George W. Bush is sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States after the closest election in American history, which was eventually decided by the Supreme Court.1 Bush wins the presidency after a controversial recount and despite losing the popular vote to Democratic nominee Al Gore.2
Nineteen al-Qaeda terrorists hijack four airplanes and purposely crash two into the World Trade Center in New York and one into the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C. After the final plane turns toward Washington, some of the crew members and passengers attempt to retake control; the plane crashes near Shanksville, Pa. Almost 3,000 people die in the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.3
In retaliation for the September 11 attacks, the United States and a coalition force launch Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, which, under Taliban control, had provided a safe haven for Osama bin Laden while he and other al-Qaeda leaders plotted attacks against the Western world. President Bush declares a war on terrorism and vows to hold states responsible for harboring terrorist organizations.4
The Office of Homeland Security, later to become the Department of Homeland Security, is established.
President Bush signs into law the USA Patriot Act, which greatly expands domestic law enforcement capacity to conduct surveillance and wiretaps, increases presidential powers during a terrorist attack and tightens federal oversight of financial activities. Concerns soon arise over restriction of civil liberties.
The New York Times and the PBS program “Frontline” report that an Iraqi defector, an army general, claims that the Iraqi military trained Arab fighters to hijack airplanes. These claims could not be substantiated and one of the defectors is later exposed by Mother Jones to be using a false identity.
American citizen-turned-Taliban-soldier John Walker Lindh is captured in Afghanistan.5
Bush states in an interview with Newsweek that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is “evil.”
An interim government is put in place in Afghanistan.
The Taliban surrender the city of Kandahar and effectively collapse. Al-Qaeda leaders continue to hide out in the mountains, however, and bin Laden is tracked to the Tora Bora caves.
After a two-week assault on the caves led by Afghan soldiers, Bin Laden escapes.
Judith Miller reports in The New York Times that an Iraqi defector claimed that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction. “An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.”6 The defector, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al Haideri, was considered unreliable by the CIA and had failed a CIA polygraph test.
President Bush refuses to give prisoner of war protection to terror detainees being held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan. Nine days later, he is decapitated.
In his State of the Union address, President Bush describes Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the “axis of evil.”7
The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research publishes a report entitled, “Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq Is Unlikely.” This agrees with the findings of former ambassador Joe Wilson that a supposed memorandum of understanding between Niger and Iraq showing a sale of yellowcake uranium to Iraq does not exist.
In a speech in Nashville, Vice President Dick Cheney declares “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”8
Judith Miller and Michael Gordon report in The New York Times that “Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. … The diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq's nuclear program. …”9 This information was seriously doubted by experts inside the federal government; many believed it was inaccurate and that the tubes were more likely intended for small artillery rockets.
President Bush declares, “You can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein when you talk about the war on terror.” This link is questioned by many experts who point out that as a secularist, Saddam would be hated and considered an infidel by bin Laden and al-Qaeda.10
Citing senior Bush administration officials, Jonathan Landay reports that many intelligence experts have doubts over the administration’s justifications for war with Iraq. “The White House and the Pentagon, these officials said, are pressuring intelligence analysts to highlight information that supports Bush’s Iraq policy and suppress information and analysis that might undercut congressional, public or international support for war.” The article is written for Knight-Ridder newspapers and is not widely publicized.11
The 9/11 Commission is established by Congress. The mandate of the bipartisan panel is to prepare an account of the Sept. 11 attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks, and to make recommendations to prevent future attacks.
Dana Priest and Barton Gellman report in The Washington Post on the abuse of prisoners suspected of being al-Qaeda operatives or Taliban commanders. The article quotes Cofer Black, then head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center, “There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. … After 9/11 the gloves come off.” The article also describes the practice of “extraordinary rendition” in which terrorism suspects are handed over to foreign intelligence services where they have no access to the legal process. An official states to the newspaper, “We don’t kick the (expletive) out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the (expletive) out of them.”12
In his State of the Union address, President Bush states, “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”13 This claim had already been proved false or at the least extremely exaggerated by both intelligence agencies and former ambassador Joe Wilson, who had personally investigated it.
