Change Of The Concept Of Sovereignty: 9/11 Attack, War On Terror, And Guantanamo Bay

Throughout history, there have been episodes with such an impactful magnitude that they have been able to change the course of history forever. For example, the assasination of Archduke Ferdinand II in 1914 was the incident which led to the outbreak of the First World War, a cataclysmic event which, among other tragic consequences, was responsible for the death of millions of people. An additional example regards another assasination: that of US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy who was shot dead in 1963. Kennedy’s death is regarded by many as the most tragically iconic episode in US history, marking the end of a prosperous and radiant period which the Kennedy era was. What famous historical episodes such as Archduke Ferdinand’s and President Kennedy’s assassinations have in common with one another is their enormous sociological impact, as well as their ability to influence politics and decision making processes. One of, if not the most, iconic and impactful episode in human history is the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York, where two hijacked commercial airplanes flew into, and later on completely destroyed, two financial buildings known as the “Twin Towers”. The attack’s aftermath counted approximately 3,000 deaths and tens of thousands of injured; what happened that September morning of 2001 will forever change America and its people. The political actions and decisions the US will take after the September 11 tragedy are going to startle the international political scene, as well as re-define the concept of sovereignty which will have a critical impact on the notion of human rights.

The concept of sovereignty goes to dictate that a state, within its delimited territorial borders, possesses full and indisputable authority over its decision making processes. The canons of sovereignty also pronounce that states are independent from one another, and that in the international political sphere they possess independent authority, meaning that they are free and able to express their own opinion about a certain matter which will count when decisions to solve an international matter are taken (Jackson, 2007, p. 6). However, after the September 11 attacks, the concept of sovereignty will forever be impacted and changed by the “Responsibility To Protect Act” issued in 2001 by the International Commision on Intervention and State Sovereignty, also known as ICISS. The main idea behind the R2P Act is that states must sometimes disregard the very principles of sovereignty in order to solve problems that otherwise wouldn't be solved. The first regulation brought forward by the R2P Act and supported by the ICISS goes to dictate that every state has a fundamental responsibility to protect its population that lives within its borders. In the case of America and the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration considered it vital to intervene militarily in Afghanistan with the intent to eradicate the terrorist group Al-Qaeda infamously responsible, among other things, for the twin towers incident that killed thousands of people. One of the main justifications given by the Bush administration in regard to the invasion of Afghanistan was the imperative responsibility to protect American citizens from the great threat that Al-Qaeda is. This was one of the earliest examples of America redefining the concept of sovereignty and introducing new principals that to many seem peculiar due to the fact that some of them go against what the whole idea of sovereignty is. Another salient regulation introduced by the R2P Act is the responsibility to protect those people who are suffering because of war and oppressive aggression, enforcing the idea that it is utterly shameful to stand and do nothing when tragic events are happening around the world. This amendment of the R2P Act was revolutionary; in its essence it implied that sometimes, in order to ensure sovereignty, it is necessary to go against what the whole idea of sovereignty is naturally about, enforcing the belief that principles of human rights are more important than the principles of sovereignty. The 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US pictures perfectly the usage of these two regulations implemented by the R2P Act: the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein was seen as a threat to international peace due, among other things, to its intent to create weapons of mass destruction. American intervention was also justified by the fact that the Saddam Hussein regime was an extremely oppressive one in the regards of Iraqi citizens who were even killed if they did not condone with the regime. Intervention was deemed imperative and by all means necessary by the US, explaining that innocent Iraqi people had to be freed from the hands of the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. Once again, this goes to show that in a post 9/11 era the concept of sovereignty had a new and different meaning, being more connected with the concept of “responsibility to protect” and the principles of human rights.

