Transcript

America After 9/11

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NEWSREADER:

If you’re just joining us, you probably already know the World Trade Center towers, the Twin Towers, the New York landmarks, have collapsed and are gone.

NARRATOR:

9/11.

NEWSREADER:

This is huge. This is huge.

NARRATOR:

America attacked.

REPORTER:

Apparently we're all—

NEWSREADER:

Claire, let me interrupt you for a second. We now have fire confirmed at the Pentagon.

NARRATOR:

In Washington, D.C., fear.

NEWSREADER:

The State Department has now been evacuated. The White House has been evacuated. The Capitol has been evacuated.

SECURITY GUARD:

This is just not the place to be.

NARRATOR:

The U.S. Capitol a target.

JELANI COBB, The New Yorker:

The American public was really not prepared for the idea of an attack on American soil.

NEWSREADER:

It is surrealistic, but at the same time it is one of the darkest days in America.

JELANI COBB:

When 9/11 happened I think it was very easy for people to understand, even at that moment, that we were embarking upon a new era in American history.

U.S. CONGRESS [singing]:

—stand beside her and guide her, through the night with the light from above. From the mountains—

NARRATOR:

By evening, the nation’s leaders began to react.

U.S. CONGRESS [singing]:

—to the oceans white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home. God bless America—

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, The Washington Post, 1994-2015:

It is almost impossible to imagine that sort of scene occurring today, with members from both sides of the aisle coming together in song, putting country over party at a moment of crisis.

U.S. CONGRESS [singing]:

God bless America, my home sweet home.

EVAN OSNOS, Chicago Tribune, 1999-2008:

There are prominent Republicans and prominent Democrats, and it was a real gesture of the sense that we were going to find something within ourselves that would rise above it and would pull us together.

DEL. STACEY PLASKETT, D-U.S. Virgin Islands:

After Sept. 11, we all are willing to go to war as one against this yet-to-be-seen enemy that is so far away from us.

ALI SOUFAN, FBI Special Agent, 1997-2005:

We had a great sense of mission at the time. The American people had a great sense of patriotism. We experienced domestic unity like we never experienced before.

NARRATOR:

But in America’s response to 9/11, through three presidencies, a chain of unintended consequences: growing anger, mistrust, division and ultimately the Capitol again a target.

CROWD [chanting]:

Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won!

BEN RHODES, Author, After the Fall:

The Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol was the logical endpoint of the 9/11 era.

PROTESTER:

F--- you!

BEN RHODES:

When you have people who can’t trust institutions anymore, who are angry that the wars that they were promised great victories in didn't turn out well, they start to look for people to blame.

PROTESTER:

F--- the GOP!

EUGENE ROBINSON, The Washington Post:

A lot of people felt they had been lied to. It's no wonder that you would have so much anger, a sense of betrayal, a sense of frustration, particularly among those who served in the military during this period of endless wars. It would have to be there.

CROWD [chanting]:

Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!

PROTESTER:

Stand down, motherf------!

EMMA SKY, Author, In a Time of Monsters:

We went over to Iraq and Afghanistan to change those societies, to make them more like us. We had great faith in democracy.

PROTESTER:

Get the f--- out!

EMMA SKY:

And yet 20 years later, when you look at where America is today, it’s almost as if America has become more like them.

THOMAS RICKS, Author, Fiasco:

Who are we? And what do we want to do as a nation? We answered that question too simply on 9/11: We’re the good guys. And 20 years later, we found out that we are the enemy, that the biggest national security threat facing the United States is internal. And it has grown partly as a result of American leadership failures over the last 20 years since 9/11.

NARRATOR:

Sept. 11. It was a tragedy that changed everything.

CROWD [chanting]:

USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!

NARRATOR:

In the aftermath, American presidents were called to action—

NARRATOR:

—leading the country through decades of conflict that left a legacy few foresaw.

NARRATOR:

Values compromised, truth trampled, trust eroded—

NARRATOR:

—solidarity broken and wars abroad and at home.

CROWD [chanting]:

Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won!

NARRATOR:

By the evening of 9/11, President George W. Bush finally arrived at the White House.

NEWSREADER:

President Bush is back at the White House. He's about to address—

NEWSREADER:

He was flown by Marine One, the Marine helicopter, to the South Lawn in front of the White House—

NARRATOR:

He’d been on the move since he’d been told about the attack that morning.

NEWSREADER:

Here he is, the president, coming back from a trip that has taken him first to Florida today—

ANDREW CARD, Bush Chief of Staff:

I whispered into his right ear, "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."

NARRATOR:

The Secret Service took over.

NEWSREADER:

So where is the president of the United States? Pretty soon the country needs to know where he is.

NARRATOR:

The president kept out of Washington for hours.

NEWSREADER:

—continue, they are still quite worried about his own security.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN:

The president was in part very much in a bubble. He was evacuated from Florida. He was on Air Force One flying around the country.

NEWSREADER:

President Bush was flown secretly today from Florida, first to Louisiana, then Oklahoma—

DAVID FRUM, Bush speechwriter:

When the country saw the president a couple of times that day, he seemed unready. He looked like he was the hunted, not the hunter.

NARRATOR:

Nearly 3,000 people were dead. In the days ahead, Bush would be haunted by the question of what he could have done to prevent it.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE, The Associated Press:

Remember, it was the worst terrorist attack ever on the United States, and it happened on his watch. As president, you do feel a certain responsibility when something as serious as that happens while you're the commander-in-chief.

NEWSREADER:

The president now, just a few moments away from addressing the nation from the Oval Office.

NEWSREADER:

George W. Bush, live in the White House, about to make his comments.

NARRATOR:

That night the nation waited to hear from him.

NEWSREADER:

Well, it's a critical time for him. The nation is being tested; the new president is being tested, as well.

NARRATOR:

He would lay out a stark vision of the new world after 9/11.

NEWSREADER:

Now we go to the Oval Office and President Bush.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature.

THOMAS RICKS:

George Bush, in his mind, I think, did understand that something very evil had happened. And it had happened. It was an evil act, 9/11. It killed thousands of civilians.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Tonight I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve and I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me."

THOMAS RICKS:

But once you define yourself as good and the other side as bad, it’s a slippery slope, because you start thinking anything you do for your cause is good, and we wound up doing some very evil things in the name of goodness.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

All right. Sad day.

NARRATOR:

In those early days, around the world, the lines between good and evil seemed clear.

EMMA SKY:

The world rallied around America. NATO invoked Article 5 for the first time in its history: “An attack on one is an attack on all.”

NEWSREADER:

Well, it’s good to know that in times like this America is not without friends.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN:

And even in parts of the Muslim world, a real outward expression of pain and sympathy for the United States.

YASSER ARAFAT:

God bless you, God bless you, God bless you.

NEWSREADER:

In Tehran this week, demonstrators held a candlelight vigil for victims of the attacks—

JONATHAN POWELL, Chief of Staff, UK Prime Minister:

There was a great outpouring of—actually, of love for America, of support and of solidarity.

NEWSREADER:

—and outside the American Embassy in Moscow, where people bowed their heads and wept.

GÉRARD ARAUD, French Foreign Ministry:

The Americans had been attacked. There was no excuse, no explanation possible, and the world, in a sense, was in revenge mode. We had to kill the murderers.

NARRATOR:

The CIA knew the culprit. They told the president it was Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden, the founder of the Islamic militant group Al Qaeda.

JOHN McLAUGHLIN, Deputy Director, CIA:

We had been projecting a spectacular attack by Al Qaeda. Here it was. We had the names of some of the people involved that we recognized. They were Al Qaeda.

NARRATOR:

Bin Laden was operating out of Afghanistan. The CIA said they could use their fast attack forces to take him out.

COFER BLACK, Dir. of Counterterrorism, CIA:

We'd spent years working on this stuff. Where everybody else is looking for their maps on Afghanistan, we’re ready to rock, ready to roll.

NARRATOR:

The president liked the sound of it. The CIA’s director of counterterrorism, Cofer Black, would take the lead and set the tone for what was to come.

COFER BLACK:

There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11, the gloves come off.

GARY SCHROEN, CIA officer:

My last meeting with Cofer, he basically said to me, "Your job is to find bin Laden, kill him and bring his head back on ice." [Laughs] And I said, "Well, that’s about the clearest, most direct order I’ve ever received as a CIA officer." I said, "I’ll do my best. We’ll try to get the job done."

NARRATOR:

Two weeks after the 9/11 attack, the small CIA strike force arrived in Afghanistan. They needed to deal with the extremists in charge of the country and harboring bin Laden, the Taliban.

GARY SCHROEN:

My team—seven officers, including myself, and three air crew—flew in on the 26th of September. When I began to distribute money—$200,000 here, $250,000 for this—I think that they were convinced that we were sincere.

NARRATOR:

The American dollars bought the cooperation of the Taliban’s enemies, rival militias and warlords.

SUSAN GLASSER, The Washington Post, 1998-2008:

I remember immediately realizing the horrific choice that was being made. We got into business right away with the warlords who had been running and ruining Afghanistan for many years. These were brutal killers. And they were up against the Taliban, which were also brutal killers.

NARRATOR:

Devastating American air bombardments did their part to weaken the Taliban.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN:

We dropped these massive bombs called “daisy cutters” on Taliban troop positions in the northern part of the country, essentially let Afghan forces to rise up in different parts of the country and push out the Taliban regime.

NARRATOR:

Within weeks the Taliban had been driven from the capital city, Kabul.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

There's jubilation in the cities that we have liberated and the sooner Al Qaeda is bought to justice, the sooner Afghanistan will return to normal.

NARRATOR:

But for all the celebrating, the truth was that the CIA’s primary target, Osama bin Laden, had vanished.

The mastermind of 9/11 was believed to be hiding in the mountain stronghold of Tora Bora. A small contingent of American forces joined Afghan fighters there.