In an attempt to garner international support, Secretary of State Colin Powell delivers a passionate speech to the United Nations in which he declares that Saddam has biological weapons and desires to produce nuclear weapons. Powell states that al-Qaeda “continues to have a deep interest in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. As with the story of Zarqawi [Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist leader later killed in a U.S. bombing attack] and his network, I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons” to al-Qaeda.14 Many of Powell’s claims rely heavily on statements made by Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative captured by American forces. However, a year earlier, a Defense Intelligence Agency report declared that it was probable that al-Libi “was intentionally misleading the debriefers.”15 Powell also described mobile chemical weapons labs, basing his description on accounts from a CIA informant, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, known until recently only by the code name “Curveball.” Eight years later al-Janabi admits to the Guardian and in a “60 Minutes” interview that he fabricated his story.16
The Center for Public Integrity obtains and posts online a secret, draft copy of legislation being quietly developed within the Justice Department – the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, also known as the Patriot II Act – and some Americans worry that the government is using the guise of antiterrorism to infringe on personal freedoms.17
The defense contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), then a subsidiary of Halliburton, which had been formerly led by Dick Cheney, is awarded a no-bid contract to fight oil well fires and make emergency repairs. It is later revealed that Halliburton’s role was much broader and that the contract could yield close to a billion dollars. The contract is apparently awarded in March but may have been agreed to as early as October 2002.22
The U.S., along with the U.K. and Spain, announce that they will not try to take a resolution authorizing the use of force on Iraq to a vote in the U.N. Security Council. They instead reserve the right to act on their own.18
The day before the U.S. invades Iraq, an article titled, “Bush Clings to Dubious Allegations about Iraq,” by Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank, runs in The Washington Post on page A13.19
In an undertaking named Operation Iraqi Freedom, the United States invades Iraq. Its stated purposes are to disarm Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), end Saddam Hussein’s regime and free the Iraqi people from a disreputable totalitarian.20 Roughly five years after the initial invasion, the Center for Public Integrity reports that senior Bush administration officials made “935 false statements” in the two years after Sept. 11, 2001, about the extent of the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. In retrospect, the center found, the Iraqi regime never possessed WMD and until 2003 did not have any viable ties to al-Qaeda.21
President Bush delivers a speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln prematurely declaring the end to major combat operations in Iraq. In the background, a triumphant banner declares “Mission Accomplished.”23
An op-ed by former ambassador Joseph Wilson in The New York Times, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” rebuffs President Bush’s claim in his State of the Union address that Iraq had sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.24
One week after Wilson’s op-ed is published, conservative columnist Robert Novak reveals in a syndicated column that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA operative.25 The revelation effectively ends Plame’s career as a covert operative and risks her security and that of those who worked with her. The Justice Department launches an investigation, which ultimately determines that the vice president’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was one of the most senior members of the Bush administration responsible for leaking the information.26
The Center for Public Integrity releases a major report, “Windfalls of War,” revealing which American companies have received the most taxpayer money from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Vice President Cheney’s former company Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR received by far the most lucrative federal contracts.27
Sgt. Joseph M. Darby, an Army reservist, gives photos documenting abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command.
In an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke accuses the Bush administration of ignoring the growing threat of terrorism before 9/11 and focusing too much on Iraq instead of al-Qaeda after the attacks.28
CBS’ “60 Minutes II” airs a story about U.S. soldiers abusing and torturing Iraqi inmates housed at Abu Ghraib.29 Two days later, The New Yorker publishes an article by Seymour Hersh about sadistic and criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib.30
The Supreme Court rules that detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay have the right to challenge their detention in federal court.31
The 9/11 Commission issues its final report. Much of the blame for the attacks is placed on the CIA and FBI for failing to anticipate or prevent them. The commission confirms a 2002 CBS report that the title of the president’s August 6, 2001, intelligence briefing was “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” 32 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had testified before the commission that the briefing did not warn of attacks in the U.S., adding, “It was historical information based on old reporting.”
President Bush is re-elected, defeating the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Bush is sworn in for a second term.
Elections are held in Iraq.
Alberto Gonzalez is sworn in as the new U.S. attorney general.
Time magazine reports that Mohammed al-Qahtani, the so-called 20th Sept. 11 hijacker, was tortured during his time at Guantanamo Bay.34 Four years later, a top Bush administration official confirms that Qahtani was abused,35 adding further doubts over the incarceration and interrogation methods being used by the United States.
The Washington Post reports that a high-level contracting official, Bunnatine H. Greenhouse, who had publicly criticized the Pentagon’s decision to award Halliburton a no-bid contract, was removed from her job. She subsequently sues and on July 25, 2011, a U.S. District Court judge awards her $970,000 for lost wages, compensatory damages and attorney fees.36
Dana Priest reports in The Washington Post that the CIA is hiding and interrogating al-Qaeda terror suspects in a secret prison system in as many as eight countries.33 Considering the abuses at Abu Ghraib, many are concerned about possible torture and abuse that could be occurring at these secret prisons.
ames Risen and Eric Lichtblau report in The New York Times that President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to conduct surveillance on U.S. citizens. The newspaper was asked repeatedly by the White House not to publish the story, and, in fact, the article’s publication was delayed by the Times for approximately a year.
President Bush acknowledges the existence of secret CIA prisons outside the United States. He also states, “I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world: The United States does not torture. It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it, and I will not authorize it.”37
Saddam Hussein is executed. He had been convicted of crimes against humanity by an Iraqi tribunal in the deaths of 148 Iraqi Shi’a in 1982, in retaliation for an assassination attempt against him.
