By killing and injuring civilians more than the armed personnel of any state, the Al Qaeda, ISIS and other such fanatical groups may be legally described as murderers or with some rhetorical flourish mini-terrorists in relation to the real mega-terrorism that US imperialism has engaged in to react to them with the use of far more powerful weapons. The term “global war on terror” has been used by the US and its NATO allies to engage in the worst forms of terrorism, such as wars of aggression, the killing and wounding of millions of civilians and the destruction of social infrastructure in various countries.

Despite the use of aerial bombs and other powerful weapons, the US has deliberately kept low the estimates of the number of people that were killed in the prolonged full-scale wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq and in lesser military operations elsewhere. But the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Physicians for Global Survival have given total estimates ranging from 1.3 million to 2 million casualties.

A Brown University study in 2019 places the number of indirect deaths caused by the War on Terror at 3.1 million or more. A 2021 report from Brown University’s “Costs of War” project concluded that over 38 million people have been displaced by the wars fought by the United States since 2001. In comparison, US military casualties were only 10,960 killed and 249,000 wounded in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 and 4,430 killed and 31,994 wounded in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The US Department of Veterans Affairs diagnosed more than 200,000 American veterans with PTSD from 2001 onward.

The US and its coalition partners in the global war on terror have suffered only a few casualties in comparison to the casualties on the side of their armed adversaries and the civilian population in the countries attacked. But they cannot claim victory because the armed resistance that gains popular support can continue indefinitely and has prevented the US from gaining stable economic territory for profitable extraction of raw materials, exploitation of cheap labor, investment of surplus capital and trade of surplus goods and so on.

And the money cost of the war have risen so high as to create unsustainable public debt bubble which is about to burst in the US alongside the corporate and household debt bubbles. For two decades, it looked like the US economy was favored with the US government making large orders for weaponry from the military industrial complex. And indeed, such corporations as Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grunnman flourished. But the US national treasury and the whole US economy proved to be big losers. Thus, the necessary US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq because of the unbearable costs.

According to the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute, the US stands to spend on the War on Terror $10.2 trillion: $8 trillion for operations between 2001 and 2022 plus $2.2 trillion in future costs of veterans’ care over the next 30 years. The costs of operations have reached $2.313 trillion for Afghanistan, $2.058 trillion for Iraq and Syria, and $355 billion for other war zones. The remainder was for the Department of Homeland Security ($1.1 trillion).

The heavy self-defeating costs of the US-instigated global war on terror are not only the military, financial and the immeasurable costs to US casualties and their families, but also the aggravated ill-repute of the US as aggressor and mega-terrorist and the further degradation of the US social, political and legal system. It has adopted policies, laws and mechanisms for inflicting acts of terrorism on US citizens and other peoples of the world. It has raised whole generations of US youth torn between the superficial glamor and good pay for participating in push-button wars and the painful realization that the US state terrorism eventually devours its own children.

On the pretext of preventing further attack on the US similar to those of 9/11 attacks, the Bush Administration adopted measures to prejudice the democratic rights of American citizens in the name of national security. It created the US Department of Homeland Security in November 2002. It obtained the USA PATRIOT Act of October 2001 to drastically reduce restrictions on law enforcement agencies’ ability to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records; and on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States.

The act expanded the authority of the Secretary of the Treasury to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities; and broadens the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts. The act also expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, thus enlarging the number of activities to which the USA PATRIOT Act’s expanded law enforcement powers could be applied, including the tracking of the finances and monitoring of global telecommunication usage.

On 30 July 2003, American Civil Liberties Union filed a formal complaint against Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the FBI to violate a citizen’s rights under the First and Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, and right to due process by granting the government the right to search a person’s business, book store, and library records in a terrorist investigation, without disclosing to the individual that records were being searched.

Following the September 11 attacks, the US government has brazenly engaged in acts of terrorism such as the illegal and forced “rendition” or abduction of suspects from one country to another and to so-called black sites for the purpose of torture, interrogation and indefinite detention.

The United Nations considers the act of abducting the citizens of another country a crime against humanity. In July 2014 the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the Polish government for collaborating with the CIA in so-called extraordinary rendition and ordered it to pay restitution to the men who had been abducted, taken to a CIA black site in Poland for interrogation and torture.

The CIA has also maintained black sites in the European Union in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention Against Torture. They were closed down only after they were reported and exposed in 2005 by the Washington Post, Human Rights Watch and by the European Parliament. But in violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, the US government has prohibited the mass media from reporting the black sites and the “floating prisons” or prison ships maintained by the CIA to interrogate, torture and dump the victims to the sea.

To this day, the most notorious black site of the US is its Guantanamo detention camp in gross violation of the international law on human rights, despite worldwide protests of the people and human rights organizations.The Guantanamo Bay naval base itself, created through a very unequal treaty forced by the US in 1934, is a long-festering sore on Cuban sovereignty and the most glaring symbol of the US’ monstrous violation of international norms of conduct.


By Prof. Jose Maria Sison

ILPS Chairperson Emeritus