SUSAN GLASSER:

Those of us on the ground, a few dozen international reporters, we far outnumbered the number of American Special Forces and CIA who were on the ground there. There was a bigger journalistic contingent at Tora Bora than there was American fighting force.

NARRATOR:

U.S. and allied forces bombed Tora Bora but couldn’t get bin Laden. The CIA team leader wanted hundreds of U.S. Special Forces on the ground.

GARY BERNTSEN, CIA officer:

I asked for ground support, and I knew that we needed U.S. Rangers. The longer we waited, the further he fell back to the border.

NARRATOR:

The military did not send in the reinforcements.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN:

It was a catastrophic mistake. Because of miscommunication and some bureaucratic infighting, the most elite of U.S. troops weren’t dispatched there. We didn’t send in the Navy Seals or the Army’s Delta Force.

NARRATOR:

Bin Laden and his besieged Al Qaeda forces slipped over the border to Pakistan, an early and ominous sign that the war would not be so easy.

BRUCE HOFFMAN, Author, Inside Terrorism:

The fact that he was allowed to survive, the fact that he could then claim to have escaped the most technologically advanced military in the history of mankind, fed into a defeated organization's narrative that served to breathe new life into them and enabled them to survive Operation Enduring Freedom, the defeat of the Taliban and the routing of Al Qaeda.

NARRATOR:

With bin Laden still on the run and Afghanistan in tatters, a new reality set in: America was now embroiled in a country ravaged by years of war.

NEWSREADER:

Afghanistan is a devastated country. Many of the buildings in the capital, Kabul, have been destroyed.

NEWSREADER:

The women and men of Afghanistan, all of them are suffering right now.

NEWSREADER:

—their faces out of a Dickens novel, many without shoes and socks.

NEWSREADER:

—terrorist car bomb left the square in downtown Kabul a bloody shambles. At least 15 dead.

NEWSREADER:

Fears remain that the Afghan people’s suffering is far from over.

NARRATOR:

President Bush and the presidents that followed would struggle to come to terms with America’s role in Afghanistan.

SUSAN GLASSER:

There was never the political will and therefore the ability to invest the amount of money and boots on the ground and attention that it would have taken to have a more definitive resolution of that conflict.

NARRATOR:

It would become the longest war in American history.

Over the border, in Pakistan, bin Laden seized the moment, distributing videos, taunting the Americans.

EVAN OSNOS:

When Osama bin Laden talked about 9/11, he sometimes said that the purpose of it was a strategy that he called "death by a thousand cuts."

OSAMA BIN LADEN:

[Speaking Arabic] People of America, this talk of mine is for you and concerns the ideal way to prevent another Manhattan.

EVAN OSNOS:

By which he meant it was not just the symbolic power of taking down the World Trade Center. It was also the beginning of a process, of a cascade of events that would ultimately lead the United States, on its own, through its own decisions, to do a series of things that would, in the end, weaken the United States rather than strengthen it. That was bin Laden’s idea.

NEWSREADER:

It is a somber time for this country.

NEWSREADER:

The U.S. government has received intelligence that more attacks against Americans may be imminent.

NEWSREADER:

There is the possibility that Osama bin Laden may be trying to get nuclear weapons.

NEWSREADER:

Osama bin Laden may be closer to building a crude radiological bomb than anyone realized.

NEWSREADER:

Disturbing news from Boca Raton, Florida.

NEWSREADER:

Another anthrax case, this one in New York.

NARRATOR:

In the weeks after 9/11, fear gripped America.

NEWSREADER:

Anthrax anxiety has become a plague of its own.

NEWSREADER:

Fears over anthrax spread to Washington.

JOHN BOLTON, Bush Undersecretary of State:

People forget, but within a month after 9/11, we were worried about anthrax attacks.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

They will not take this country down.

JOHN BOLTON:

And we feared then that terrorist groups have tried to get not just biological and chemical weapons, but even nuclear weapons.

NEWSREADER:

We don’t understand what might happen, and we certainly don’t know what to do about it.

NARRATOR:

During President Bush’s daily briefing, the head of the CIA, George Tenet, delivered the incoming threats.

PHILIP ZELIKOW, Exec. Dir., 9/11 Commission:

Every single morning, the president and the top leadership are waking up to a drumbeat of new possible threats, day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out.

NARRATOR:

The vice president, Dick Cheney, watched over an encrypted video link, often hidden in what was called a “secure, undisclosed location.”

JANE MAYER, Author, The Dark Side:

This was Cheney’s nightmare come true. He'd been getting ready for doomsday for years and thought a lot about it, and then on 9/11 it seemed like it was almost coming true. He felt sort of death was stalking him. He kept a gas mask and a hazmat suit in a bag in the backseat.

NARRATOR:

Cheney obsessed over the threats, the danger and the need to act.

JELANI COBB, Professor, Columbia Journalism School:

What 9/11 did was really replace the ideals that we professed in terms of democracy and in terms of moderation and restraint with a single impulse—survival. And everything else that was done that was contrary to that was thought to be a kind of effete, liberal, wishy-washy, romantic sentiment.

NARRATOR:

The president had said the war on terror was a struggle between good and evil—

GEORGE W. BUSH:

It’s hard for Americans to imagine how evil the people are who are doing this.

NARRATOR:

—and he assured the country of its moral high ground.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

We’re a nation of strong values and we value life.

NARRATOR:

But the vice president had a different approach.

VICE PRESIDENT RICHARD CHENEY:

We also have to work the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful.

PHILIP ZELIKOW:

You have these clashing impulses of how do we hold the moral high ground and leverage that in this global struggle, versus the people who, at the price of being tough against the enemy, such a terrible enemy, were willing to do things that could end up sacrificing that moral high ground and fatefully compromise America's position in the world.

NARRATOR:

Cheney’s dark side approach would be put into action in Afghanistan, where the U.S. and its allies captured thousands of prisoners.

AHMED RASHID, Author, Descent into Chaos:

I think the response was just part of this whole attempt to demonize everyone and all Muslims who were caught in the war zone. So there was a lot of false jailing, and capture and jailing, of people who may have been sympathetic to Al Qaeda but had nothing to do with Al Qaeda.

NARRATOR:

Cheney wanted to get tough with the detainees and didn’t want international law or the United States Constitution to get in the way.

RICHARD CHENEY:

They 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.

JANE MAYER:

Because of this mindset of constant fear, they looked at law not as something strengthening them, but as something that was constraining them, and they looked for ways to get out of the constraints of the law. Law became an impediment to get around.

NARRATOR:

They took the prisoners 8,000 miles from Afghanistan to the American naval base on an isolated corner of Cuba—Guantanamo Bay.

VALARIE KAUR, Civil rights activist:

The Bush administration argued that Guantanamo was beyond the jurisdiction of the United States.

It chose Guantanamo to hold detainees captured in the war on terror because it insisted that they were beyond the reach of the U.S. Constitution.

AHMED RASHID:

There was this classic picture, you remember, of all these detainees sitting in a plane, being conveyed to Guantanamo, a 24-hour flight.

MANSOOR AL DAYFI, Guantanamo detainee:

Our eyes covered, our ears covered, our mouth covered. And you sit like this, I mean, for—you just—I just—I don’t know. I cried. It was [inaudible] and very, very hard.

NARRATOR:

The detainees were taken from the plane to a place known as Camp X-Ray. Open-air cages. No toilets. No running water. Concrete slabs.

DONALD RUMSFELD, Bush Secretary of Defense:

Guantanamo Bay's climate is different than Afghanistan. To be in an 8-by-8 cell in beautiful, sunny Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is not inhumane treatment.

MANSOOR AL DAYFI:

I mean, we were like animals in cages. Literally. Just animals who can behave like humans. That’s the way we were treated.

NARRATOR:

To the world, the photos and the accounts from inside were shocking.

AZMAT KHAN, Contributor, NYTimes Magazine:

Images, as they started to come out from Guantanamo, really captured global attention. It brought what many believed to be American values, or what America claimed as its values, in conflict with the images that people were seeing.

NARRATOR:

They called Guantanamo “Gitmo.” It became a symbol of America’s willingness to use any means necessary to right the wrongs of 9/11.

BEN RHODES, Staff, 9/11 Commission:

To the rest of the world, the people in orange jumpsuits were a symbol that the most powerful force in the world, the United States government, was willing to use the full extent of that power to just brutalize people, including innocent people. And I think it permanently damaged our capacity to speak about things like human rights, to speak about things like democracy and the rule of law.

NARRATOR:

And Gitmo had begun to change how America saw itself.

THOMAS RICKS, Author, Fiasco:

It starts raising a series of questions, in our allies and among our own people. "Wait a minute. Why are we doing these things? Why are we fighting this war? If we’re the good people, why are we behaving in this way?"

CROWD [chanting]:

Hey hey, ho ho, Guantanamo has got to go! Hey hey, ho ho—

NEWSREADER:

Complaints over the treatment of the detainees is growing overseas and here at home.

NEWSREADER:

What they don’t have is prisoner-of-war status, which continues to draw fire from human rights advocates.

NEWSREADER:

—living in open cages, apparently outside American law.

NARRATOR:

Even as the outrage was growing, Vice President Cheney pushed the president to go even further. This time it would be carried out in secret: the torture of detainees to get intelligence.

BARTON GELLMAN, Author, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency:

Cheney believes the only way you can fight these people is with accurate intelligence and take some fairly what he calls "robust measures" to break their will to resist.

DANA PRIEST, The Washington Post:

So where do you do that? And how do you do it? You keep it secret from the Justice Department. You keep it overseas in countries that agree to keep it secret. You build these things with CIA money, so that nobody knows this is going on, except vaguely the president and, of course, the people in the CIA.

NARRATOR:

They would test the secret program on Abu Zubaydah, suspected of running a terrorist training camp. His story was revealed when the United States Senate issued what was known as “the torture report” in 2014.