President Bush announces a “troop surge” in Iraq, and the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops.38
Jane Mayer reports in The New Yorker on the CIA’s “black sites” and the abuse and psychological torture suffered by terror suspects. While the methods often get suspects to talk, the article cites CIA officials as doubtful of the reliability of the information obtained. The article quotes an expert on the CIA’s practices in coercing suspects to talk as saying, “after the Cold War we put away those tools. There was bipartisan reform. We backed away from those dark days. Then, under the pressure of the war on terror, they didn’t just bring back the old psychological techniques – they perfected them.”39
The New York Times reports that despite the criticism and dubious legality of the methods being used to question terror suspects, President Bush had signed an executive order in July 2006 authorizing the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”40
An FBI investigation of the military contractor Blackwater and the shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians finds that at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified and “violated deadly-force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq.”41
The CIA admits that in 2005 it destroyed two tapes documenting the interrogation of prisoners, including suspected al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah. The New York Times reports that part of the reason they were destroyed was that “officers were concerned that tapes documenting controversial interrogation methods could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy.”42
David Barstow of The New York Times reports that the Pentagon had quietly recruited and was paying 75 retired military officers to be “independent” radio and television analysts. They were secretly coached about how to make the public case for war in Iraq on the air, and many of them also had significant, undisclosed financial ties to defense companies that were benefiting from the policies they were “analyzing.” The story is based on 8,000 pages of Department of Defense records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.43
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is elected president, garnering 365 electoral votes to 173 for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Obama wins several states – such as Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana – once thought to be Republican strongholds.
David Barstow reports in The New York Times that retired general Barry R. McCaffrey may have used his job as a military analyst for NBC News to promote a view of the Iraq war that was advantageous both to the defense contractors he consulted for and the Pentagon. This and his other related articles win Barstow the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in 2009.44
On a visit to Baghdad by President Bush, an Iraqi journalist hurls his shoe, an act of extreme disrespect in Iraq, at the president during a news conference.45
Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president and as the first African American president in American history. He strives to stabilize the economy and pass a comprehensive health care package while simultaneously de-escalating the war in Iraq and boosting troop levels in Afghanistan by 30,000 service members.46
President Obama issues three executive orders. The first is an order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, the second bans torture and requires the Army Field Manual be used for all interrogations, and the third orders creation of an interagency task force to review all detention and interrogation procedures.47 The president later signs an order barring the use of funds to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo to the United States or other foreign countries.48 As of the publication of this timeline, terror suspects are still being held there.
Halliburton agrees to pay a $559 million settlement to the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The settlement stems from charges filed against the company alleging that its former subsidiary KBR violated anti-bribery laws by paying kickbacks to Nigerian officials.49
The U.S. officially hands over to Iraqi forces formal control of security in urban areas of the country.50
President Obama announces that he has approved a surge of 30,000 troops to be sent to Afghanistan, adding to the 17,000 additional troops sent nine months earlier.51
The count of deceased U.S. servicemen and women in Iraq stands at 4,369; in Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom claims 1,009 American lives.52
WikiLeaks, an online organization devoted to publishing secret government and corporate information, posts a video that appears to show the U.S. Army bombing unarmed Iraqi civilians.53 The footage sparks outrage in the U.S., although some viewers question whether it was edited in a manipulative way.54
Bloomberg News reports that contractor KBR has again been awarded a no-bid contract by the Army, this one worth as much as $568 million. The news comes on the same day that the Justice Department announces it intends to pursue another lawsuit against the company accusing it of taking kickbacks.55
Federal officials arrest Pfc. Bradley Manning.56 He is charged with giving WikiLeaks hundreds of classified documents. It is later revealed that military jailers in Quantico, Va., force Manning to sleep naked, a move his lawyer describes as “punitive.”57
The Washington Post begins publishing “Top Secret America,” a four-part series of articles by Dana Priest and William Arkin that reveals that nearly a decade after 9/11, roughly 854,000 people hold top secret clearances and that 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies “work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.” The series is expanded into a book and PBS “Frontline” documentary.59
WikiLeaks releases 77,000 classified documents concerning the war in Afghanistan; some of the documents include accounts of civilian casualties.60 61 WikiLeaks collaborates with The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel to publish the documents.
The last U.S. combat troops withdraw from Iraq, leaving around 50,000 troops to serve in advisory roles.58
WikiLeaks releases nearly 400,000 more classified documents, this time documenting the war in Iraq. According to the BBC, “The ‘war logs’ suggest evidence of torture was ignored, and detail the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians.”62
Julian Assange, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, is jailed in London on charges that he committed “rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion” while in Sweden. Sweden requests his extradition.63 Assange is released on $315,000 bail nine days later.64
Congress votes to impose strict restrictions on how and where detainees are transferred out of Guantanamo Bay.65
After Congress blocks plans to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the U.S. to be tried, the Obama administration abandons its plans to close the detention center and approves plans to resume military tribunals.66
In a late night speech, President Obama announces that Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the attacks on 9/11, was killed by Navy SEALs during a raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.67
*Emmy Award winner
**Peabody Award winner
^Pulitzer Prize winner
#Pulitzer Prize finalist