents
  1. Introduction
  2. War on Afghanistan and Somalia
  3. War on Iraq
  4. Areas affected
  5. Human rights issues
  6. Torture and counter-terrorism (Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib)
  7. Conclusion
  8. References


The September 11th terrorist act was the most disastrous and unforgettable event in the whole world. “Hijackers seized U.S. jets and crashed them into American symbols of the military and capitalism shaking the entire nation. As soon as it was evident the destruction was a terrorist’s act, everything changed” (Lisbon, 2005). Long-term changes were made in America’s defense and economy. America then declared war against terrorism in several nations starting with Afghanistan. Many allies of America thought the war was done in a just way but on the contrary humanitarian issues were not addressed. Before the attack security in the whole world was at ease as far as terrorism was concerned.

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The September 11 act of terrorism signified that like any other nation America was prone to terrorist attacks. The only difference was, it was more subjected to these attacks than any other country in the world except Israel. This terrorism act made America start a total declaration of war against terrorism. As said by Simons (2002) “the totalitarian force of radical fundamentalist Islam, like the forces of Nazism and communism that preceded it, has not disappeared. This was briefly defanged in its most important lair in Afghanistan, but even there it has not been extinguished”. In Simon’s article he continued explaining that Saudi Arabia, “the chief exporter of this murderous ideology, remains protected by the West. Terrorists masterminded by Osama are currently laboring to manufacture weapons of mass destruction that his allies in the Islamist terrorist network would love to use especially on America”. Suicide bombing has also not ceased in Israel, in fact after September 11 these cases have multiplied. As explained by Lisbon (2005) “Anti-Semitism, now as in the past the kernel of the totalitarian mind, has metastasized like cancer throughout the Middle East and back into its ancient home in Europe”. These factors made America wedge war on terror in a revengeful manner going against fundamental principles of human rights. Therefore this paper is going to focus on how the September 11 attack changed the fight against terrorism with reference to human rights. The paper will then conclude by giving an insight on measures to be taken not only to eradicate this vice but in a humanitarian way.

War on Afghanistan and Somalia

After September 11 America declared total war on terrorism in order to root out these elements and safeguard its people. America employed various counter-terrorism measures and strategies to combat this crime. It identified terrorist lairs plus countries hosting and supporting these elements then started attacking. On 7th Oct 2001, America attacked Afghanistan being backed by Britain to get Osama Bin Laden believed to be behind the Sept 11 act and defuse the Taliban regime. This was the beginning of the war on terrorism bringing with it humanitarian crises. “Special Forces entered the country and joined the Afghan Northern Alliance with the aim of rounding up the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and finding Osama Bin Laden. Many of those arrested ended up at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba” (Michaels, 2002). Later in the same month, the president passed a controversial Patriot Act. He (Bush) said it was essential to improve security in the USA while opponents believed it intruded with individual freedom.

There are no confirmed statistics on figures of casualties and people killed in the war on terror whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or other nations. A humanitarian crisis realized in Afghanistan was huge in magnitude. According to statistics by Michael “between 3,100 and 3,600 civilians were directly killed by U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom bombing and Special Forces attacks between October 2001 and June 2003. This estimate counts only “impact deaths” deaths that occurred in the immediate aftermath of war”. This does not include people who died due to injuries or by the indirect aftermath of the war.

Carlyss’s (2006) article on Project and Defense Alternatives approximated that “at least 4,200-4,500 civilians were killed by mid-January 2002 as a result of the U.S. war and airstrikes, both directly or casualties of the aerial bombing campaign, and indirectly in the resulting humanitarian crisis”.

Carl’s initial study on, “Operation Enduring Freedom shows high rates of civilian bomb casualties”, also reveals that, “at least 1,000-1,300 civilians were directly killed in the aerial bombing campaign in just the 3 months from October 2001 to January 2002. He found it impossible to provide upper-end estimates to direct civilian casualties from the Operation”. The operation involved the use of cluster bombs which were seen to cause adverse effects. The Western press was the only one employed to use hard numbers. This was done putting in effect “reduction factors” to the Afghanistan national details for the approximation to be slashed by as far as ¾ of the whole.

