[Commentary ]9/11: The Decennial Review | Harper's Magazine

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.

9/11: The Decennial Review


Dear Readers,

Since Roger D. Hodge created the Weekly Review in 2000, Harper’s Magazine has been remixing the news every seven days in an attempt to identify resonances and ironies, and to highlight the great, the terrible, and the absurd. The entry below, written by Hodge, for the week beginning on September 11, 2001, reflected the flood of information and speculation in the aftermath of the attacks, and proved prescient in many respects:

Terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City and damaged the Pentagon using hijacked commercial airliners. Bodies rained down on the streets, soon followed by tons of concrete, marble, and steel. The Bush Administration abandoned the White House. The President was hiding out in an undisclosed location. In Manhattan, five thousand people were feared dead, including 350 firefighters. Two hundred sixty-five people died in the hijacked airplanes, including one that crashed in Pennsylvania, possibly after passengers struggled with the terrorists. One hundred eighty-eight died at the Pentagon. President Bush pledged “to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act.” Newspapers filled with stories of last-second phone calls and emails from the doomed, saying goodbye and I love you. Osama bin Laden, the famous CIA-trained terrorist, quickly became the prime suspect as federal authorities identified the hijackers, many of whom had been in the United States for years, learning to fly big jets in Florida. All nonmilitary air traffic in the United States was suspended. Major-league baseball and the National Football League cancelled their games. “Make no mistake about it,” the President said in a brief address, “this nation is sad.” Thousands of volunteers rushed to lower Manhattan. Well-meaning citizens created a small disaster by overwhelming rescue workers with truckloads of socks, T-shirts, food. Much was simply thrown away. Entrepreneurs tried to sell water to rescue workers, and confidence men worked the crowds, called up the elderly, seeking donations. War cries rose up from the pundits, the President, members of Congress. Administration officials said they would “end” states that harbor terrorists. Balbir Signh Sodhi, a 49-year-old Sikh, was shot dead at his gas station in Arizona, apparently by someone who wanted to kill a Muslim and was confused by Mr. Sodhi’s turban. Other Sikhs reported threats, firebombings, beatings, as did actual American Muslims. One thousand prostitutes marched in Calcutta to condemn the attacks and kindly offered to donate their blood. The Rev. Jerry Falwell blamed the terrorist attack on the American Civil Liberties Union, abortion providers, gay-rights advocates, and the federal courts. It was because they had turned America away from God. “He lifted the curtain of protection,” Falwell said, “and I believe that if America does not repent and return to a genuine faith and dependence on Him, we may expect more tragedies, unfortunately.”


. . .


Mullah Muhammad Omar, supreme leader of Afghanistan’s Taliban, condemned the Attack on America and claimed that Osama bin Laden was not responsible. “Mullah Omar condemns this act. Mullah Omar says Osama is not responsible,” said a Taliban spokesman. “We have brought peace to this country and we want peace in all countries.” The United States was said to be preparing a massive assault on bin Laden’s positions in Afghanistan. Pakistan agreed to American demands that it allow a multinational force to attack Afghanistan from within its borders, though the military establishment there was divided, with some generals calling for a holy war against the West. The Taliban soon warned it would wage a “reprisal war” on any country that helped the United States in such an attack. Strikes against Iraq were being planned to punish Saddam Hussein for smuggling millions of dollars to Osama bin Laden. Polls showed that most Americans were willing, if necessary, to kill thousands of innocent foreign civilians. Congressional Democrats who previously were opposed to President Bush’s missile-defense scheme, which would have proved utterly useless on September 11, said they were unlikely to oppose the President in this time of national crisis. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer noted that missile defense and the terrorist attacks were unconnected: “The United States still faces risks of many natures. This was a terrorist risk that was carried out in a different form of delivery, within our borders. But that does not mean there are not other threats out there that also need to be addressed, per missile defense.” Congressional leaders declared that spy agencies must be given more freedom to fight terrorism: the freedom to conduct unfettered electronic surveillance, the freedom to hire foreign criminals, the freedom to assassinate the enemy. Ordinary Americans, however, would probably have to give up some of their freedom. “When you are at war,” said Senator Trent Lott, “civil liberties are treated differently.” President Bush warned that this war, this Crusade Against Terrorism, this Operation Noble Eagle, was going to last a long, long time.

Our traffic statistics show that the Weekly’s other purpose — to serve as a genuine, if not exhaustive, record of events — is generally overlooked by readers. When you click on one of the blue links on the web page for a given week, you will arrive at a subject page where you can select an “Events” tab and see how that subject has been treated in the Weekly over time.