MALE VOICE [reading Senate report]:

At approximately 6:20 p.m., Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded for the first time.

NARRATOR:

Zubaydah’s personal drawings illustrate his story.

MALE VOICE [reading Senate report]:

Over a 2 1/2-hour period, Abu Zubaydah coughed, vomited and had involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities.

JOSEPH MARGULIES, Attorney for Abu Zubaydah:

He describes it to the Red Cross. He can’t breathe and he’s beginning to drown, and the feeling of drowning is terrifying.

NARRATOR:

It went on for more than two weeks. Waterboarding. Beatings. Confinement in small spaces. Sleep deprivation. Freezing.

Some who knew the program’s secrets said it didn’t work and wasn’t worth it.

MARK ROSSINI, FBI Special Agent:

We devolved and became the person that we were going after. That’s what it meant. That was the consequence. And we lost our moral authority around the globe. Remember, even in countries that hated us, they were crying over what happened to America. And we squandered it. What a waste. What a waste. What a waste.

SERGEANT-AT-ARMS, U.S. House of Representatives:

Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.

NARRATOR:

Just four months after 9/11, in his first State of the Union address, the president decided to dramatically widen the war.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror. Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

When you do hear that, you perk up, and it’s kind of surprising. Because here you had the president of the United States addressing Congress and then naming these countries and putting them—lumping them together as this “axis of evil.”

GEORGE W. BUSH:

States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil arming to threaten the peace of the world.

GÉRARD ARAUD:

For a Frenchman, the speech about the axis of evil is simply impossible to understand. It’s really coming from another world for us. We said, "'Axis of evil.' What does it mean?"

GEORGE W. BUSH:

I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.

EVAN OSNOS:

What had begun with this attack in New York and Washington had now grown into this much larger and graver attack on America in the political language.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Our war on terror has well begun, but it has only begun.

EVAN OSNOS:

The idea that we weren’t at risk just of terrorism, but in fact we were at risk of a nuclear attack, a WMD. And that was an entirely new realm of conceivable combat.

NEWSREADER:

President Bush announced to the world that America’s war on terrorism will expand.

NEWSREADER:

—Iran and Iraq, who along with North Korea were described as an axis of evil.

NEWSREADER:

What was really ominous about the speech was this so-called axis of evil.

NARRATOR:

Bush had already decided on the first target: Iraq and its longstanding dictator, Saddam Hussein.

EMMA SKY, NATO adviser:

You can only understand the decision to attack Iraq in the context of 9/11. I think after the first attack, President Bush was terrified that there could be further attacks. He had failed to prevent the first. So he was looking around. Who were enemies of America? Who might want to do America harm?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE:

We know that Saddam Hussein has a long history with terrorism in general—

RICHARD CHENEY:

Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists—

NARRATOR:

Bush and his inner circle made the case—

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction.

NARRATOR:

—often word-for-word.

RICHARD CHENEY:

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE:

There is no doubt that he has produced weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he has used them.

DONALD RUMSFELD:

The United States knows that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

RICHARD CHENEY:

—weapons of mass destruction.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

—weapons of mass destruction.

GEORGE TENET:

—weapons of mass destruction. Absolutely.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

We cannot wait for the final proof.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE:

But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

—a smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

NARRATOR:

Intelligence reports, leaked to the press, splashed on the front page.

EVAN OSNOS:

Some of the most credible, most respected American news organizations, like The New York Times, had written very detailed and, in its own way, supportive coverage of the evidence.

EUGENE ROBINSON, The Washington Post:

Then there was an "amen" chorus in Washington that was sort of willing to go along with the administration on the chance that it was right. Our editorial page at The Washington Post was supportive of the invasion.

EVAN OSNOS:

Those lies, in effect, were translated through the credibility of news organizations, right there into the field of view of Americans.

NARRATOR:

In Congress, prominent Democrats also lined up behind Bush, echoing the threat of WMD.

SEN. HILLARY R. CLINTON:

Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability and his nuclear program.

BEN RHODES:

People who knew better voted for it because they were afraid of being called weak.

SEN. JOHN KERRY:

—that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein pose a real and grave threat to our security.

BEN RHODES:

You have Democratic as well as Republican members of Congress voting for a war that—does anybody really believe that if they were president they would have chosen to do that?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN:

Saddam is dangerous. The world would be a better place without him. But the reason he poses a growing danger to the United States and its allies is that he possesses chemical and biological weapons and he is seeking nuclear weapons.

BEN RHODES:

That undermined confidence in the American public in their leaders. Who can I trust anymore? The Democrats voted for this war, too. How can I—why should I trust them any more than I trust the Republicans?

NEWSREADER:

On the other side of the debate is Continental Europe, where there is widespread opposition to war.

NARRATOR:

But the world was skeptical.

GÉRARD ARAUD:

When we come to Iraq, Europe was deeply, deeply divided.

NEWSREADER:

Overseas, protesters took to the streets in Paris, Tokyo and Cairo.

GÉRARD ARAUD:

The British are trying to influence the Americans while the French are taking the lead of the resistance.

CROWD [chanting]:

[Speaking French] No, no, no to the war in Iraq!

CROWD [chanting]:

No blood for oil! No blood for oil!

NARRATOR:

American protests also began to grow.

NEWSREADER:

The largest protest was in Washington on Saturday.

NEWSREADER:

Demonstrations in San Francisco also drew large crowds.

VALARIE KAUR, Stanford University:

We flooded the streets. We were part of a global anti-war movement. I was one of the students leading the anti-war protests in the Bay Area. And we didn't stop; we continued to stage civil disobedience, hoping, praying that our actions would matter.

NEWSREADER:

The demonstrations have not softened the administration’s resolve. For now, the U.S. is preparing to strike with limited international support.

PETER BAKER, Author, Days of Fire:

The president, of course, is driving toward a confrontation with Saddam Hussein. He knows that people have discounted a lot of the things that he has said, so he turns to the one person in his team that he thinks has credibility. And that would be Colin Powell.

NARRATOR:

Colin Powell—a former general; chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Under Bush, the first Black secretary of state.

LAWRENCE WILKERSON, Powell Chief of Staff:

He had ratings like Mother Theresa. We used to talk about that. "Who's going to be top tomorrow, Mother Theresa or you?" And he'd laugh. But he did. The American people trusted him.

NARRATOR:

The president, relying on Powell’s formidable reputation, wanted him to make the case for war.

COLIN POWELL, Bush Secretary of State:

And he made the decision in the middle of January that it was going to require military action. And he asked me to take the case up to the United Nations.

INTERVIEWER:

So that speech, why you? Why do—

COLIN POWELL:

I'm the secretary of state. Who else would you send? You can't send the secretary of defense to the U.N. The U.N. ambassador, this is a little above that pay grade. And so he selected me, and I think he thought I had credibility to deliver a speech and it would be believable.

NARRATOR:

Just over a week later he arrived at the United Nations. The world was watching.

GÉRARD ARAUD:

It was a major moment. Powell was really showing the world, trying convince us that there were WMD in Iraq.

JONATHAN POWELL:

He had remarkable credibility around the world. I think many people in the business knew that he had doubts about this. And so if he was saying it, then people would be much more likely to believe that than had it been some other spokesman who had less credibility.

COLIN POWELL:

Saddam Hussein already possesses two out of the three key components needed to build a nuclear bomb. Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined—

I was a salesman that day to present a product. But the product was something that came out of the intelligence community.

LAWRENCE WILKERSON:

The most damaging piece of material in this entire presentation with respect to the American people was the connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda and thus 9/11.

COLIN POWELL:

I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to Al Qaeda. Fortunately, this operative is now detained and he has told his story.

LAWRENCE WILKERSON:

I later found out the Al Qaeda operative was Sheikh al-Libi, that he was tortured by the Egyptians well before this time, that the information he had revealed he himself had recanted within a week. And so this most powerful moment in his presentation, probably the most influential moment with the American people, was a complete fabrication, really.

COLIN POWELL:

Leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option, not in a post-Sept. 11 world.

NARRATOR:

Even after Powell’s performance, the U.N. was unconvinced. Bush would put together his own war coalition.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.

NARRATOR:

After the invasion, the first mission: find the WMD. The troops spread out.

There weren’t any.

JONATHAN POWELL:

When it was revealed there were no weapons of mass destruction, we looked like idiots. We had claimed absolutely that there would be weapons of mass destruction. So it was a real extraordinary revelation. And really, very difficult for us to understand.

NEWSREADER:

It’s the final word, Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.

NEWSREADER:

The U.S. has come up empty in its hunt for weapons.

NEWSREADER:

The lack of hard evidence calls into question one of the basic reasons for the war.

EVAN OSNOS:

When it turned out that the evidence had been manipulated and falsely represented, it didn’t just undermine the credibility of the administration. It undermined the credibility of the American media, who had been so instrumental in getting that message out to the public.

COLIN POWELL:

—containing biological warfare agents—

NEWSREADER:

Secretary of State Colin Powell told the U.N. in February that Saddam Hussein was harboring up to 500 tons of biological and chemical weapons. So far, coalition troops have not found one ounce.

NARRATOR:

The administration’s most trusted figure had been wrong.

COLIN POWELL:

Suddenly, the CIA started to let us know that the case was falling apart—parts of the case were falling apart. And it was deeply disturbing to me and to the president. To all of us.

NARRATOR:

It was devastating. Trust shattered—in Powell, the president, the government.

NEWSREADER:

If the intelligence was shaded or manipulated, it could be a significant scandal for the Bush White House.

MALE VOICE:

My government's lied to me so often they've lost their credibility with me.

NEWSREADER:

And it’s very, very bad that people don’t trust and believe what’s coming from the White House.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

The long-term effect was a beginning of a certain level of distrust of the government, that the government lied to them and that we went into Iraq under a false pretense. And so we had all of this— lost lives, money spent, blood and treasure that was just kind of wasted.

