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9 Ways 9/11 Changed U.S. Politics Forever

In January 2002, the Bush administration established Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp in Cuba as a place where terrorism suspects could be detained indefinitely without due process and interrogated through torture, outside the bounds of law. Importantly, the men held in Guantánamo were not called “prisoners,” but “detainees.” “’Prisoner’ evokes legal standing,” says Greenberg. And legal standing means legal rights, which, by design, don’t exist in Guantánamo.

Since 2002, nearly 800 men have passed through Guantánamo. Nearly all of them have been held without charge or trial. Bush’s defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously declared that the government only sent “the worst of the worst” to Guantánamo, but this turned out to be largely untrue. According to the ACLU, “The vast majority of detainees had been sold to U.S. forces for bounty by Pakistani and Afghan officials, militia, and warlords.” 

During this period, the use of torture against suspected terrorists became official policy. Euphemistically known as “enhanced interrogation,” this program was designed by the highest officials in the Bush administration, with the explicit support of the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense (DOD), and the CIA. “The idea that torture would be considered legal by the Department of Justice was unthinkable before 9/11 and should have been unthinkable after,” says Greenberg. Instead, waterboarding, stress positions, extreme temperatures, psychological abuse, and more became routine.

[BROKEN LINK?] In 2009, the Senate issued a 6,900 page [investigative report](, of which only the 500-page executive summary has been released, detailing the extensive use of torture. Yet Guantánamo is still open (Trump reversed a closure order in his first month in office) and 39 prisoners remain in the camp. Some have been there for almost two decades. President Biden is working to close the camp, but its existence has done irrevocable damage to those individuals in Guantánamo and to America’s reputation.

9. Accountability went out the window.

WASHINGTON DC JANUARY 12 U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before...
Drew Angerer

One of the lingering questions on the left since Trump departed office is who — and how — individuals within the Trump administration will be held accountable for, say, the riots at the U.S. Capitol. For some, it seems unbelievable that administration officials could enable such brazen acts without receiving any form of punishment. But this lack of accountability can be traced back to the post-9/11 era.

“Torture is wrong, indefinite detention is wrong, assassination is wrong,” states Greenberg. “And yet nobody has been held accountable. We ask ourselves how we got to where we are today and it’s like, ‘Hello!’” Not a single high-ranking official from the Bush or Obama administration, the DOJ, the DOD, or the CIA has been held responsible for implementing policy outside the bounds of the Constitution or international law. This has established a norm that those with power — even in a functioning democracy — are not liable for their actions.

Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: How the U.S. Military Used Armed Force to Take Over the World 

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