As Hodge’s September 18 Weekly suggests, 9/11 very quickly branched out into dozens of different stories — about Islam, the Pentagon, freedom, the Bush Administration, Afghanistan, Iraq, and more. But the most central story since 9/11 has remained the fight against terrorism, a subject that has been tagged nearly 350 times in the Weekly since 9/11. Add Al Qaeda (150 events) and Osama bin Laden (68 events), and you can produce, with careful curation and minimal editing, a quasi-narrative of the “war on terrorism” since 9/11. (The terrible and the absurd are, unsurprisingly, overrepresented.)

Most of the lines from the early years of the Weekly are Roger D. Hodge’s, then later Paul Ford’s, and more recently those of many different Harper’s editors. The dates are of the Weekly itself, or of the reports on which the items were based:


President George W. Bush declared that all the nations of the earth must choose sides in the coming crusade against terrorism, and he promised to attack Afghanistan if its leaders refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the famous terrorist, whom the President has described as “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that the preliminary brand-name of the American military campaign, Operation Infinite Justice, would probably be changed, because it was offensive to Muslims, for whom infinite justice is a divine attribute. Some Christians also found the name offensive. After four concerts of his music were cancelled, Karlheinz Stockhausen, the German avant-garde composer, apologized for describing the attack on the World Trade Center as “the greatest work of art one can imagine . . . the greatest work of art there is in the entire cosmos.” Afghanistan’s leading clerics said they would try to persuade Osama bin Laden to leave their country voluntarily, an offer that was quickly scorned by the White House. There was a report from Islamabad that bin Laden was last seen in a training camp outside Kabul, just before he rode off into the desert on the back of a horse.


Lawmakers were concerned that antiterrorism legislation proposed by the Bush Administration contained language that would define common criminals as terrorists. A new poll of New Yorkers found that one third favored putting “individuals who authorities identify as being sympathetic to terrorist causes” in concentration camps. Financial regulators said there was no evidence that terrorists had tried to profit from the September 11 attack by betting against airline and insurance stocks. Al Gore, still wearing a beard, declared that “George W. Bush is my commander in chief.” Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist, suggested hiring the Russian Mafia to assassinate Osama bin Laden. North Korea issued a statement of support for President Bush’s crusade against terrorism.


Osama bin Laden taunted the United States in a televised statement and said, “America will not live in peace before peace reigns in Palestine, and before all the army of infidels depart the land of Mohammad, peace be upon him.” A crowded airliner sat on a runway in India for three hours because pilots believed there were hijackers in the passenger cabin; passengers believed hijackers were in the cockpit. Anthrax killed a man in Florida; spores were found on the man’s computer keyboard and in the nose of a co-worker at American Media Inc., the publisher of supermarket tabloids.


The major American television networks agreed, out of patriotism, they said, to a request by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice not to broadcast future statements by Osama bin Laden; Rice said she was concerned about secret messages being communicated to “sleeper” terrorists in the United States but did not reveal how she would prevent such evil-doers from viewing the speech via the Internet or satellite television. President Bush was still trying to exploit the terrorist attacks as an excuse to drill for oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. Terrorist Mohamed Atta’s father told reporters that he always thought his son was too girlish. The image of Bert from Sesame Street showed up in an Osama bin Laden poster used by protesters in Pakistan; “This is not at all humorous,” said a spokesman for the Sesame Workshop. Anthrax, the heavy metal band, decided not to change its name even though it was making the band members feel bad.


President Bush, who has taken to using the phrase “the Bush doctrine” to describe his war on terrorism, collected $1 donations from American schoolchildren to help feed starving Afghan refugee children. He praised a young girl from Virginia who raised $45 by feeding chickens. “One way to fight evil is to fight it with kindness and love and compassion,” he said. “Winter arrives early in Afghanistan. It’s cold, really cold, and the children need warm clothing and they need medicines. And thanks to the American children, fewer children in Afghanistan will suffer this winter.” That day, at least one American bomb landed in the Red Cross compound in Kabul, setting several warehouses on fire.


Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, a major antiterrorism bill that will greatly increase the power of the federal government to spy on citizens and potential terrorists. Secretary of Health Tommy Thompson was criticized for mishandling the anthrax attack and substituting spin control for effective public-health strategies. Campbell Gardett, a spokesman for the agency, defended his boss: “Something that’s factual at this moment proves not to be factual in retrospect. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t factual at the time.” President Bush warned that America was “still under attack.” Experts described the anthrax as “fluffy.” The terrorists “have the keys to the kingdom,” warned Al Zelicoff, a doctor who works on biological weapons. “They can do large-scale dissemination when they wish.” In a press release entitled “Pentagon Seeks Ideas on Combating Terrorism,” the United States Department of Defense announced that it “specifically seeks help in combating terrorism, defeating difficult targets, conducting protracted operations in remote areas, and developing countermeasures to weapons of mass destruction.” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warned that Osama bin Laden might get away: “It’s a big world,” he noted.