In another study, by (Michaels, 2002) “a critical appraisal of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Afghanistan war”, he approximates that “at least 3,200 more Afghans died by mid-January 2002, of starvation, exposure, associated illnesses, or injury sustained while in flight from war zones, as a result of the U.S. war and airstrikes”.

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In about the same figure an article by Carlyss (2006) established that “between 1,067 and 1,201 direct civilian deaths were reported by news organizations during the five months from October 7, 2001, to February 28, 2002”. This article did not include deaths of civilians which were not accounted for by America and Britain. Other details provided by Carlyss (2006) of The Guardian give a figure of about twenty thousand to fifty thousand people who died as a result of the war in Afghanistan by spring of 2002.

In Somalia, a study done by Elman Peace and Human Rights Group early in 2008 confirmed that over six thousand five hundred Somali’s died while over ten thousand others were wounded. The displaced added up to two million mostly from the capital city this was during the 2007 operation.

War on Iraq

As brought out by Duffys (2005) after a considerably long tie of UN diplomacy in the attempt to avoid the Gulf War, assault on Iraq started on 20th March 2003. The reason for the war was that Iraq which was not friendly to America was harboring terrorists together with weapons of mass destruction which they had refused to surrender (Wardlaw, 2002). The obvious reason thou was that the weapons of mass destruction (especially nuclear weapons) could be used on American’s. American bombers began airstrikes on Iraq’s capital city while British soldiers attacked Basra “after a large bipartisan majority authorizing president bush to use force to disarm Iraq” (Cassel, 2006).

In Iraq, alone research had it that over one million and fifty thousand people lost their lives with double this number in casualties. All this is courtesy of the so-called war against terrorism triggered by the 9/11 attack According to Barry’s (2009) article, Opinion Research Business (ORB) poll conducted August 12–19, 2007 estimated 1,033,000 violent deaths due to the Iraq War. The range given was 946,000 to 1,120,000 deaths. A nationally representative sample of approximately 2,000 Iraqi adults answered whether any members of their household were killed due to the Iraq War. 22% of the respondents had lost one or more household members. ORB reported that 48% died from a gunshot wound, 20% from the impact of a car bomb, 9% from aerial bombardment, 6% as a result of an accident and 6% from another blast/ordnance. Between 392,979 and 942,636 estimated Iraqi (655,000 with a confidence interval of 95%), civilian and combatant, according to the second Lancet survey of mortality. A minimum of 62,570 civilian deaths were reported in the mass media up to 28 April 2007 according to the Iraq Body Count project. 4400 U.S. military men died. 31,809 wounded in action, of which 13,946 were unable to return to duty within 72 hours (Barry, 2009).

Areas affected

In November 2004 American’s re-elected president Bush, this was attributed mainly to matters of security with most Americans believing Bush had the capacity to combat terror. After swearing-in, “George Bush’s approval rating dipped below that of his predecessor, Bill Clinton. But Bush was seen to have handled the 9/11 crisis well and his rating soared to 86% in 2001 before falling below 50% as the Iraq war lengthened” (Linds, 2009). The fear was that Bush will continue to embrace war-like tactics in the so-called war against terrorism. This made Americans feel insecure as they believed it would provoke hate and more revengeful missions. With matters of security being given top priority by President Bush, America’s budget on defense raised every year since Sept 11 by about 50 billion US dollars each year. Previously this was not the case as the budget on defense was steady (Ricks, 2007). This was seen to really affect America’s economy, with more deployments, ferrying of supplies and military equipment.

Another area that was immensely affected was America’s air service. Because of the nature of this attack flights within America were completely grounded. Incoming flights on the other hand were rerouted to Canada. Although the services resumed after a few weeks the full establishment of this has taken a number of years (Richardson, 2006).

“Reports of Muslims being targeted because of their religion were virtually unheard of before 9/11, being about 30 incidents a year. After the attack, incidents have leveled off at about 150 yearly (2005 figures are not yet available)” (Begley 2005). On the other hand, Americans were not spared either as they were targeted by extremists. Tourism was also affected since many tourist destinations were branded as no-go zone areas. The mastermind of these terrorist acts and chief of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network Osama was not in any listed priorities, that’s prior to the September 11 attack. Once more he has gone low on that list because the attempts to find him have been unsuccessful (Mathews, 2008).