CROWD [chanting]:

No blood for oil! No blood for oil!

JANE MAYER, The New Yorker:

You could see the beginning of some of the conspiracy theories that have sort of infected the American mindset. People began to come up with, "Well, if it wasn’t for WMD, is our government lying to us? And why?" People began to sort of distrust their own government in a big way.

NARRATOR:

In Iraq, at the very beginning, it looked a lot like victory.

U.S. SOLDIER:

—a feeling of satisfaction, I guess. It’s almost over, so I get to go home soon.

BRUCE HOFFMAN, Counterterrorism adviser, Iraq:

The United States believed we'd be welcomed as liberators, that firstly it would be a cakewalk to go into Iraq, and, secondly, within a matter of weeks the country would be stabilized.

NARRATOR:

But like Afghanistan, Iraq quickly became a quagmire.

RASHA AL AQEEDI, Iraqi political analyst:

We watched as the statue fell on April 9. By April 10, we woke up in the morning and the university was being looted. Saddam's palaces—all open, all looted.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, Author, Imperial Life in the Emerald City:

Baghdad very quickly moves from a state of joy and euphoria to one of almost utter bedlam. Looters set upon government buildings, upon businesses. Fires break out. And there are thousands of U.S. troops in the city at that point, but they don't have orders to stop it.

AHMED RASHID:

The goodwill in Iraq lasted only a few days, because the U.S. attacked Iraq without any Plan B at all. I mean, there was nobody even to keep law and order in Baghdad, leave alone the other cities.

DONALD RUMSFELD:

I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn’t believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about “Chaos!” “Violence!” “Unrest!” And it just was, “Henny Penny, the sky is falling!” I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s just unbelievable how people can take that away from what is happening in that country.

NARRATOR:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had overseen the planning for the war. Now he was doing damage control.

DONALD RUMSFELD:

—it is a fundamental misunderstanding to see those images over and over and over again of some boy walking out with a vase and say, "Oh, my goodness, you didn't have a plan." That's nonsense!

THOMAS RICKS:

He said, "There’s one little riot in the street or something, and people say, 'Henny Penny, the sky is falling.'" I’m on the ground in the summer of ‘03 in Iraq and it’s very clear to me that what I’m seeing is very different from what people at the Pentagon are seeing.

DONALD RUMSFELD:

—and it's untidy, and freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here.

NARRATOR:

Rumsfeld’s disconnect grew as the country continued to unravel.

PHILIP ZELIKOW:

Rumsfeld actually thought and said that we could just go in and then get out. We weren't going to do nation-building in Iraq. And if Iraq imploded, that was somebody else's problem.

NEWSREADER:

In Baghdad today, the looting and shooting continued.

NEWSREADER:

They still come in waves, carting away metal frames—

NARRATOR:

To fix the problem, President Bush handed it to a little-known diplomat, L. Paul Bremer III.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Jerry Bremer has agreed to become the presidential envoy to Iraq.

LEILA FADEL, Knight Ridder News, 2005-06:

Paul Bremer wasn’t a Middle East expert. He wasn’t seen as an Arabist. He wasn’t a person who was an expert in post-conflict rebuilding. And then he becomes the sort of de facto ruler of Iraq.

NARRATOR:

Paul Bremer arrived in Baghdad with grand ambitions.

EMMA SKY, U.S. military adviser, Iraq:

When Iraq was found not to have weapons of mass destruction, the mission then morphed to installing democracy. So Ambassador Bremer spoke about, you know, “We’re going to rebuild Iraq like we did Germany and Japan after World War II.” And to do that we couldn’t build from the old foundations. We had to create new foundations.

NARRATOR:

Bremer’s first step to making this new Iraqi democracy: purge the entire Iraqi government of tens of thousands of members of Saddam’s Baath Party.

AMB. L. PAUL BREMER III, Presidential Envoy to Iraq:

And those who were on high before, in particular the Baathists, who used their power to repress the Iraqi people, will be removed from office.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. Army:

They threw tens of thousands of people out of their jobs, out of their homes, out of their future and even robbed them of their position in society.

PAUL BREMER:

Shortly, I will issue an order on measures to extirpate Baathists and Baathism from Iraq forever.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

So there was no reason for these individuals to support the new Iraq. In fact, it was in their interest to oppose it.

AHMED RASHID:

What was the Pentagon expecting? That American officers would take over the ministries and become minister of culture and minister of health? It was a really abysmal situation.

NARRATOR:

Bremer’s second order: disbanding the army and firing hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

COLIN POWELL:

I was stunned, because this was not the plan. The CIA was stunned. And the commanders in the field out there were stunned. Because this was the solution to the security problem. We were going to reconstitute the Iraqi army so that they could secure their country. And instead we dismissed them and we turned loose all of these trained military people who might have weapons with them and knew where weapons were.

NARRATOR:

Saddam Hussein’s former soldiers took to the streets.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Week after week after week, the big demonstrations got larger and larger. There was enormous concern where there were actually killings.

PAUL BREMER:

The army was the central instrument of Saddam’s repression of the Kurds and the Shia. I think the decision not to recall Saddam’s army, from a political point of view, is the single most important correct decision that we made in the 14 months we were there.

NARRATOR:

Bremer’s assertion would be put to the test. In no time at all, the insurgency began. Hell broke loose in Iraq.

GEN. JACK KEANE, Army Vice Chief of Staff:

We were taking casualties somewhat systematically every week. And then it began to be almost every day. And we were very slow to come to the recognition that we really did have an insurgency on our hands.

NARRATOR:

It all ramped up—the insurgency and the denials.

DONALD RUMSFELD:

In Iraq, difficult work remains. They're making progress against the dead-enders who are harassing coalition forces.

RICHARD CHENEY:

The fact is that most of Iraq today is relatively stable and quiet.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE:

The remnants of the thugs and crooks that looted their country and oppressed their countrymen will be rooted out and they will be taken care of.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring them on. We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.

JELANI COBB, The New Yorker:

The war was driven by vengeance and idealism. The vengeance part of it was the attempt to eliminate the people whom George W. Bush referred to as the quote-unquote “evildoers.” And the idealism was the idea that these places could be remade as Western-style democracies, that doing so would be relatively straightforward and almost easy. All of those ideas are naive. There’s a naiveté implicit in all of that.

NEWSREADER:

The United States' invasion of Iraq is proving to be a Pandora’s box. Now, adding to the crisis of credibility, allegations of torture.

NEWSREADER:

Photographs surfaced showing American soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners—

LEILA FADEL:

I was shocked and disgusted. But I also felt extreme fear of, when you treat people like this, what comes from that?

NEWSREADER:

The photographs were taken by the soldiers themselves.

NEWSREADER:

The damage to U.S. interests in the rest of the world is hard to calculate, but it will be significant.

RASHA AL AQEEDI:

Abu Ghraib was—yeah, it was heartbreaking. It was shocking. I wanted to believe very—I so wanted to believe those pictures were not real. I didn’t want to think that Americans could do this to Iraqis.

NARRATOR:

The abuse happened at Abu Ghraib prison. Once again, like at Gitmo, like the CIA torture program, America’s war on terror had come to this.

DAVID COLE, National Legal Dir., ACLU:

What was going on at Abu Ghraib came from Guantanamo. Abu Ghraib was a kind of a consequence of that initial decision of the CIA. It bled out to Iraq.

NEWSREADER:

Across the Arab world today there was condemnation of U.S. troops—

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

To see that splashed on newspapers around the world, it literally sent the entire world up in arms over that treatment.

NEWSREADER:

—beating with a broom handle and a chair, sodomizing with—

BRUCE HOFFMAN, Author, Inside Terrorism:

From the very start, President Bush had said that this would be a war of ideas, and that American values, America’s faith in freedom and democracy would triumph.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

The America I know is a compassionate country that believes in freedom. The America I know cares about every individual. The America I know has sent troops into Iraq to promote freedom. Good, honorable citizens that are helping the Iraqis every day.

LEILA FADEL:

It exposes what many people saw as the hypocrisy of American foreign policy. For many Iraqis it was seen as sordid. So you started to see a dwindling of support for the actual war.

BEN RHODES, Author, After the Fall:

Abu Ghraib was the moment when the curtain kind of fell on America, and enough Americans saw what the world saw, which is that this has gone completely wrong. We had gone to war thinking of our better selves, and now we were a country that was occupying Iraq and torturing its people in grotesque, almost casual ways.

NARRATOR:

America was losing its moral authority, its standing.

RASHA AL AQEEDI:

What was lost was the hope that Americans had good intentions, that they were trying to rebuild Iraq, that they were protecting the Iraqi people. It did not look like that at that point. Anyone who still had some hope at that point I think was faced with that reality.

THOMAS RICKS:

The photographs are so powerful. They antagonize the Iraqi public. There are people we know who join the insurgency because of those images. Which means that American soldiers torturing Iraqis and photographing it helped get other American soldiers and Iraqis killed.

NARRATOR:

And there were more consequences to come. Osama bin Laden seized the moment.

BRUCE HOFFMAN:

For Al Qaeda, this was an opportunity to emerge from the shadows, to confront the United States invading yet another country.

NARRATOR:

Bin Laden rallied his followers to join the insurgency in Iraq.

EMMA SKY:

Foreign fighters came in to fight against the occupation. And because all the security forces had been dismissed, there was nobody to guard the borders, and so these foreign fighters, jihadis, could enter the country.

NARRATOR:

Jihadis, Baathists, former soldiers uniting in opposition to America.

ALI SOUFAN, Author, The Black Banners:

It created a monster, a Frankenstein monster, that half bin Laden and half Saddam. A monster that did not exist before we went to Iraq, but because of what we did in the aftermath of our invasion, that monster became a reality.

NARRATOR:

The centerpiece of Al Qaeda’s strategy: fomenting civil war.