After the CIA’s “threat matrix” showed a “big and credible” threat, Attorney General John Ashcroft warned Americans that a new attack could be imminent. Manolo Blahnik removed a pair of titanium-heeled sandals from his fall collection because they have 3.5 inch heels that narrow to a point so sharp that they damage floors and could be used as a terrorist weapon on an airplane. Official sources revealed that the CIA’s New York counterterrorism office was destroyed in the attack on the World Trade Center.


Pundits both liberal and conservative were warming to the idea of torturing prisoners in the antiterrorism investigation, which has so far disappointed them.


Vice President Dick Cheney said that suspected terrorists “don’t deserve to be treated as a prisoner of war. They don’t deserve the same guarantees and safeguards that would be used for an American citizen going through the normal judicial process.” Forty-five percent of Americans, according to a new poll, would not object to the use of torture to obtain information about terrorism. Retreating Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan left behind nuclear designs written in Arabic, German, Urdu, and English; foul-smelling liquids; and a recipe for building a nuclear bomb that included detailed descriptions of how TNT can cause plutonium to begin its deadly chain reaction. Schoolchildren in India voted overwhelmingly to name a white tiger cub in the Lucknow Zoo Osama bin Laden; Hitler was another popular choice.


Critics said that Attorney General John Ashcroft’s new antiterrorism tactics were in fact old tactics that the FBI discarded because they did not work. “It is amazing to me that Ashcroft is essentially trying to dismantle the bureau,” a former FBI executive director said. “They don’t know their history and they are not listening to people who do.” Former FBI director William Webster said that long-term surveillance and undercover operations were much more effective than mass arrests and led to 131 prevented terrorist attacks between 1981 and 2000. President Bush again warned the terrorists of the world to watch out and made a foray into lexicography: “If anybody harbors a terrorist, they’re a terrorist. If they fund a terrorist, they’re a terrorist. If they house terrorists, they’re terrorists. I mean, I can’t make it any more clearly to other nations around the world.” American officials declared that they were “on a roll” and that the next targets in the crusade against terrorism were Saddam Hussein, Hamas, and the Hezbollah network in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. American warplanes apparently missed the Tora Bora cave complex, where Osama bin Laden might be hiding, and bombed a nearby village called Gudara; survivors said dozens, possibly hundreds, of people died.


The White House issued a holiday terror-strike warning. John Ashcroft testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had summoned him to explain his dubious anti-terrorism tactics. “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty,” he said, “my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists.” He also accused his critics of giving “ammunition to America’s enemies.” The attorney general went on to defend his refusal to compromise the right of potential terrorists to keep and bear arms.


Hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters made their last stand in Tora Bora, Afghanistan; Osama bin Laden was not found, however, and there were reports that he had escaped to Pakistan.


Passengers subdued a large man who bit an American Airlines stewardess on a flight from Paris to Miami when she tried to stop him from igniting his shoe, which contained a makeshift bomb made from C-4 plastic explosive. Rear Admiral John D. Stufflebeem said that looking for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan was like “searching for fleas on a dog.”


President George W. Bush held a news conference down at the ranch in Crawford, Texas, and again defended his plan to use military courts to try terrorism suspects: “One thing is for certain,” he said, “whatever the procedures are for the military tribunals, our system will be more fair than the system of bin Laden and the Taliban.” A reporter asked the President whether the events of the last year had changed him. “Talk to my wife,” he replied. “I don’t spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, except when I comb my hair.” A Pakistani newspaper reported that Osama bin Laden had died “a peaceful, natural death” near Tora Bora from a “serious lung complication.” An Afghan functionary said that bin Laden had escaped to Pakistan and was under the protection of the extremist Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam party.


It was reported that the patriotic teenager who flew a small airplane into a Tampa, Florida, office building, dedicating his suicide to Osama bin Laden, was taking Accutane, a prescription acne medication that has been linked to suicides. Two men who tried to burn down a Curry in a Hurry restaurant in Salt Lake City in retaliation for the September 11 attacks were sent to prison for committing a hate crime.


CNN aired a video of Osama bin Laden in which he gloated that “freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people and the West in general into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”


There were new rumors that Osama bin Laden is alive.


A report revealed that in the past several months, the United States secretly extradited dozens of terrorism suspects to other countries, such as Egypt and Jordan, where they can be subjected to torture, threats to their families, and other interrogation tactics that are illegal in the U.S. The Pentagon revised the bounty for Osama bin Laden after determining that the average Afghan could not comprehend the magnitude of the previous reward, $25 million, rendering the incentive meaningless. The new prize is “anything the Americans think the Afghans would like to have,” including cash, a flock of sheep, or help in drilling a well. President Bush reflected, “[Bin Laden] is . . . you know, as I mention in my speeches, I do mention the fact that this is a fellow who’s willing to commit youngsters to their death, and he himself tries to hide, if, in fact, he’s hiding at all.”


A Saudi newspaper editor who grew up with Osama bin Laden said that his old friend loved watching American TV shows, particularly “Fury” and “Bonanza.”