The post 9/11 US mission with the intent to eradicate terrorist groups around the world, also known as the “war on terror”, has been the subject of discussion of countless political philosophers and academics who have all sympathized with the notion that the war on terror’s redefining of the concept of sovereignty is a subject of disorganized hypocrisy. Disorganized hypocrisy (in the case of the US) is a condition in which a certain state one-sidedly decides to, or at least attempts to change the canons of a certain concept, in this case sovereignty, by introducing new regulations essentially aimed at reinforcing the concept of sovereignty but which actually go against the very principles of sovereignt. The invasion of Iraq is a perfect example of an event of the war on terror in which disorganized hypocrisy is abundantly present. There are many academics who believe the invasion of Iraq was a necessary action, like John Lewis Gaddis, who praises the importance of the points of view of the Bush administration on the matter, emphasizing those ideas which advocate for the eradication of tyrannical regimes like the one of Saddam Hussein and those ideas which support the concept of preventive action against subjects or organizations deemed a threat to international peace. Just like there are many academics who agree with the idea of invading Iraq, there are many others who strongly disagree; The accusations of these academics are especially in regard to the concept of disorganized hypocrisy. They claim that the actions undertaken by the US during the invasion of Iraq, as well as during the invasion of Afghanistan, go against their own regulations on sovereignty and human rights. These academics also give particular emphasis to the fact that when the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan it did so without first consulting with the UN Congress, thus breaking international laws equal to every state and creating international turmoil. Some academics also condemn the US and its hegemonic status, claiming that the US, due to its position as a superpower of the world, believes it can obstruct the law whenever it deems it necessary and whenever it does not comply with its beliefs and ideas.

One of the most criticized aspect of the US “war on terror” is the implementation of detention camps, famously known as “black sites”, around the world. Among the most famous ones there is the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq where it has been proven that prisoners were tortured and kept in inhuman conditions, by the orders of the Bush administration who particularly encouraged the use of torture not only in the hope to gather insights about Al-Qaeda and other terrorist related information, but also as a form of revenge for what happened on September 9, 2001 (Blakeley, 2009, p. 21). Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp: perhaps the most infamous US black site used during the “war on terror”, and one of the very few that are still in use to this day, has a reputation for being among the most oppressive and hostile detention centers operated by the US. The Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp is a facility which is part of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base located in the southeastern part of the island of Cuba. The Base sits upon a 45 sq mi piece of territory which the US has been renting from the Cuban government for a reportedly $4,000 per year, however, it has been proven that the last time the US paid the due sum was in 1959. The Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp opened in 2002 and since then it has been holding prisoners who are connected with Al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations, however, it has been documented that a great majority of the prisoners are held captive just because they are believed to be connected to terrorist organizations, not knowing if they one hundred percent if they truly are or not. However, one thing is for sure, since the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp has been opened, it has been proof of the activitties if state terrorism carried out by the government of the United States. The main subject of criticism is based on the fact that within Guantanamo Bay neither US national or international laws are respected, with prisoners being held without the right to a trial first and without being charged with a specific crime. To this day the Guantanamo Bay black site continues to receive international complaints for the fact that it is still being used more than a decade after the beginning of the war on terror, even though in 2009 the then President of the United States Barack Obama promised to close it once and for all. The Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp is an accurate example of state terrorism carried out by the US government in relation to the declaration of the all-out war on terror by the Bush administration. Guantanamo Bay is also an example of the extent to which the US has gone in order to enforce its idea of sovereignty, often through violating fundamental human rights. The fact that Guantanamo Bay is on Cuba’s territory and, especially the fact that the US government has not even been paying the official 4,000 $ lease to the Cuban government which was naturally established, is another example of disorganized hypocrisy carried out by the US which advocates against state terrorism but then goes on to carry out activtities of state terrorism itself.

