The September 11 (9/11) attacks were a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks on the United States on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The perpetrator was the Al-Qaeda terror group under the leadership of the slain Osama Bin Laden. Nineteen al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four US passenger airliners bound for California. Two aircraft, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, which were directed onto the North and Southern towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. A third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, was crushed at the Pentagon offices. The fourth airplane, the United Airlines Flight 93, was directed toward Washington DC, but missed and fell into a field in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Over 2500 civilians, law enforcement officers, and firefighters lost their lives as a direct result of the attacks. Billions worth of property and infrastructure was also damaged during the inferno.
That said, during the attacks, there were some factors which aided in the crisis response and recovery process. Leadership and decision making was vital in ensuring that the process was successful. However, during the onset of the attacks, government officials faced ethical dilemmas regarding decision making. In that line, the primary objective of this essay is to develop an after-action report on the 9/11 incident while considering the government's critique of response to the event. Apart from that, the paper covers some of the pre-existing issues within the political-administrative environment that might have exacerbated the crisis.
Leadership and Decision Making Issues
The Bush administration, facing an enormous amount of pressure to react quickly, decided within hours that a large-scale military reaction was necessary. As covered below, enacting significant policy alternatives after a terrorist attack is no easy matter. It is during this period that the decisions by decision-makers are more likely to be clouded by bias and misinformation. The faster the policy-makers come up with a viable solution, the easier it is to take control of the situation. Terrorism inflicts terror, fear, and hostility on the victims of their actions to lure their targets into making poor decisions (Stewart, 2013). Still, the Bush administration wasted no time in enacting comprehensive policies to counter any other possible attack, yet, most of these decisions were subject to bias.
The Bush Doctrine
Following the first aircraft hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, President Bush decided to address the nation for the third time that day. In the speech, he declared the approach that his administration would adopt in response to the initial attack. He stated, "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." It is this declaration that came to be known as the "Bush Doctrine." This doctrine is significant in that it deviated from the provisions of the existing United Nations laws. The international law barred any nation from using force against another country preemptively. However, the only allowable use of force was only if a country was either being attacked or was in impending danger of an attack. In essence, the doctrine proclaims the rest of the nations to be at once subject of the US criminal justice system and enforces these responsibilities with the intimidation of military intervention.
Biases Regarding the Bush Doctrine
In as much as the Bush Doctrine was significant, it was not carefully thought over with the full contemplation of its likely consequences. At the time of making this decision, Bush's judgment was clouded with anger and outrage. Thus, his choice entailed the bias of making an impulsive decision under extreme time pressure while ignoring the statistical possibility of related incidences. Also, President Bush, who had little skill in matters concerning national security, failed to discuss the issue with the State Department comprehensively. Correspondingly, the president did not consider the barriers that might hinder the success of his proposal.
Congressional Approval of the use Military Intervention
On September 14, 2001, the US Congress voted in favor of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against terrorists. Both members of the Senate and the House of Representatives passed a unanimous vote authorizing the deployment of US forces in Afghanistan. The key driver of the decision was the feeling among the legislators as well as the citizens that there had been a response to the acts of 9/11. The government is always under pressure to act in response to unusual events that trigger strong emotions even if the likelihood of a similar incident occurring is minimal. Hence, at such a time, the response does not consider the statistical paradigm of the risk. Thus, the US Congress gave in to fear, anger, and pressure, and gave the president the power to attack any individual, organization, or country he deemed responsible for the attacks.
Biases Regarding the Congressional Approval of the use of Military Force
The history of the AUMF is riddled with heuristic related factors such as the probability neglect, temporal immediacy, outrage, anger, and planning fallacy. The executives and the legislators often make decisions based on delusional optimism instead of weighing the risks through statistical analysis (Argenti, 2002). Thus, they become so over-confident and optimistic that they fail to gather the useful information necessary to make the best decision. For example, Christopher Shays (R-CT) stated that he was "confident that authorizing force will save lives by preventing future acts of terrorism" (Stewart, 2013). Stewarts (2013) further states that the members of the Congress presumed that the terrorist had the means to successfully carry out another attack unless the US could attack first. Additionally, because the people and the president demanded a response, the members of the House were under temporal pressure to implement an action. As a result, they acted blindly without considering the long-term impacts of the decision. Today, the US is still fighting the war on terror with no viable solution to eradicate terrorism soon. The wars that followed the 9/11 attacks have caused the lives of many soldiers and civilians. Terrorism is still prevalent in most parts of the world, even in the US.