The Pentagon was trying to teach bees to sniff out bombs.


A federal judge in New Jersey told the Bush Administration that its policy of holding secret hearings for all immigrants held in connection with the September 11 investigation violates the due process clause of the Constitution; the judge said the government may hold secret hearings but only after showing “specific evidence in an individual case of why it must be secret.” Intelligence officials revealed that the C.I.A. had identified two of the September 11 hijackers as Al Qaeda members in October 2000 but had simply watched as the men traveled to America; the agency did nothing to prevent their entry into the United States or to alert the I.N.S. or the F.B.I. so that the terrorists could be put under surveillance. The F.B.I. seized on the information as the missing link that could have enabled them to prevent the September 11 attacks.


A number of videotapes made by Al Qaeda were discovered; several contained footage of dogs being killed by what appeared to be chemical weapons, and one contained a documentary in which Osama bin Laden called Saddam Hussein a bad Muslim.


Federal authorities placed the United States on “orange alert” and American embassies in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaysia were closed after an Al Qaeda prisoner claimed that terror attacks were scheduled for the September 11 anniversary.


“I am a member of Al Qaeda,” said Richard Reid as he pled guilty to trying to blow up a plane with a bomb he had hidden in his shoe.


President Bush said he thought that Al Qaeda was responsible for the Bali, Indonesia, terror bombing and reemphasized the firmness of his desire to disarm Saddam Hussein.


Colin Powell presented the United Nations Security Council with America’s latest case against Iraq. He played recordings of what he said were intercepted conversations of Iraqis discussing the removal of “forbidden ammo” from weapons sites, and he showed satellite photos in which trucks appeared to be parked next to warehouses. The British government admitted that its new “intelligence” dossier on Iraq, which purported to provide “up-to-date details of Iraq’s network of intelligence and security” and which Colin Powell cited approvingly in his presentation to the United Nations, was largely plagiarized from various published articles, including one by a student that described Iraqi intelligence activities in 1990 and 1991.


Someone in the Bush Administration told a reporter that the president took the extraordinary step of sitting still by himself — “in solitude, undisturbed” — for ten whole minutes before he walked purposefully down a long hall on a red carpet to his first prime-time press conference in more than a year, where he told the world that he was prepared to launch an invasion of Iraq within days. He was described as “a leader impervious to doubt.” Bush said that “as we head into the 21st century, when it comes to our security, we really don’t need anybody’s permission.” Asked about the danger of undermining the authority of the United Nations, Bush replied: “I want to work — I want the United Nations to be effective. It’s important for it to be a robust, capable body. It’s important for its word to mean what they say.” Bush asserted that Saddam Hussein “has trained and financed Al Qaeda-type organizations,” and he said that his job “is to protect America. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. People can ascribe all kind of intentions. I swore to protect and defend the Constitution. That’s what I swore to do. I put my hand on the Bible and took that oath. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.” Bush mentioned the September 11 attacks eight times. Some commentators were surprised by Bush’s odd, passionless tone; there was speculation in the Washington Post that the president was on drugs.


People named “David Nelson” were having a hard time getting on airplanes because that name now appears on a federal anti-terrorism “no fly” list.


Seattle and Chicago staged simulated terrorist attacks.


Maj. Gen. Geoffery Miller, the commander of Camp Delta, the Guantánamo Bay concentration camp for suspected terrorists, announced plans to build a death row and an execution chamber at the camp.


Thailand was in trouble with the Bush Administration for its lukewarm support for the war on terrorism. “It is not enough to be with us in the war on terrorism,” said an official. “You have to trumpet it.”


British scientists were developing “smart” airline seats that will detect potential terrorists by measuring airline passengers’ anxiety levels.


People named “David Nelson” were still having a hard time traveling by air because the name appears on the federal antiterrorism “no-fly” list.


President Bush issued guidelines banning racial profiling except in cases of terrorism and national security.


Attorney General John Ashcroft asked journalists to help convince the American people that the U.S.A. Patriot Act, the antiterrorism law that gave sweeping new powers to federal law enforcement agencies, is really a good thing.


A joint congressional committee released an 850-page report concluding that the September 11 attacks could have been prevented; a 28-page section detailing the Saudi Arabian government’s links to the terrorists was redacted.


President George W. Bush refused to declassify the twenty-eight pages of Congress’s September 11 report that pertained to Saudi Arabia, despite calls to do so by members of Congress and by the Saudi government itself, which said it intended to rebut the contents.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) quickly scuttled an idea to create a futures-trading market for terrorist attacks, after the plan was revealed by opponents in Congress.


President George W. Bush made a televised address to the nation and declared that Iraq was now the “central front” in the war on terrorism. He called for national resolve and national sacrifice and said that he will ask Congress for $87 billion in emergency funds for the occupation. It was noted that this new request, which comes on top of $79 billion already approved, will probably push the current budget deficit up to $600 billion.