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Human rights issues

In late 2003, Amnesty International started calling for answerability on illegitimate actions that were committed when fighting the war against terrorism. This was done to bring truth to light, to make sure justice prevailed and to maintain the rule of law. The infringements done by American soldiers in Guantánamo and all places they wedged war, were against the principles of human rights. The acts comprised of “forced disappearance, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (in some cases resulting in death in custody), prolonged incommunicado detention as well as other forms of arbitrary and indefinite detention, secret international transfers of detainees without due process (extraordinary rendition)” (Human Rights Watch, 2005).

A statement produced by Amnesty International shows that;

It believes justice is best served by prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave violations of international law, such as torture and enforced disappearance, in independent and impartial civilian courts, rather than military tribunals. Military tribunals should in any event never be used in respect of anyone who is not a member of the armed forces of a state, accused of crimes in an international armed conflict.

Torture and counter-terrorism (Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib)

Most of the prisoners of war were detained in Guantanamo bay prisons. The first prisoners were brought into the prisons in 2002 prior to Bush’s assertion that they were not protected by the Geneva Convention. Violations against human rights here involved forced feeding on prisoners who were involved in a hunger strike. Big tubes were used in forcefully feeding the inmates. These were shoved into the prisoner’s stomachs through the nose; the same tube was also used on several other inmates (Danchev, 2006). The U.S. always extended invitations by UN reporters to the prisons and those who visited were not permitted to perform Interviews. Other violations brought out by Amnesty International (2006) included sexual methods (female officials against male detainees). The prisoners from the war on terror at Guantanamo bay were subjected to extensive torture. The torture they were subjected to include the following; psychological torture (this involved intimidation to the detainees with threats of executing their families), deprivation of sense (blindfolding and ear muffing), starving of prisoners and depriving them water, depriving sleep (harassment and bright lighting), water torturing, making detainees stand for over 8 hours, putting prisoners in tiny hot rooms that lack ventilation, forced transvestitism, nudity and homosexuality (Ramsay, 2006).

As explained by Dayas (2004) “America admitted that it authorized harsh interrogation techniques which amount to torture as a counter-terrorism measure, together with the abusing of detainees at U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention facility and Abu Ghraib detention facility in Iraq”, this is also supported by the Intelligence and Security Committee (2005). These actions on “war on terror” detainees deprived them off all Geneva protections. Dayas continues by stating that, “the issue of torture, degrading and inhuman treatment of ‘enemy combatants’ in the Global War on Terror undertaken by the United States since 9/11 violating domestic Federal laws and international covenants was not ratified by the United Nations”. These actions were brought to light in 2005 by human rights activists. In the group’s complete research presented to the United Nations, there was an urge for America to maintain globally established practices on rights of individuals? This is brought out by (Dayas, 2004) as follows;

For many years the U.S. Government has been among the most forceful advocates pointing out the major human rights abuses of other governments, especially where acts of torture were concerned, and working hard to prevent these types of abuses from occurring. Even today the U.S. is playing a major role in pointing out the emerging pattern and policy of genocide in Sudan, and seeking to prevent abuses there and in many other countries where persecution and violations of fundamental international human rights standards are taking place. For the U.S to remain credible in these efforts, and to continue to play a major role in promoting and protecting human rights worldwide, then it must use special care not to fall prey to the same types of actions, and the same justifications, that torturers, dictators and persecutors in so many other nations have used in the past, and which until now have properly been rejected. Nevertheless, America’s overseas diplomats posted to countries that are facing homegrown terrorism which the United States never considered to have any connections whatsoever to its own Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) constantly advocate political solutions ignoring the imminent danger to those countries’ national security, territorial integrity and sovereignty (Dayas, 2004).