NEWSREADER:

Explosives detonating just after 7 a.m. this morning underneath the golden dome of the al-Askari mosque in the town of Samarra.

NARRATOR:

A bombing designed to inflame tensions between Iraq’s rival religious sects, the Sunni and Shia.

NEWSREADER:

—at one of the country’s most holy Shiite religious shrines.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

And that set off a cycle of violence between Sunni and Shia that Al Qaeda tried to fuel as much as they possibly could. This violence had so much momentum that it was very, very difficult to stop it.

RASHA AL AQEEDI:

We had now sectarian strife. We had now armed groups killing whoever they wanted. We had now Al Qaeda rampant in the country. Friendships were torn. Families were torn apart. Cities will never be the same as they were. There’s a generation that has grown up that has never known one day of stability in their entire lives.

NARRATOR:

The high cost and consequences of war came home to America, too. Every week at military bases the bodies arrived, soldiers and contractors.

AZMAT KHAN, Contributor, NYTimes Magazine:

As these troops were going to Iraq, these wars were being lost or they looked like they were losing these wars, suddenly Americans started to ask, "Why are we here, and is it worth it?"

NARRATOR:

The wounded: haunted, forever changed. Tens of thousands of them.

AZMAT KHAN:

Is it worth the costs? Not just in terms of taxpayer dollars—is it worth the cost in terms of human lives and in terms of values?

NEWSREADER:

Most soldiers say when they leave the battlefield, the battlefield doesn’t leave them.

NEWSREADER:

Twenty to 40% of individuals come back with significant post-traumatic stress symptoms.

NEWSREADER:

They are dying in record numbers, and I’m not talking about on the battlefield, but rather by their own hand.

NEWSREADER:

One of the ugliest legacies of this crisis is homegrown.

NEWSREADER:

We’ve seen both the best of America and now, because of hate, begin to see some of the worst.

NARRATOR:

At home during those years a different war was brewing.

NEWSREADER:

Is America becoming Islamophobic, a prejudice against Muslims?

NARRATOR:

In fear and frustration, Americans were turning on each other.

NEWSREADER:

A growing number of Americans saying forget political correctness.

TALK RADIO HOST:

I'll tell you what you do: You racially profile.

TALK RADIO CALLER:

I am not going to stop until I have executed at least 10 Muslims.

VALARIE KAUR, Author, See No Stranger:

In the wake of 9/11, we saw a wave of hate violence all across the United States. Muslim Americans, Sikh Americans at the forefront of this violence.

NEWSREADER:

In Ohio today, another mosque vandalized. Saturday, a Pakistani Muslim shot dead in Dallas, and in Arizona, a gas station owner shot and killed. Not an Arab or a Muslim, but an Indian Sikh.

VALARIE KAUR:

So to be a Sikh American at that time, it was to feel as though our nation was under siege and that our families were under siege.

CAIR REPRESENTATIVE:

We would like to make it very clear that we are Americans, too.

FEMALE SPEAKER:

It's not about religion. It's about stopping Tennessee home-grown terrorists.

VALARIE KAUR:

We were receiving phone calls from loved ones who were saying, "Our brother has been shot." "Our gurdwara has been vandalized." "Someone’s going to die. Someone’s going to die."

NEWSREADER:

The man who plowed his pickup truck into a Tallahassee mosque said he did it because he hated Muslims.

JELANI COBB, The New Yorker:

It was very easy to see after 9/11 that the result was a more truculent, antagonistic version of the United States.

NEWSREADER:

The number of hate crimes is growing by the day.

ROBERT MUELLER:

We to date have initiated 40 hate crime investigations.

—120 investigations.

—316 hate crime investigations—

—an excess of 400 investigations—

—532 hate crime investigations where the victims were either Arab, Muslim or Sikh.

JELANI COBB:

And you could see the hostility that was directed at Muslim Americans or people who were perceived as Muslim Americans.

TALK RADIO HOST:

Somebody needs to grab the Muslim world by the shirt collar and say, "Straighten up or we are going to eradicate you beetles from the face of the earth."

TALK RADIO CALLER:

You have to set up encampments like during World War II like with the Japanese and Germans.

TALK RADIO HOST:

The Quran is a document of slavery. Take your religion and shove it up your behind!

TALK RADIO CALLER:

You round them up and then ship them out of this country, period.

NARRATOR:

George W. Bush’s war of good versus evil had ushered in a dark era of division, moral compromise and expanding conflict.

EMMA SKY, U.S. military adviser, Iraq:

Three thousand people were killed on 9/11. And the U.S. response to that event included invading Iraq and Afghanistan, holding people without due process, torturing detainees in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, kidnapping suspects in one country and transporting them to another and assassinating people in countries where the U.S. wasn’t even at war. In this obsessive hunt to eradicate terrorists, undermined the very rules-based international order that it had set up and led for 70 years.

NARRATOR:

Oslo, Norway. The Nobel Peace Prize is about to be awarded to the president of the United States. It is not George W. Bush.

DAVID SANGER, Author, The Inheritance:

Here's a president who is given the Nobel Peace Prize nine months into his presidency. He had barely had time to figure out his way to the Situation Room and how to get to the Pentagon before he’s got the Nobel Peace Prize. A little embarrassing.

EMMA SKY:

He got the Nobel Peace Prize even before he’d done anything, just for not being President Bush.

JONATHAN POWELL, Chief of Staff, UK Prime Minister, 1997-2007:

There were huge expectations of Obama when he came in. They expected him to remedy what had been done in Iraq and Afghanistan. So the expectations didn’t just lie with the Nobel Peace Committee. It lay with public opinion right across Europe and more widely in the world.

NARRATOR:

Barack Obama’s surprising rise in American politics had been fueled by growing disillusionment and anger over George Bush’s wars.

BEN RHODES, Obama Dep. Natl. Security Adviser:

There’s a zero percent chance that Barack Obama ever becomes president of the United States without the Iraq War. I mean, zero. In this very curious accident of history, the Iraq war opens the door to the first Black president and to Barack Obama himself.

NARRATOR:

He ran for the presidency as the anti-war candidate.

Obama campaign ad

BARACK OBAMA:

I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames in the Middle East.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE, The Associated Press:

He had called the war in Iraq a dumb war. And so he was the anti-war candidate that everybody was looking for. And he got great reception with that position on the war.

BARACK OBAMA:

Fired up! Ready to go! Fired up! Ready to go!

We are now less safe than we were before 9/11.

We will reject torture.

We will close Guantanamo.

It is time to write a new chapter in our response to 9/11.

BEN RHODES:

He basically created an argument "How can you trust these people after they got this so wrong?"

BARACK OBAMA:

But the American people weren't just failed by the president. They were failed by the Congress.

BEN RHODES:

What Obama tapped into was not just anger at the Iraq War, but the anger at how fake everything felt about it, from the news media to how politicians justified their actions to just the failure to properly account with this horrible thing that had happened that was leading Americans to die.

NARRATOR:

Obama’s anti-war message earned him that Nobel—

ANNOUNCER:

The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for 2009, President Barack Obama.

NARRATOR:

—but accepting the award he had a surprise: The anti-war candidate would be a wartime president.

PETER BERGEN, Author, The Longest War:

President Obama may be the first person to accept the Nobel Peace Prize and use it as an opportunity to lay out his philosophy of war.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

I cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.

JELANI COBB:

In terms of Nobel speeches, this is probably the most belligerent speech that you have as a Nobel Prize acceptance in talking about the fact that sometimes you have to wage war. It was the most nonpacifist Peace Prize acceptance that we’ve ever seen.

NEWSREADER:

President Obama came to office facing two wars—

NEWSREADER:

—inheriting what was left by the Bush administration.

NEWSREADER:

Obama will need all the magic he can muster to solve the huge problems he’s inheriting.

NARRATOR:

Facing two wars, he knew which one he was going to fight.

NEWSREADER:

There was a huge and deadly explosion in Afghanistan tonight—

EUGENE ROBINSON, The Washington Post:

Obama's global analysis of the situation was that Afghanistan was the right war and Iraq was the wrong war.

NEWSREADER:

Afghanistan is bracing itself for Taliban attempts to disrupt law and order.

EMMA SKY:

For President Obama, there was justification for us being in Afghanistan, because the attacks on 9/11 had come from Afghanistan.

BRUCE HOFFMAN, Author, Inside Terrorism:

President Obama’s message was we were going to double down, we were going to win in Afghanistan, which was the good war.

NARRATOR:

Obama wanted to reverse years of failure in Afghanistan and deliver the victory that eluded President Bush. To do it, he brought in hard-charging general Stanley McChrystal.

DAVID SANGER:

Gen. McChrystal has been for years the head of Special Forces, and he brings with him his old Special Forces group, who speak in the harsh language of special forces. We don’t hire the “snake eaters,” as they call themselves, to be America’s diplomats.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, Author, Little America:

He describes the Afghan conflict as at a precipice, and we're at real risk of losing the war, but it can be turned around.

NARRATOR:

McChrystal said a surge of tens of thousands of troops was necessary. Obama was reluctant but wanted to win. He agreed.

NEWSREADER:

Thousands of U.S. troops are now heading to Afghanistan.

NEWSREADER:

In Afghanistan, a surge of American troops is now at its peak.

NEWSREADER:

The final deployment of U.S. troops is arriving in Afghanistan.

NEWSREADER:

The question is, is that troop surge working?

NARRATOR:

Gen. McChrystal had to quickly deliver on his promise that the surge could bring victory in Afghanistan.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN:

Military commanders wanted to show how additional forces deployed by President Obama could turn the tide of the war, to show how U.S. forces could knock back the Taliban.

NARRATOR:

McChrystal designed a test case: 15,000 troops would try to rout the resurgent Taliban from their stronghold in Marjah.

NEWSREADER:

They will focus on the town of Marjah and surrounding areas—

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN:

I was there on the ground, and the truth was, Marjah was a mess.