It was reported that the federal government is planning to introduce a new airline security system in which all passengers will be assigned a color-coded rating based on their terror-risk quotient.


President Bush took advantage of the September 11 anniversary to call for more surveillance and detention powers.


President Bush admitted that he has “no evidence” that Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11 attacks, though he continued to assert, contrary to all known evidence, that there were “ties” between Hussein and Al Qaeda. Members of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed to kill funding for the Pentagon’s Terrorist Information Awareness program (formerly known as Total Information Awareness) but said parts of the program would be used to spy on foreigners.


President Bush gave a speech before a military crowd in New Hampshire and said that the situation in Iraq is “a lot better than you probably think.” On that day in Iraq, a car bomb attack killed eight policemen, a Spanish diplomat was assassinated, and a U.S. soldier was murdered. Pat Robertson said that the State Department should be blown up with a nuclear bomb.


Egremont, Massachusetts, a town in the Berkshire Mountains, voted to block its roads with sandbags to keep plague-ridden New Yorkers away in the event of a bioterror attack on the city.


Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, insisted that the war on terrorism is not a religious war. FBI agents at the Norfolk, Virginia, airport took anal swabs from a mechanical farting dog to make sure it did not contain explosives.


Israeli customs officials confiscated 400 singing and dancing Osama bin Laden dolls as well as 50 that looked like Saddam Hussein.


Newly released documents revealed that the U.S. Census Bureau gave information on millions of Americans to NASA for a study on the feasibility of mining such data to look for potential terrorists.


Ricin, a powerful poison made from castor beans, was found in the mailroom of Senate majority leader Bill Frist.


U.S. officials said that … some of the inhabitants of the prison camps in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, might never get out.


U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige said that the National Education Association is a “terrorist organization” because it opposes the president’s education policies.


Richard Clarke, the former head of counterterrorism under Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, published a book in which he claims that George W. Bush has done a “terrible job” fighting terrorism. Clarke says that prior to September 11, Bush ignored warnings about the threat from Al Qaeda and that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in the days just after the attacks, wanted to bomb Iraq rather than Afghanistan because Iraq had better bombing targets. Clarke charges that the president made it very clear that he wanted to find a connection between September 11 and Saddam Hussein even though there was no evidence of such a link.


The North American Aerospace Defense Command admitted that in April 2001 it rejected a training scenario in which foreign terrorists were to hijack a commercial airplane and try to crash it into the Pentagon; the scenario was considered unrealistic.


George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, told the 9/11 commission that he received a briefing in August 2001 entitled “Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly” but failed to act on the information.


The House of Representatives approved a bill providing for quick elections if 100 or more members are killed at one time.


It was reported that last year the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control assigned only four employees to work on terrorist cases; in contrast, almost two dozen were investigating violations of the Cuban embargo. Since 1990, the office has opened 93 investigations into terrorist finances and 10,683 relating to Cuba.


It was revealed that in 2002 White House council Alberto Gonzalez wrote a memo arguing that the war on terror “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”


Ricin was found in baby food in Irvine, California.


George W. Bush acknowledged that the war on terror has been “misnamed”; he said that it ought to be called “the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world.”


Senator Ted Kennedy confirmed that he had been placed on the federal “no-fly” list designed to prevent terrorists from boarding commercial aircraft.


A schoolteacher was arrested for carrying a weighted bookmark in her purse as she attempted to board an airplane in Tampa, Florida.


Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, was refused entry to the United States because his name appears on a list of terrorism suspects.


Former head of the CIA George Tenet said it might be necessary to limit access to the Internet because terrorists could use it to attack the United States.


Federal authorities arrested a New Jersey man for menacing a jet with a hand-held laser.


A Swiss court lifted the ban on using “Bin Ladin” as a brand name. The name is registered to Osama bin Laden’s half-brother.


The Department of Homeland Security was preparing for: the detonation of a ten-kiloton nuclear device; a biological attack with aerosolized anthrax; an outbreak of pneumonic plague; a flu pandemic starting in south China; the spraying of a chemical blister agent over a football stadium; an attack on an oil refinery; the explosion of a tank of chlorine; a 7.2-magnitude earthquake; a major hurricane in a metropolitan area; three Cesium-137 dirty bombs going off in three different cities, each contaminating thirty-six city blocks; the detonation of improvised bombs in sports stadiums and emergency rooms; liquid anthrax in ground beef; a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak; and a cyber attack on the nation’s financial infrastructure.


New York City was bracing for a terrorist attack on its subways, possibly by terrorists wielding bomb-filled strollers.


It was reported that the CIA had set up a secret system of prisons, called “black sites,” around the world. Originally intended solely for Al Qaeda leaders, the prisons now detain a number of people whose link to terrorism is less certain. “It’s just a horrible burden,” said an intelligence official.


Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British ambassador to the United States, said that the Iraq war was inspiring acts of terrorism: “God,” he said, “it does not look good.”


It was reported that President George W. Bush had, on April 16, 2004, revealed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair a plan to take “military action” against the headquarters of the Al Jazeera news network in Doha, Qatar. According to a leaked transcript, Blair talked Bush out of attacking the television station. The White House called the report “outlandish and inconceivable,” and Blair called the report a “conspiracy theory.”


At the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, President George W. Bush gave a speech on the Iraq war. “As Iraqi forces grow more capable,” he said, “they’re increasingly taking the lead in the fight against the terrorists.”


Facing criticism over the United States’ network of secret prisons in Europe, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pointed out that intelligence gathered from terrorism suspects has helped prevent attacks in not only the United States but Europe as well. Rice also asserted that the United States does not transport detainees from one country to another for the purpose of torture.


The National Counterterrorism Center announced that there had been over 10,000 terrorist incidents worldwide in 2005 but noted that, because the study methodology had changed, this should not be seen as an increase over the 3,192 terrorist incidents of 2004. “Technically,” said a State Department spokesman, “you could say that there might be a larger number of incidents from one year to another, but it’s comparing apples and oranges.”


The recently-completed “campaign plan for the global war on terrorism” was approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The new plan calls for “special mission units” to be engaged in continuous warfare around the world; such groups will be permitted to invade a country without the approval of the country’s U.S. ambassador.


United States forces succeeded in killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, with two five-hundred-pound bombs that were dropped on a safe house north of Baghdad. Zarqawi reportedly survived the bombing at first and even tried to get away but was strapped to a stretcher, where he died. The U.S. military denied reports that American soldiers had beaten the dying terrorist. “He died while American soldiers were attempting to save his life,” said General George Casey. Al Qaeda promised to respond with “major attacks.”


At least 52 United States agencies were mining data about U.S. citizens, searching for criminals, terrorists, and potential military recruits.


In Iraq, President Jalal Talabani vowed to “terminate terrorism” by 2007.


Under pressure from U.S. officials, authorities in the United Kingdom announced the discovery of a terrorist plot to blow up as many as ten passenger planes in the air, possibly by using explosive liquids hidden inside sports-drink bottles. Twenty-one suspects were arrested. Britain raised its threat level to “critical”; the United States raised its threat level “for all commercial flights flying from the United Kingdom to the United States” to “red.” Carry-on luggage was banned on flights in and out of Heathrow airport, and classical and traditional musicians, who normally keep their fragile instruments with them while traveling, were forced to check them as baggage and risk damage. “These restrictions,” said a cellist, “are a disaster for me.” Bagpipers planning to attend the World Pipe Band Championships were particularly worried about the effects of the ban.


A poll found that Americans were becoming increasingly effective at distinguishing between the war in Iraq and the war on terror.


Montana Senator Conrad Burns said that terrorists “drive taxi cabs in the daytime and kill by night.”


A poll found that New Yorkers were more concerned about terrorist attacks than are people living elsewhere.


Vigilante airline passengers searched the luggage of a university professor they believed to be a terrorist during a layover in Mallorca.


Vice President Dick Cheney denied that “waterboarding,” a banned interrogation method, was the same thing as giving a terrorist detainee a “dunk in water.” He also said his term as “Vice President for Torture” was over.


A plane bound for Texas made an emergency landing after a female passenger lit matches to mask the odor of her fart.


It was revealed that the British Ministry of Defense once hired psychics to find Osama bin Laden.


Britain banned the phrase “war on terror.”


The trial of Rafiq Sabir, a physician charged with conspiring to provide medical care to Al Qaeda, began. Evidence presented in the case included a recording of jazz bassist and martial-arts expert Tarik Shah, a good friend of Sabir’s, teaching an FBI informant how to rip out a throat. “It fills their lungs with blood,” he explained.


New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said people stood a greater chance of being hit by lightning than dying at the hands of a terrorist, and that anyone worried about it should “get a life.”


The U.S. military was developing lethal water guns to combat scuba-equipped terrorists.


The Senate voted to double the bounty on Osama bin Laden to $50 million.


Frances Fragos Townsend, the top homeland security adviser to President Bush, said that a new videotape released by Osama bin Laden showed that the Al Qaeda leader was “virtually impotent.”


The Senate failed to pass a bill restoring habeas corpus to military detainees but voted to denounce MoveOn.org.


A London woman, who says she only called herself the “Lyrical Terrorist” because “it sounded cool,” was convicted under the UK Terrorism Act for posting poems on the Internet praising Osama bin Laden and for owning terrorist manuals. “You have been in many respects,” said the judge, “a complete enigma to me.”


It was revealed that the U.S. Treasury Department met with Iran last month to discuss terrorist financing, and that the CIA wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on a failed counterterrorism plan involving fake companies overseas.


