Politics Analysis

The hypocrisy and destruction of the War on Terror

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The so-called War on Terror has resulted in countless deaths and destruction in the name of "freedom" (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

What was touted as a means to the end of terrorism has led to the death and torture of innocents and a violation of global human rights, writes Bilal Cleland.

JUST 20 YEARS ago, hundreds of thousands of Australian demonstrated against the impending invasion of Iraq, part of the War on Terror.

Across the world, many millions demonstrated, vainly attempting to prevent the disaster.

Mass murder ensued.

Our rulers emphasised the importance of bringing democracy to the oppressed people of Iraq.

The result was a regime as wedded to democracy and human rights as that of Saddam Hussein but more compliant with the imperial powers.

Millions died, Abu Ghraib established the U.S. reputation for barbarism, Saddam was hanged after a public trial and the country was handed to the Shia majority, replacing the Sunni ruling establishment imposed after the Sykes-Picot plot and its aftermath.

Human rights downgraded

Here in Australia, under the Howard L-NP Government, our adherence to human rights was emphasised by the establishment of offshore concentration camps for asylum seekers fleeing conflicts in which we were involved.

Lies about “children overboard” were just part of the vilification aimed at Muslim asylum seekers, scum who would apparently drown their own children in their efforts to get onto the Australian welfare system.

The dreadful reputation this has given Australia has not been eradicated even with the fall of the Morrison L-NP Government.

As reported in The Saturday Paper:

‘The former Coalition Government ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in late 2017, under then attorney-general George Brandis, just months after Australia was elected to serve on the UN’s Human Rights Council.’

Five years later, it has not been implemented.

We are about to be placed on a list of countries that have broken a fundamental obligation to the UN human rights treaty:

Australia would be the first OECD nation on this list, which features 14 countries including Nauru, Nigeria, South Sudan and the Philippines.


The U.S. has also not signed OPCAT.

The War on Terror, supposedly in defence of democracy and human rights, delivered invasions, Guantanamo Bay torture and internment, Abu Ghraib torture and rape, the Taliban in control of Afghanistan, the rise of Daesh out of Iraq and into Syria, years of vilification of the Muslim communities in the West as well as the Middle East and the incitement of the White supremacists to attacks like those in Christchurch, NZ.

The terrible cost

In its 2023 report, How Death Outlives War, Brown University points out that:

In addition to the many, many people who have died in combat during the post-9/11 wars, more still have died in these same warzones from the indirect, reverberating effects of war.


There are many reverberating consequences of the post-9/11 wars that have led to indirect deaths and they often overlap, but four underappreciated primary ones that this study delineates are:


  • economic collapse, loss of livelihood, and food insecurity;
  • destruction of public services and health infrastructure;
  • environmental contamination; and
  • reverberating trauma and violence.

Post-9/11 wars have cost 4.5 to 4.6 million deaths and terrible child malnutrition statistics in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, estimated at 7.6 million.

Particularly shocking is the conclusion:

‘The post-9/11 wars have occurred in countries whose populations are largely Black and brown, and are often waged by countries with histories of White supremacism and Islamophobia.’

Al Jazeera has an excellent report, What's been the true impact of the so-called “War on Terror”? on Inside Story, 19 May 2023.

When historians look back on this period in our history, it will be seen, along with such developments as AUKUS and the “China Threat”, as the last gasps of the declining old imperial powers of the UK and the U.S.

Australia, under its conservative rule, still seeking the protection of colonial masters but compliant to perhaps the wrong ones, will be but a sad footnote.

The Indigenous Voice to Parliament is a late attempt to redress past abuse but the fact that it is so challenged by the Right-wing reactionary rump could even deny Australia that small victory over its past and its compliance with present evil.

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. You can follow Bilal on Twitter @BilalCleland.

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