NARRATOR:

The American forces could not hold Marjah. They faced constant counterattacks from the Taliban.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN:

Taliban fighters would sneak in. They would lay more roadside bombs. They'd lay in wait in ambush.

NARRATOR:

McChrystal called it a “bleeding ulcer.”

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN:

What was thought to be a war that could be turned around with some additional troops really starts to look like it's fundamentally unwinnable. Marjah brings the challenges of Afghanistan into much starker focus in the White House.

NARRATOR:

With Marjah, once again an American president was being forced to concede. There would be no easy victory in Afghanistan.

PETER BAKER, Author, Obama: The Call of History:

He's thinking a lot about Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam. And he's thinking, here he might be in the very same situation—a president with a grand, ambitious domestic agenda with a war overseas that's unwinnable, that's sucking away energy and lives and possibilities.

PHILIP ZELIKOW, Exec. Dir., 9/11 Commission:

He basically changes his mind. He gets into the Afghanistan work. He escalates and then decides to draw back in Afghanistan.

NARRATOR:

But disentangling from the country where 9/11 was launched would not be easy either.

BEN RHODES:

The political incentives are such that the risks associated with ending wars are seen as far greater that the risks associated with being in them. There was this calculation that, well, what happens if there's a terrorist attack? That would be the end of a presidency.

NARRATOR:

It was now Obama’s war, a quagmire with no visible exit as the death toll on both sides mounted.

EMMA SKY, Author, The Unraveling:

He felt that with all the goodwill in the world, America couldn’t bring democracy to Afghanistan and the best that you could probably do is just mow the lawn, keep terrorism under control and stop Afghanistan becoming a sanctuary for terrorists.

NARRATOR:

During his presidency, American deaths in Afghanistan surged, almost three times as many as under Bush—nearly 2,000. And there would be far-reaching consequences at home.

JANE MAYER, The New Yorker:

There’s just finally been exhaustion in the United States. The Afghan policy was a failure, and all the smartest generals and the presidents of both parties, nobody could make this policy succeed. It’s a humiliation for the United States.

NARRATOR:

Guantanamo Bay. By now it had dropped to 242 detainees. Obama had promised to close Gitmo. He tried it with an executive order.

BARACK OBAMA:

—justice I hereby order Guantanamo will be closed no later than one year from now.

VALARIE KAUR:

We were so hopeful with the Obama era. I was one of many who campaigned for Obama and really believed in this vision of hope and change. And I took that vision to mean a clean break from Bush-era policies.

NARRATOR:

But for the controversy over Gitmo, Obama hit a wall trying to roll back what Bush and Cheney had begun.

NEWSREADER:

This was his first executive order when he came into office: He’s going to shut down Gitmo.

NEWSREADER:

Why are we closing Gitmo? It makes no sense.

NEWSREADER:

But I just—it’s a lousy idea.

BEN RHODES:

And the entire Congress had a complete meltdown, including Democrats.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Sen. Majority Leader:

Part of what we don’t want is them to be put in prisons in the United States. We don’t want them around the United States.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY), Sen. Minority Leader:

The American people want to keep the terrorists at Guantanamo out of their neighborhoods—out of their neighborhoods—and off the battlefield.

JANE MAYER:

Mitch McConnell went down to the floor of Congress every single day and just ranted about it.

MITCH McCONNELL:

—to keep this secure facility open—

JANE MAYER:

And what he was trying to do was just make it political untenable for Obama to do this.

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN):

This is insane, in my opinion. These people, many of them are terrorists, and we’ve had some of them that were released and went back to their home countries and became terrorists again.

BRUCE HOFFMAN:

There were enormous not just legal issues involved, but, really, political issues.

SENATE CLERK 1:

The yeas and nays are ordered. The clerk will call the roll.

SENATE CLERK 2:

Mr. Akaka—

NARRATOR:

Congress voted to keep Guantanamo open.

NEWSREADER:

By an overwhelming vote, the Senate today rejected the president’s request—

NEWSREADER:

The 90 to 6 vote was a big bipartisan vote—

DAVID SANGER, The New York Times:

He runs into huge opposition in Congress and basically folds.

NARRATOR:

In Obama’s defeat, a triumph for the brewing politics of fear.

VALARIE KAUR, Civil rights activist:

I was selected as a legal observer to travel to Guantanamo. I thought I was going to be among the last visitors to ever set foot on Guantanamo where prisoners were still held. And here we are, and Guantanamo is still open.

NARRATOR:

The island prison would endure as a monument to the consequences of moral compromise, embracing what Cheney had described as the “dark side.”

JANE MAYER:

One of the things that I find most shocking, unforeseeable, unimaginable is that 20 years later, Guantanamo is still a prison. It’s just such a violation of everything that you think of as American values.

NARRATOR:

The president who’d been given a Nobel Prize with the hope he would reverse Bush’s legacy was now presiding over an even more unsettled nation.

NEWSREADER:

Every day there are reminders that terrorists are still planning to attack this country.

NEWSREADER:

Here in New York, a reminder of the continuing threat of terrorism.

NEWSREADER:

There hasn’t been a terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, but tonight, federal agents say they just stopped one—a big one.

NEWSREADER:

He was a truck driver living in Ohio, and he was a terrorist.

NARRATOR:

On television, a drumbeat of warnings, attacks, thwarted plots.

NEWSREADER:

—indicate, quote, "somebody is up to something."

NEWSREADER:

Six Muslim extremists are in jail in New Jersey—

EVAN OSNOS, Author, Wildland:

In the media, people discovered pretty quickly that a terrorist attack, no matter where it was in the world, would immediately seize people’s attention.

NEWSREADER:

—and found the vehicle packed with gasoline containers and propane canisters.

EVAN OSNOS:

It was almost like that the battlefield that was limitless in the war on terror had also become limitless in the American consciousness, that we were constantly at war. Not only abroad, but also increasingly within, in our own borders.

NEWSREADER:

The four suspects hoped to be martyrs and were on a mission to commit what they called jihad.

TALK SHOW GUEST:

No one wants to use the M-word or the J-word—Muslim or jihadist.

ALI SOUFAN, Author, Anatomy of Terror:

It was about fear. It was about us versus them. It was about all these immigrants, that they come, or Muslim names, that they come. They are coming to kill us.

NEWSREADER:

—suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab—

NEWSREADER:

—Nidal Malik Hasan—

NEWSREADER:

—Nadir Soofi—

NEWSREADER:

—Faisal Shahzad, connected to the Taliban—

JANE MAYER:

There was this constant torquing up of phobia about Arabs, about Muslims, about foreigners—

TALK SHOW HOST:

There's no question there is a Muslim problem in the world—

TALK SHOW HOST:

Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.

TALK SHOW HOST:

All the people who've tried to blow airliners out of the sky pretty much look alike.

JANE MAYER:

—equating them with criminals and terrorists—

TALK SHOW HOST:

We need to kill them! You’re in danger. I’m in danger.

JANE MAYER:

—and throwing Obama into that camp.

TALK SHOW HOST:

Why do you think one in four think that he is a Muslim?

TALK SHOW HOST:

He was raised a Muslim. Barack Obama, raised as a Muslim—

EUGENE ROBINSON:

The anger at Obama was less about the specifics of his policy in Iraq or Afghanistan—

TALK SHOW HOST:

—but it is entirely fair to say he has Islamic sympathies.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

—than it was about this sort of inchoate anger against him for being him. For being Barack Hussein Obama.

TALK SHOW HOST:

Barack Obama has deep emotional ties to Islam.

BEN RHODES:

What I felt very acutely in the Obama years is a lot of that nationalism and xenophobia that was stirred up in those Bush years, because it wasn’t going to get expression in some victory in Afghanistan or Iraq, it suddenly began to be repurposed to "We oppose Obama. We need to take our country back. We oppose anybody who can be cast as the American Other."

NARRATOR:

At the White House, Obama was mired in the nation’s escalating frustrations and the ongoing threats to its security.

JOHN RIZZO, CIA chief legal officer:

There were threats coming in all the time. Al Qaeda getting hold of a nuke or Al Qaeda gaining an ability to produce chemical weapons, biological weapons.

FRAN TOWNSEND, Bush counterterrorism adviser:

President Obama is beginning to see exactly what the prior president had seen every day. He begins to get the intelligence brief. He begins to see the substance behind the inner workings of government. All of that influences, then, how he sees the threat and his own responsibility.

NARRATOR:

The president had ordered the end of the torture program and secret prisons, but the CIA wanted him to reauthorize some of the other Bush-era methods.

EVAN OSNOS:

What he quickly discovered was actually these were programs that he was not willing to part with because if you get rid of them and then the United States is attacked again, then all of a sudden you’re going to be the ones to blame.

NARRATOR:

One program had particular appeal: drone strikes. Targeted killing.

MALE VOICE [on radio]:

We have a vehicle in the back. Is that a target? Come right, come right, come right. Right there.

DANA PRIEST, The Washington Post:

The drone program that started under George Bush becomes much bigger under Obama, not just in terms of the number of drone strikes, but in terms of the types of people that can be hit.

AZMAT KHAN:

And suddenly, the controversy that accompanied an arrest and detention and putting them in Guantanamo no longer mattered, because you could put them on a kill list and very few members of the American public would be riled up by that.

MALE VOICE [on radio]:

You are clear to engage. Oh! Headshot.

NARRATOR:

Obama personally reviewed many of the strikes.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, Editor, The Atlantic:

Every day, every week, someone would come from his national security team and say, “We've got this band of six terrorists on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. We have a 45-minute window in which we can kill them. What do you want to do?” And very, very often, he would say, “Kill them.”

MALE VOICE 1 [on radio]:

Let me know when you see the target area and I’ll start the bomb drop.

MALE VOICE 2 [on radio]:

Roger that, we’re there, start.