A man who calls himself “Osama bin London” was convicted of running terrorist training camps in England.


The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, concerned about the risk of terrorist activity at the upcoming Twin Cities Republican National Convention, was recruiting spies to infiltrate vegan potluck dinners.


A survey found that Americans feared terrorist attacks less than at any point since September 11, 2001.


Al Qaeda endorsed John McCain for president. “Al Qaeda,” read a message posted to a password-protected website, “will have to support McCain in the coming election so that he continues the failing march of his predecessor, Bush.”


George W. Bush gave his final press conference. “Abu Ghraib was a huge disappointment,” he said. “Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment.” He added that he strongly disagreed “with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged” by his presidency. “I can’t envision myself,” he said of his future, “in a big straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt sitting on a beach somewhere, particularly since I quit drinking.”


Upon taking office, Barack Obama ordered all secret U.S. prisons closed immediately, and the detention center at Guantanamo Bay closed within a year; he stopped the torture of American prisoners; granted access to all U.S. detainees to the International Red Cross; ended the practice by which detainees could be sent to countries where they might be tortured; froze the salaries of all White House officials making more than $100,000; ordered all government agencies to “adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure” regarding Freedom of Information Act requests; ordered all administration appointees to take an ethics pledge; ended a government ban on funding for groups that provide abortion services or counseling abroad; and revoked Executive Order 13233, which placed limits on public access to the records of former presidents.


Seven people were arrested in Ireland and charged with plotting to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who once drew a picture of Mohammed as a dog. The 2009 arrest of an eighth alleged conspirator, Colleen Renee LaRose, from a Philadelphia suburb, was also made public. A petite high-school dropout and former secretary at a gospel radio station in Texas, who had a history of suicidal behavior and public intoxication, LaRose allegedly posted online as “JihadJane.” She had been monitored and ridiculed by amateur anti-terrorist web sleuths since 2008.


The Defense Department announced that the phrase “Global War on Terror” had been changed to “Overseas Contingency Operation.”


For the first time in eighteen years, television networks broadcast images of the coffins of U.S. soldiers killed in combat. The Obama Administration announced plans to appeal a court decision that gives some military prisoners in Afghanistan the right to sue for their release, and a jury of two men, three women, and the studio audience of the Dutch television show Devil’s Advocate determined that Osama Bin Laden was not guilty of the attacks on the World Trade Center.


The Department of Justice released four Office of Legal Counsel memos, issued in 2002 and 2005, to address CIA concerns that interrogation methods used on some high-level Al Qaeda members in custody were torture. Besides waterboarding, stress positions, slapping, and face-grabbing, the memos permitted “walling,” or repeatedly slamming prisoners into fake, flexible walls specially designed to make a loud noise when people are slammed into them; keeping a prisoner awake and shackled upright for more than a week, if “diapers are checked and changed as needed”; and putting a prisoner who is scared of insects in a box with a harmless insect and telling him that the insect had a stinger. President Barack Obama said that those “who acted reasonably and relied upon legal advice from the Department of Justice” would not be prosecuted.


An eight-foot fiberglass Statue of Liberty stolen from a coffee shop in Brooklyn appeared in a YouTube video, where it was beheaded while the words “Death to America” were shown on-screen. “Liberty is the holy masquerade of the decapitated,” explained a vandal in an email, “so we decapitated it in the struggle for a truly free unity.” Osama bin Laden’s son Omar said that his father killed his puppies to test chemical weapons.


Four Uyghurs formerly held at Guantanamo Bay were hired at a golf course in Bermuda to help with preparations for the PGA Grand Slam.


Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other accused September 11 plotters would be tried in federal court in lower Manhattan. “It is fitting that 9/11 suspects face justice near the World Trade Center site,” said New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, adding that the city had sufficient resources to safely hold the trials. “I’m concerned,” said former mayor Rudy Giuliani, “that we no longer believe we’re at war with Islamic terrorists.”


A Senate report revealed that Donald Rumsfeld, by failing to launch a rapid assault on Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora in December 2001, allowed bin Laden to escape capture.


A 23-year-old Nigerian man who was known to American intelligence as a suspected terrorist attempted to detonate explosives sewn into his underwear aboard a Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who claims ties to Al Qaeda in Yemen, was restrained by passengers who heard a popping sound and noticed his lap was on fire.


The Justice Department dropped plans to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other accused September 11 plotters in downtown New York after a security plan was released that put the cost of the trial at hundreds of millions of dollars and predicted that lower Manhattan would need to be shut down with checkpoints and car searches.12 Mayor Nicholas Valentine of Newburgh, New York, offered to host the trial in his upstate town of 40,000 residents. “I look at it almost as a tourist attraction,” Valentine said. “The international attention would put Newburgh on the map.”


Muslim doctors were fitting women with exploding breast implants for use in suicide attacks.


