This week marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. President Obama marked the event by making an unannounced trip to Afghanistan to sign a treaty with President Karzai establishing post-war relationship. And today, the United States Military Academy released select documents that were seized in the raid that killed Bin Laden and translated them into English.

The death of Osama Bin Laden was, at the very least, a symbolic victory in the “war on terror.” The title of the New York Times’ piece on the recovered documents was “Recovered Documents Show a Divided Al Qaeda.” The story seems to indicate that Al Qaeda is not as strong as when it attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.

But are we safer now than we were 10 years ago as a result of our policies and two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? And what about the White House’s update to its policies towards those detained at Guantanamo Bay, the military prison President Obama pledged to close within a year of taking office?

Taking Stock of the War on Terror

Human rights groups denounced the Bush Administration’s use of torture in post-9/11 investigations and interrogations of suspected terrorists. Today, as the world learned more about the inner workings of Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden’s last months, the ACLU released a statement, as part of their long struggle for transparency and fair judicial practices, urging the U.S. not to censor 9/11 defendants’ accounts of torture during the course of their trials.

Six years ago WITNESS produced the video “Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition, Torture and Disappearances in the War on Terror.” The video uncovered the practice of extraordinary rendition, in practice since the Clinton administration, of abducting foreign nationals for interrogation and detention in secret overseas prisons, often in countries which are notorious for torturing prisoners. An excerpt is embedded here:

I asked Gillian Caldwell,executive producer of “Outlawed” (and our former executive director) a couple of questions related to the impact the U.S.’s “war on terror.”

Matisse: How has global opinion of the U.S. shifted in the wake of the “war on terror”?


The approach that the U.S. government has taken, which is so clearly in violation of international human rights standards and, is also detrimental to our national security, is unfathomable to me. It’s no secret that we’ve lost huge amounts of respect all over the world as a result of our actions in the “war on terror.” Prior to this, we were considered, at least by some, as a beacon of human rights, as a land of opportunity and freedom.

Matisse: In your opinion, what would be a more constructive policy for the U.S.?


What will ultimately stop breeding “terrorists” and help us win the so called “war on terror” is our foreign policy and an economic policy which invests in communities, diminishes the gap between rich and poor and gives people possibility, opportunity, and access.

It is my hope that we will see an end to the practice of extraordinary rendition and the end of the use of torture in investigations, and an investment in fair trials for all of those in U.S. custody on terrorism charges.

Reckoning with Torture and Preventing Its Future Use

The PEN American Center and the ACLU launched a report and participatory documentary film called Reckoning With Torture: Memos and Testimonies from the “War on Terror” which we featured in this guest blog from Larry Siems, the lead author of the report. The participatory documentary asks people to read from declassified documents, legal memos, and sworn statements related to the U.S. “war on terror” policies.

Here’s the invite from director Doug Liman (of The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith) to participate and here’s how to record your own scene.

The purpose of the project, in Mr. Liman’s words, is to “set the record straight. If we can get enough people to hear these stories, then maybe we can prevent our government from torturing anyone again.”

Join the Conversation

What do you think is the impact of Osama Bin Laden’s death? What do you think is the best foreign policy approach for the U.S. to combat terrorism? What role can human rights groups and citizens play in preventing future use of torture in investigations, whether or not related to terrorism?


One thought on “Osama Bin Laden is Dead but the “War on Terror” Lives On

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