NARRATOR:

Obama authorized 10 times as many drones strikes as Bush had—hundreds during his time in office. Almost 4,000 people killed, including hundreds of civilians.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

Of course the downside with the drones was the collateral damage. Women, children got killed in some of these drone strikes.

AHMED RASHID, Author, Descent into Chaos:

The image of the drone becomes a very disturbing influence over millions of people all over the Muslim world and even in the West.

ALI SOUFAN:

When we start thinking of a drone as the answer to all problems terrorism, this is when we failed. A drone cannot kill an ideology, cannot kill a message, cannot kill a narrative. So every time we kill someone, 10 people came to take their position.

NARRATOR:

Ben Rhodes, one of Obama’s top national security advisers, now questions whether the strikes were worth it.

BEN RHODES:

I've made a point of trying to meet people where they describe the buzz overhead and this feeling of dread, of just living in a kind of permanent surveillance of an American killing machine. What happens when a superpower spends trillions of dollars over a long period of time figuring out different ways to kill people? Think of how many ways the United States has killed people since 9/11. How would you look at America? I’m haunted by that.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN:

Yes, the reason I’m calling is to tell you that we killed—yeah, we killed—

NARRATOR:

Almost 10 years after 9/11, an American president finally announced a win that had been so elusive.

BARACK OBAMA:

Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

CROWD [chanting]:

USA! USA! USA! USA!

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

Obama’s legacy, first and foremost, is that he did kill Osama bin Laden. For the average American, that was a big deal. He won reelection, in part, because he killed Osama bin Laden. He did something that George W. Bush didn’t do.

CROWD [chanting]:

Obama! Obama! We f------ killed Osama! Obama! Obama!

THOMAS RICKS, Author, The Gamble:

It meant a lot to America, like Saddam’s statue coming down. The killing of Osama bin Laden gave Americans a sense of closure, but it really didn’t close anything. It didn’t resolve Iraq or Afghanistan.

CROWD [chanting]:

USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!

BRUCE HOFFMAN:

We wanted to believe that once bin Laden was eliminated, that the threat was over, that we had achieved what we had set out to do a decade before, that now the architect of the 9/11 attacks, the founder and leader of Al Qaeda, was gone—the threat would end.

Nothing, unfortunately, could have been further from the truth. The problem is that the movement had become larger than one man.

NEWSREADER:

Al Qaeda is expanding operations across the Middle East.

NARRATOR:

Thousands of fighters—

NEWSREADER:

Each of those dots—

NARRATOR:

—all over the Middle East and northern Africa, Al Qaeda cells striking out.

NEWSREADER:

Back at the top in Iraq—

NEWSREADER:

Al Qaeda in Yemen—

NEWSREADER:

—inside of Syria.

ALI SOUFAN:

So Al Qaeda, trillions of dollars later, is more powerful than it used to be.

NEWSREADER:

—attack at a university in eastern Kenya.

ALI SOUFAN:

It’s changed, but it’s more powerful than it used to be on the eve of 9/11.

NEWSREADER:

The president makes good on a campaign pledge today.

NEWSREADER:

He’ll make his plans public today during a trip to Camp Lejeune—

NEWSREADER:

—a most significant moment, the president—

NARRATOR:

Even as he was facing a reinvigorated Al Qaeda, Obama was determined to deliver on a campaign promise: to get out of Iraq.

BARACK OBAMA:

I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

PETER BAKER:

There was such a desire, not just of the White House, but even the country as a whole, to write an end to this experience and to say we’re done with this place that had caused so much hardship and heartache for Americans.

BARACK OBAMA:

So we will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned. Semper Fi! Oorah!

NARRATOR:

But behind the scenes, again and again, warnings.

DEXTER FILKINS, Author, The Forever War:

You had a number of people—senior American military officers, diplomats on the ground—who essentially told him, "The Iraqi state is not ready for this. You cannot go to zero. And if you go down to zero, you are going to endanger the Iraqi state. You’re going to endanger essentially everything that we built here."

NARRATOR:

Still, Obama was determined.

NEWSREADER:

The last 6,000 U.S. forces in Iraq are packing up.

NEWSREADER:

—it marked the end of the war in Iraq.

NEWSREADER:

The last U.S. troops are now leaving Iraq.

NARRATOR:

At the end of 2011, Obama ordered the troops to leave.

GEN. JACK KEANE, Army Vice Chief of Staff, 1999-2003:

It wasn’t just the troops that we were leaving—it was our disengagement from Iraq, as well. Both of those things coupled together are significant.

NEWSREADER:

The final American soldiers are packing up right now.

NARRATOR:

It was more than just soldiers: Over 10,000 State Department employees would leave, too.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, 2007-09:

We disengaged not only militarily at the end of 2011, we disengaged politically. The war was over. We were out. Let the chips fall where they may. Well, I don’t think we thought through exactly how many chips were going to fall and what the consequences of that would be.

NARRATOR:

Iraq, power always teetering between Sunni and Shia Muslims, was now in the hands of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

DEXTER FILKINS:

The last American Humvees left Iraq in December of 2011. And within 24 hours of that, Maliki, the prime minister, the Shiite prime minister, he orders the arrest of his Sunni vice president.

RASHA AL AQEEDI, Iraqi political analyst:

After the U.S. withdrawal, the Iraqi government was very emboldened, and it was free to practice—to carry out sectarian policies.

NARRATOR:

In response, huge Sunni protests. The Iraqi government violently cracked down.

With the Americans gone and the chaos growing, yet another opportunity for Al Qaeda in Iraq, now operating under a new banner—the Islamic State. ISIS.

EMMA SKY:

What this did was create the conditions for the Islamic State to rise up out of the ashes of Al Qaeda in Iraq and proclaim itself as the defender of the Sunnis against Nouri al-Maliki.

CHUCK HAGEL, Obama Secretary of Defense:

They swept into western Iraq and took control of a third of western Iraq. The banks that were robbed and stripped, the assets that were stripped in that entire area, was huge.

NEWSREADER:

It’s a threat like no other, a powerful battlefield force and a commanding online presence.

NEWSREADER:

ISIS has gained ground and is not on the defensive.

NEWSREADER:

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, driving toward Baghdad.

MALE VOICE:

Allahu akbar!

DEXTER FILKINS:

The Iraqi army, which was built at incredible expense—I don’t even know what the final price tag was, $30 billion dollars, largely by the Americans, paid for by the American taxpayer, all their equipment, everything—it all came apart.

NARRATOR:

As ISIS destabilized the entire region, Obama had little choice.

BARACK OBAMA:

The United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve. I ordered our military to take targeted action against ISIL to stop it—

NARRATOR:

He would reluctantly send some American forces back to Iraq.

EVAN OSNOS, The New Yorker:

Obama came into office with one very clear objective, which was to get out of Iraq, bring that war to a close. But ISIS forced the United States back in, and so all of a sudden the United States then has 5,000 U.S. troops back on the ground in Iraq.

PETER BAKER:

What we're talking about here is the beginning of something that he understands he’s not going to finish. That in fact, he’s going to leave his successor an ongoing military conflict with an elusive and hard-to-beat enemy just as he felt he was left when he took over. The next president is going to be the third president in a row who finds himself figuring out Iraq and what are American interests there and how do we solve it.

NARRATOR:

Fifteen years after 9/11, on the grounds of what used to be the World Trade Center, in the midst of a presidential campaign, Donald Trump would stake out his view of 9/11 and its aftermath.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, The Washington Post, 1994-2015:

For Donald Trump, the candidate and then the president, 9/11 is something very different than it was for George W. Bush or Barack Obama. 9/11 is not an event that is used to create unity. It’s not an awful, awful moment that calls on us to come together. 9/11, for Donald Trump, becomes a wedge issue. It becomes something he can exploit to further division and distrust in our society.

NARRATOR:

He had been watching the rise of ISIS.

ISIS PROPAGANDA VIDEO:

We'll begin to smoke your people, on your streets—

NARRATOR:

Attacks around the world—

NEWSREADER:

Paris is under siege.

NEWSREADER:

—terror attack unfolding in multiple locations.

NEWSREADER:

No one survived after a Russian passenger jet crashed in Egypt—

NEWSREADER:

—heavily armed, apparently well-trained, arrived at the offices of Charlie Hebdo.

NARRATOR:

—and at home.

NEWSREADER:

—a shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

NEWSREADER:

—a lone gunman who called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS.

NEWSREADER:

Tashfeen Malik, the female attacker in San Bernardino. She and her husband, Syed Farook, lived among us, walking this very sidewalk, lived in this complex, and they did—

NARRATOR:

Anti-Muslim fear that Trump readily exploited.

DONALD TRUMP [on phone]:

They want our buildings to come down. They want our cities to be crushed. They are living within our country.

LEILA FADEL, NPR:

There was this hatred toward Muslims, as if they just hated Americans and they wanted to kill Americans.

DONALD TRUMP:

—calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.

LEILA FADEL:

Trump really came in and articulated a lot of the things that were already whispered.

DONALD TRUMP:

I think Islam hates us. There's something there, there’s a tremendous hatred.

VALARIE KAUR, Author, See No Stranger:

Trump took all of that anti-Muslim rhetoric, anti-Muslim hate, and weaponized it and used it inside of our own country to enact his agenda.

JELANI COBB:

The innovation that Trump used, like many a great demagogue that preceded him, was to switch the reason we have not been successful abroad in dealing with our enemies abroad is the fact that we have not dealt with our enemies at home, that we have enemies within the country who are responsible for us being weakened on the world stage.

NARRATOR:

He stoked the anger that had been building since 9/11—the wars, the failures, the lies.

DONALD TRUMP:

The war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake, all right? They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none.

NARRATOR:

And he incited Americans’ fear of Barack Obama.

DONALD TRUMP:

ISIS is honoring President Obama. He is the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder of ISIS.

DEL. STACEY PLASKETT, D-U.S. Virgin Islands:

He was good at utilizing distrust of the establishment and distrust of Washington.