In New York City, a Nissan Pathfinder filled with gasoline, propane, dud firecrackers, alarm clocks, and eight bags of fertilizer failed to explode in Times Square. Janet Napolitano, U.S. secretary of homeland security, characterized the attempted car bombing as a “one-off,” not indicative of an organized terrorist plot, while New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly called it a “sober reminder” that “people want to come here and do us harm.” A “furtive” man in a red shirt was being sought in connection with the bombing, and in Albany, Kevin Parker, an African-American state senator, claimed that he was “fighting the forces of evil,” by which he meant “these long-term, white-supremacist, you know, Republican senators.”


A New York community board overwhelmingly approved a controversial plan for an Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center site.


Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia issued a fatwa telling its fighters to marry the widows of those who have died for their cause, and Omar bin Laden told a British newspaper that “I would love to meet Drew Barrymore. I am single now and she is the most beautiful woman in Hollywood.”


President Obama, during a Ramadan dinner at the White House, expressed his support for the First Amendment. “As a citizen, and as president,” Obama said, “I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.” Representative Peter King (R., N.Y.) said that the president had “caved in to political correctness,” and Newt Gingrich accused Obama of “pandering to radical Islam.” Bryan Fischer, director of issues analysis for the conservative American Family Association, wrote on the organization’s website that there should be “no more mosques, period” in the United States. “This is for one simple reason,” he wrote. “Each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government.”


At the World Trade Center site, bells tolled at 8:46 a.m. to commemorate the exact moment that the first plane struck the north tower, and the names of nearly 3,000 victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks were read. Many victims’ relatives used the occasion to protest plans to build a Muslim community center near the site. “A mosque is built on the site of a winning battle,” said Nick Chiarchiaro, whose wife and niece worked in the north tower. “They are symbols of conquest.”


Mail bombs sent from Yemen and addressed to a Chicago synagogue were intercepted by law enforcement officials in Britain and Dubai acting on a last minute tip, by way of Saudi intelligence, from Jaber al-Faifi, a “repentant” Al Qaeda operative and former Guantanamo Bay detainee. The bombs, which appear to have been intended to explode mid-air in transatlantic cargo flights, had already been on four planes, two of them carrying passengers, before they were discovered. A Nebraska man was arrested for waterboarding his girlfriend.


After seven years of litigation, more than 10,000 firefighters, police officers, and other workers who sued New York City over health damages they suffered during the September 11 recovery efforts approved a settlement worth at least $625 million, with individual payouts ranging from $3,250 to $1.8 million, depending on the severity of the illness. In Inspire, its online magazine, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula declared its commitment to a strategy “of a thousand cuts,” in which it would continue to force the U.S. to spend billions of dollars to guard against inexpensive, small-scale attacks such as the mailing of parcel bombs from Yemen to America last month. “It is such a good bargain for us to spread fear amongst the enemy and keep him on his toes in exchange of a few months of work and a few thousand bucks.”


Researchers determined that Al-Qaeda is profitable.


Classified U.S. military documents about prisoners at Guantánamo, obtained by WikiLeaks and shared with U.S. and British newspapers, revealed that one detainee, a senior Al Qaeda member, was “so dedicated to jihad that he reportedly received injections to promote impotence and recommended the injections to others so more time could be spent on jihad (rather than being distracted by women).”


Osama bin Laden was reported to have been killed during a joint mission by U.S. Navy SEALs and CIA agents in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Crowds gathered to celebrate in front of the White House, and at Times Square and the World Trade Center site in New York. “I don’t know if it will make us safer,” said one reveler, “but it definitely sends a message.” “If this means there is one less death in the future, then I’m glad for that,” said Harry Waizer, who was in the center’s north tower on 9/11, “but I just can’t find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama bin Laden.”


President Barack Obama announced that the government would not release pictures of Osama bin Laden’s mutilated corpse, saying, “We don’t need to spike the football.” The Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all photos and video shot during the raid on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where bin Laden was hiding, and reporters discovered cabbage, potatoes, and marijuana growing around the property. Sarah Palin tweeted that President Obama was “pussy-footing around,” and the White House released footage found in the compound showing bin Laden watching himself on television, as well as propaganda-video outtakes. A Kuwaiti newspaper published a document purporting to be bin Laden’s will, in which he apologized to his children for not spending enough time with them, commanded them not to join Al Qaeda, and ordered his four wives not to remarry. Bin Laden’s twenty-nine-year-old widow told Pakistani investigators the two had not left their house in five years, and Native Americans criticized the U.S. military for giving bin Laden the code name Geronimo, after the Apache warrior whose fabled ability to walk without leaving footprints allowed him to evade capture. The Dalai Lama suggested that the assassination was justified. “Forgiveness doesn’t mean forget what happened,” His Holiness said. “If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures.” After researchers in Texas simulated schizophrenia in a computer, the machine spontaneously took responsibility for a terrorist bombing.

More from