It has been made clear that, throughout the “war on terror” period, fundamental principles of sovereignty and human rights have been broken and neglected by the government of the United States. However, some academics argue that it is extremely hard, nearly impossible, to carry out counter-terrorism responses and to respect human rights at the same time; international terrorism is a phenomenon which by nature does not allow harmony between the concepts of international law and human rights (Menon, 2014, p. 16). Counter-terrorism is a form of counter-attack in response to a terrorist attack; counter-attacking implies the use of violence and any use of violence does not comply with the principles of human rights. Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, academics have stated that security and human rights have never been in such opposition with one another; there are some academics who believe and encourage the idea that the notion of human rights is actually detrimental when fighting against terrorism due to the fact that it does not comply with the notion of security when confronting terrorists (Menon, 2014, p. 17). On the other hand, there are those academics who strongly believe that human rights are unbreakable principles which should never be neglected. These academics believe that any counter-terrorism action should comply within the means and regulations of human rights. However, it has been made clear that taking into consideration human rights in a scenario of counter-terrorism response is an incredibily difficult thing to do. When people try to balance security with liberty they are also trying to balance the harmony between what’s political and what’s legal, between what’s subjective and what’s collective, as well as between political sovereignty and limitation of power. These are all aspects of life which are extremely difficult to achieve in harmony altogether, and that is why it is extremely difficult, almost impossible, to carry out responses of counter-terrorism and at the same time abide to the canons of human rights. However difficult (sometimes nearly impossible) it might be to perfectly calibrate security with human rights, it is not completely impossible; in a perfect scenario where security and human rights harmoniously comply with one another all the possible factors must be taken into consideration, that in the case of a trade-off between security and human rights, people are ready to sacrifice a piece of their liberty for the greater good that security offers. The notion of security ties in with the notion of sovereignty, and like security, sovereignty can affect the principles of human rights and vice versa. In a scenario in which human rights affect sovereignty, there is more emphasis on the individual and his/her ability to affect the ways in which the state governs its citizens, highlighting the importance of the notion of popular sovereignty, as well as the rights people have in front of the state. In order for a state to be able to display its sovereign authority, it first has to grant its citizens liberty, security and political rights as a result to strengthen collective political participation which is a fundamental aspect of a strong and prosperous state (Zaum, 2007, p. 11). The aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in a way strengthened collective political participation in such a moment of sadness and grief; US citizens wanted revenge for what happened to their people in the accident and they supported the government in their actions of counter-terrorism which included the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the US government, through their actions of counter-terrorism, have made it extremely confusing for people to understand what their intentions are when it comes to sovereingty and human rights: first, the US advocates for non-intervention and recognizes the legitimacy of supreme sovereignty as a fundamental aspect of civil society, then proceeds to invade countries like Iraq and Afghanistan without consulting the UN congress first. Likewise, the US claims that international law must at all times be respected as it is the only way to ensure harmony and long-lasting peace within the international political sphere; however, the US then goes to carry out activities of state terrorism which violate fundamental human rights. The implementation of secret detention camps all over the world and the deliberate use of torture along with other inhuman methods to inflict violence are outrageous and clamorous examples of violations of international laws and violations of human rights by the US. The game of disorganized hypocrisy that the US is playing serves as a divergence for its illegal state activities, as well as a method to implement its international hegemonic power.

To conclude, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack that took place in New York changed the concept of sovereignty forever: the idea of “the responsibility to protect” was introduced, thus legitimizing intervention in other countries, something that was never heard before within the discipline of sovereignty. The after 9/11 relationship between sovereignty and human rights is quite confusing: it can better be understood within the terms of disorganized hypocrisy where the fundamental principles of sovereignty are still legitimized but so is intervention. When it comes to human rights and its relationship with sovereignty, from one side there have been reforms which have empowered the legitimacy of human rights within the sovereign world, while from the other side countries like the USA and the UK are still operating black sites all over the world where prisoners are tortured and detained in dreadful conditions. For example, the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp is still an active black site, despite the countless complaints from international human rights organizations who argue that what the US is doing with Guantanamo Bay is extremely illegal in regards to international law and especially in regards to the respect of human rights. The idea of sovereignty today has become a very controversial subject of discussion, however, the idea itself does not need to be forsaken, instead it has to be re-defined and legitimized in a way that it is accepted and trusted by everyone, also in a way that the power to govern a state and a population is allowed and controlled by international law. The debate on sovereignty and human rights is an extremely difficult one to approach due to the fact that different people have different beliefs on the matter; however, states need to come to an agreement with one another in order to set clear regulations on the matter of sovereignty and human rights, otherwise conflicts may arise and they will put international peace in jeopardy.    

16 December 2021
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now