DONALD TRUMP:

We are led by very, very stupid people. We can’t beat ISIS. Give me a break.

BEN RHODES, Author, After the Fall:

There’s no more post-9/11 president than Donald Trump. It’s all the language, all the rhetoric, all the xenophobia, all the nationalism that is impossible without 9/11. We have to recognize that it’s convenient to say that Donald Trump broke America. No, America was broken and so Donald Trump became president.

NARRATOR:

Barack Obama left the legacy of 9/11 to Donald Trump: thousands of troops in Iraq and in Afghanistan; detainees in Guantanamo; drones and targeted killing; American influence waning; a nation increasingly deeply divided.

AMB. JOHN BOLTON, Trump Natl. Security Adviser:

Trump didn’t really understand the nature of the Middle East. He didn’t understand the range of threats that we saw. And he didn’t particularly care to learn what they were. I think you have to understand the things that he says as relating not to coherent international policies or domestic policies, but relating to the political future of Donald Trump.

NARRATOR:

From the beginning, he talked tough. He aimed his decisions at his political base.

DAVID MUIR, Reporter:

Mr. President, you told me during one of the debates that you would bring back waterboarding and a hell of a lot worse.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I would do—what I would do—I want to keep our country safe.

NARRATOR:

While he railed against his predecessors, he embraced the dark side methods of Vice President Dick Cheney.

DONALD TRUMP:

As far as I'm concerned we have to fight fire with fire. I have spoken as recently as 24 hours ago with people at the highest level of intelligence, and I asked them the question: "Does it work? Does torture work?" And the answer was, "Yes, absolutely."

NARRATOR:

He ordered Gitmo to remain open; dramatically accelerated the drone strikes, air strikes, targeted killing; and he ordered a raid that led to the death of the leader of ISIS.

DONALD TRUMP:

He will never again harm another innocent man, woman or child. He died like a dog. He died like a coward.

NARRATOR:

And Trump wanted something more. He sent the secretary of state to negotiate with America’s longtime enemy the Taliban. But he couldn’t end the war on his watch.

EVAN OSNOS:

After four years, Donald Trump had discovered something like what his predecessors had discovered, which is that it’s very easy to announce that you’re going to be able to get out of these wars, but it’s very difficult to actually do it. And he found himself still embroiled in this war in Afghanistan, still contending with the remnants of ISIS and the wars in Syria and Iraq. And it was, in its own way, grinding on just as it had been in previous presidencies.

NARRATOR:

But by this time the biggest war wasn’t overseas.

CROWD [chanting]:

Hands up, don't shoot! Hands up, don't shoot!

NARRATOR:

It was here in the streets of America.

NEWSREADER:

Our great national wound of race has opened up once again.

NEWSREADER:

The police killing of George Floyd sparked a massive wave of protest.

NEWSREADER:

People demand justice for George Floyd and call for an end to racial inequality.

NARRATOR:

It was a domestic war that had been building for years, one that Donald Trump was ready to fight.

CROWD [chanting]:

Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

People were rightly upset about what happened to George Floyd and had taken to the streets in large numbers.

CROWD [chanting]:

George Floyd! George Floyd! George Floyd!

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

Some of the protests did turn violent. But for the most part, people were just exercising their First Amendment rights to protest and to make their feelings known.

NARRATOR:

Trump cast the protesters as the enemy.

STACEY PLASKETT:

His war on terror was not a terror of the Middle East; it was a terror against him. Anyone who’s against him is a terrorist because they are trying to stop values that make America “great again.”

CROWD [chanting]:

I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

NARRATOR:

Trump urged the forceful response by police and National Guard.

DONALD TRUMP:

I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets.

LEILA FADEL:

These images, really not imagining them in the United States—tanks on the street in the United States.

EMMA SKY, Author, In a Time of Monsters:

It seems to be the wars came home. You can look at police in America, and you can see all the kit that they've got. They've taken all the surplus from Iraq and Afghanistan; it's come back. And a lot of these weapons, a lot of the vehicles are now being used by law enforcement.

REPORTER:

What is going on? Who are you?

JELANI COBB:

You see unnamed, unidentifiable federal agents being dispatched to the sites of protests.

REPORTER:

How are we supposed to know who you are?

JELANI COBB:

And that chilling image of the military helicopter flying low to intimidate the protesters. We have seldom seen this kind of display of military force used on American soil against American citizens.

NARRATOR:

Trump hardened the battle lines.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

The radical left Democrats will destroy our country as we know it.

SUSAN GLASSER, The New Yorker:

Donald Trump took the divisive language that he used against Muslims in 2016—

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Antifa is a fascist terror group committed to bringing fascism to the United States.

SUSAN GLASSER:

—that he used against terrorists in 2016.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

The terrorists burn and pillage our cities, and they think it is just wonderful.

SUSAN GLASSER:

The threats were no longer from dangerous overseas countries, as much. The way Donald Trump talked about it, the threat was the enemy within.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Antifa has been engaging in terrorism and seditious conspiracy for years.

BEN RHODES:

It’s the same language. It’s the same us-versus-them thing. You can just slot in antifa for Al Qaeda, slot in the radical left for radical Islam. It’s triggering the same emotions.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Domestic terrorists have taken over Seattle, run by radical left Democrats.

BEN RHODES:

In the same way that Bush marshaled the whole country to kind of take on this generational fight against terrorism, this war against terrorism, Trump marshaled his half of the country to think of itself as literally in an existential war against the other half of the country.

PHILIP ZELIKOW:

The great irony of the Trump administration’s use of the war at home danger is that they’re using tools developed in the war on terror to try to harass and persecute their political enemies at home, by exaggerating domestic threats that are relatively small.

RIGHT-WING PROTESTER 1:

Get the f--- out of here! Get out of here, you f---! Get out of here!

PHILIP ZELIKOW:

And meanwhile, however, ignoring the genuine terrorism threat that they are actually helping to foster and encourage.

RIGHT-WING PROTESTER 2:

That’s for everything that you f------ did to me, b----! Told you I’d get you!

MALE ASSAULT VICTIM:

I'm sorry!

CROWD [chanting]:

Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

NARRATOR:

It all came to a head two months after Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election.

EMMA SKY:

By the time you get to January the 6th, so much doubt has been sown in the system, so much fear, that how this opposition is described by Trump and Trump supporters, it looks terrifying.

EVAN OSNOS:

It was impossible not to recognize that the people were dressed very similarly to the Americans who had been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were wearing the same kinds of flak jackets and helmets and the earpieces. There was a visual language of the war on terror.

CROWD [chanting]:

USA! USA! USA!

NARRATOR:

Trump rallied them with a lie.

DONALD TRUMP:

Make no mistake, this election was stolen from you, from me and from the country.

PETER BAKER:

After 9/11 and Iraq, after torture, after all of these things have happened, there’s a part of America that doesn’t trust its leadership. And Trump has tapped into them.

DONALD TRUMP:

We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.

CROWD [chanting]:

USA! USA! USA!

DONALD TRUMP:

Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE:

It was kind of a culmination of two decades of growing mistrust in the government, feeling like the government doesn’t listen to you, that your voice, that your opinion doesn’t matter.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

People on every side of the political issues and every side of the spectrum felt they had been lied to, they had been betrayed. It sort of helped create the atmosphere in which Jan. 6 could happen.

DONALD TRUMP:

Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And after this we’re going to walk down—and I’ll be there with you—we’re going to walk down to the Capitol.

U.S. CONGRESS [singing]:

—stand beside her and guide her, through the night with the light from above—

NARRATOR:

They swarmed over the steps where Congress had sung "God Bless America" on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001.

PETER BAKER:

That’s quite a juxtaposition, isn’t it? These two scenes in the Capitol: a moment of solidarity and unity, us against our enemies around the world.

U.S. CONGRESS [singing]:

God bless America, my home sweet home. God bless America, my home sweet home.

PETER BAKER:

Suddenly, 20 years later, it’s us against ourselves. This mob rampaging through the Capitol trying to stop democracy.

U.S. CONGRESS [singing]:

God bless America, my home sweet home—

PETER BAKER:

And coming closer in some ways than Al Qaeda did.

PROTESTER:

Stand aside and let us in, you traitors!

U.S. CONGRESS [singing]:

God bless America—

CROWD [chanting]:

Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won! Trump won!

ALI SOUFAN:

To see them going and attacking that temple of democracy in order to change a result of an election, chanting that they want to kill the vice president.

CROWD [chanting]:

Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!

ALI SOUFAN:

It was a sad moment. This threat is way more dangerous because they are us. They are in our towns, in our cities.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN:

If we look at Jan. 6 as one measure of where we are as a nation, did bin Laden succeed in some way in fundamentally dividing us and bringing pain to us in ways that we couldn’t see at the time? If we don’t take a proper accounting of what we did in these past 20 years and what the impact has been, not just half a world away, but what the impact has been within our own borders, then we have fundamentally misunderstood the legacy of 9/11.

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 . . .

America’s war in Afghanistan came to an end.

PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN:

It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home.

PETER BAKER:

The significance of Biden’s decision is that we have given up. We do not believe that we can win there, and we don’t believe we should try. The last 20 years has been an exercise in failure.

GÉRARD ARAUD:

Let’s be frank, it’s a failure. They are leaving Afghanistan and they can’t say, “Mission accomplished.”

EMMA SKY:

At one level you could say, “Yes, at last. It’s been 20 years. These forever wars had to end.” But at another level, the war doesn’t end. What’s going to happen to Afghanistan? Those who helped America, those who stood alongside America will have their lives destroyed. And that hundreds of thousands more Afghans will become refugees. So America’s war may end in Afghanistan, but the Afghan war might not end.

27m
Massacre of El Salvador
Massacre in El Salvador
FRONTLINE, Retro Report and ProPublica examine the ongoing fight for justice for the horrific 1981 attack on the village of El Mozote and surrounding areas.
November 9, 2021