Ethical Dilemmas Faced by the Decision-Makers
The wake of 9/11 attacks presented the decision-makers with tough choices regarding the perpetrator of the event. President Bush had wondered if it was Saddam Hussein who was responsible for the attack since the US was participating in the ongoing Iraqi War at the time. Kean and Hamilton (2005) state that the president informed the 9/11 Commission that he recalled Iraqi support for Palestinian suicide bombers. He then instructed Richard Clarke, the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism to "see if Saddam was responsible for this" (Kean & Hamilton, 2005). However, a memo from Clarke to the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, confirmed no link between Saddam's regime and the September 11 attacks.
Apart from that, a report by the Defense Department for the Camp David briefing pinpointed three priority targets for the initial response. That is al-Qaeda, Taliban, and Iraq. The argument was that Iraq and Taliban were a threat to the security of the US since Saddam was suspected of amassing weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, a decision was made not to invade Iraq. Still, others like Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz continued to push for the invasion of Iraq citing Saddam's praise for the attacks, and that Ramzi Yousef, the suspected mastermind of the 1993 attack on the WTC, was an Iraqi agent. Consequently, President Bush met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on September 20 to discuss issues related to global terrorism. When Blair asked Bush about Iraq, he replied that Iraq was not the immediate problem (Kean & Hamilton, 2005).
Pre-existing Issues that Exacerbated the Crisis
Before the 9/11 attacks, some politically-related factors escalated the situation during the occurrence. For example, on November 30, 1999, Jordanian intelligence intercepted a call between top al-Qaeda officials indicating a series of coordinated attacks on the US soil during the millennium celebrations (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Kean, Hamilton, & Ingram Digital, 2011). The attack was thwarted and the perpetrators sentenced to death. Back in the US, Michael Sheehan, the State Department member of the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) communicated to the Taliban that they would be held responsible for future attacks. After the Taliban failed to respond, White House made an appeal to the Pakistani government under President Musharraf to help in neutralizing the al-Qaeda threat.
Also, in late 1999, the Criminal Investigation Agency (CIA) monitored and examined communications associated with al-Qaeda members from a terrorist camp in the Middle East. From the tapped calls, the CIA found out that three members from the camp were planning to travel to Kuala Lumpur in the early weeks of January 2000. They included Nawaf al Hazmi, Khalid al Mindhar, and another acquaintance only known as Salem. The CIA tracked Nawaf and Khalid up to Bangkok but lost their trail. Soon, the CIA came to understand that the two had acquired US visas and were now in Los Angeles. However, none of this information about them reached FBI, and nothing more was done to track the three until January 2001. This negligence is attributed to lack of coordination between the CIA and the FBI.
After the millennium alert, various security agencies of the US government decided to review their performance. The leadership of the CIA was informed that some terror plots had been thwarted, even though there was the anticipation of preemptive attacks during the millennium. Clarke wrote to the CIA, the FBI, Justice, and the National Security Council personnel come to two primary conclusions. Firstly, the counterterrorism efforts had not done enough to disrupt Osama's terrorist network. Secondly, the so-called sleeper cells were present in the US, as well some as ardent al-Qaeda members. As a result of the conclusions, a decision was made to conduct an after-action review, expecting an adjustment to their budget.
After the September 11 attacks, the US and the rest of the world learned a lot of lessons regarding the occurrence. Firstly, the global war on terror brought the US to the brink of financial collapse. The war in Afghanistan and Iraq alone have cost the national approximately $1.4 trillion worth of taxpayer money (Kettle, LeBlanc, Freeman, Ali, Ratner, Preston, & McNamee, 2011). The lesson learned from this is that it is necessary first to analyze the risk and then carefully assess the resources needed to counter the challenge. Another lesson learned is that overreaction can lead to poor decision making. In as much as the rest of America and the world supported the US campaigns against terror, this action violated the provisions of the International law. For example, the US military engaged in torture and other acts of violence against the suspected terrorists. Others were prisoned for years without being given a proper trial. Lastly, from the 9/11 attacks, we learn that global security and human rights are strategically intertwined. Hence, it is necessary to consider sustainable security strategies that incorporate diplomacy to avoid the loss of innocent lives.
Argenti, P. (2002). Crisis communication. Lessons from 9/11. Harvard Business Review, 80(12), 103-9.
Kettle, M., LeBlanc, A., Freeman, H., Ali, W., Ratner, M., Preston, P., & McNamee, W. (2011). What impact did 9/11 have on Ame...
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