The September 11 terrorist attack implied that “radical Islam intends to attack and destroy principles of the Enlightenment that underpin the American experiment of freedom of religion, conscience, toleration and secularism. The appropriate response to these kinds of attacks is therefore not grief, remembrance, sadness or reflection” (Simons, 2002). Even if all of these have their own places, the most appropriate measure is the setting up of anti-terrorism units to collaborate with the Islamic nations, the UN and other international bodies to find terrorists and root out terrorism activities. The units should not act as if they are carrying out revenge but to fight terrorism according to human rights laws. So far Amnesty International has instructed Obama’s administration to put up a commission to look into the violations of human rights in the war against terror. This commission is to provide a “comprehensive report on, policies and actions related to the detention, treatment, and transfer of detainees in the so-called “war on terror,” and the consequences of those actions, and to make recommendations for future policy in this area” (Roys, 2008).

Therefore as shown in this paper, the September 11 act confirmed to the world that America is extremely prone to a destructive force that does not come out to battle in honor. The delusion of being exceptional and safe was devastated leaving no room for being neutral. These terror forces which are now making deadlier weapons hide and only re-surface when they have a mission to accomplish. Rooting out these forces is what presents the biggest challenge in the current world. The main reason for this challenge is that the forces are “like a virus than a host, infecting and capturing nation-states, like Afghanistan, and then moving on to others. So actions by the US, UN, governing bodies and other countries need to be established to pre-empt it in time” (Ryans, 2003). This war on terrorism should be carried with globally accepted practices in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Palestine and other countries, where these forces are either hosted or have illegally found habitation. If actions are not taken on time it will be late to contain these forces.

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Amnesty International (2006). Guantánamo Bay – a Human Rights scandal. London: Amnesty International.

Barry, S., (2009). Opinion Research on the Effects of War on Iraq. The humanitarian crisis in Iraq. The Washington Post, p. A3.

Begley, S. (2005). Hate Crime on Muslims. Newsweek, 131, 56-58.

Carlyss, M. (2006). A humanitarian crisis on the war on terrorism. International Journal on Terrorism 24 (3) 64-87

Cassel, D. (2006). Washington’s “War against Terrorism” and Human Rights: The View from Abroad. Human Rights: America Bar Association, 33(1), 1-9.

Danchev, A. (2006). Accomplice: America on Torture and Terrorism. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 8 (4), 587–601.

Dayas, S. (2004). The degradation of human rights? In J. Strawson, (Ed.), Rights After Ground Zero (pp. 3-17). London: Glasshouse Press.

Duffys, H. (2005). The “war on terror” and the Framework of International Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Human Rights Watch (2005). Still at Risk: Diplomatic Assurances No Safeguard Against Torture. Report 17(4). New York: Human Rights Watch.

Intelligence and Security Committee (2005). The Handling of Detainees by the UK Intelligence Personnel in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. Cm 6469. London: TSO

Linds, M., (2009). Bush and War in Iraq. Bush’s approval rating. War on terrorism. Sydney, SN: Jameson and Sons Australia Ltd.

Lisbon, E., (2005). New Perspectives on Terrorism. International Journal on Terrorism 24(2), 64-69.

Mathews, L. (2008). Terrorist’s rating. Attlee Foundation Lecture. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Michaels, S. (2002). The Superpowers and International Terrorism. War in Afghanistan. Way forward. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Ramsay, M. (2006). Can the Torture of Terrorist Suspects be justified? International Journal of Human Rights, 10(2), 103-119.

Richardson, l. (2006). America’s Air Service After 9/11. The New York Times, PP. C1, C3.

Ricks, Y. (2007). America’s spending in the war against Terrorism. The economy and the war against terror Journal 26 (3), 213-227

Roys, C. (2008). The United States, Report on the treatment of the Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. International Journal of Human Rights, 7(2),

Ryans, JG., (2003). Terrorism: New Threats of the Terrorism Network (2nd Ed.).South Melbourne VIC: Oxford University Press.

Simons, A. (2002). Yes, America Has Changed. New Republic Journal of Terrorism 28 (3), 251-268.

Wardlaw, G. (2002). The Military Option. In Political Terrorism: Theory, tactics, and Counter-measures (Second Edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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