They say journalists provide the first draft of history. With the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, that draft led to an almost universal consensus, at least among Americans, that the attack was a justifiable act of self-defense. The Afghanistan action is commonly viewed as a "clean" conflict as well – a war prosecuted with minimal loss of life, and one that didn't bring the kind of international opprobrium onto the United States that the invasion of Iraq would lead to a year later.
Those views are also held by many Americans who are critical of the excesses of the Bush administration's "War on Terror." But there's a disconnect there. Everything that followed – secret detentions, torture, the invasion of Iraq, the assault on domestic dissent – flowed inevitably from the failure to challenge Bush's claim that an act of terror required a military response. The United States has a rich history of abandoning its purported liberal values during times of war, and it was our acceptance of Bush's war narrative that led to the abuses that have shattered America's moral standing before the world.
Thus does Joshua Holland begin an article in which he presents an interview with Andy Worthingnton, author of The Guantanamo Files which
... offers a much-needed corrective to the draft of the Afghanistan conflict that most Americans saw on their nightly newscasts. Worthington is the first to detail the histories of all 774 prisoners who have passed through the Bush administration's "legal black hole" at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But his history starts in Afghanistan, and makes it abundantly clear that the road to Guantánamo – not to mention Abu Ghraib – began in places like Kandahar.
From there the process is one of connecting the dots and tracing the path that led to the abandoning of principles once held to be fundamental to the US system of justice. The process has been cloaked in lies and spin and the first question and answer addresses a fundamental misrepresentation:
Joshua Holland: I think most Americans believe that we went into Afghanistan to rout anti-American or anti-Western "jihadi," but your book captures the fact that the U.S. entered on one side of a long-standing civil war that had nothing to do with any sort of "clash of civilizations" between East and West. Can you give us some sense of what that conflict was about?
Andy Worthington: Sure, it's a very good question, actually. Briefly, the roots of the conflict lie in the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, when the United States, via Pakistani intermediaries, and the Saudis vied to fund the mujahideen – Afghan warlords and their soldiers, backed up by a rather smaller number of Arab recruits.
At the end of the 1980s, when the Soviet Union withdrew, the country was plunged into a civil war, as the various warlords, pumped up with billions of dollars of U.S. and Saudi aid, fought each other to gain control of the country. Tens of thousands of civilians died, and crime and human rights abuses were rife.
Largely in response to this lawlessness, the Taliban – initially a group of ultraorthodox religious students from the south of the country – rose up to cleanse the country by creating a pure Islamic state. Their project, too, was soon derailed by brutality and by a religious fundamentalism that shocked the West, but it was the struggle between the Taliban and the warlords of the Northern Alliance that attracted thousands of foreign foot soldiers to Afghanistan in the 1990s, summoned by fatwas issued by radical sheikhs in their homelands, which required them to help the Taliban in their struggle against the Northern Alliance.
Osama Bin Laden, who had been living in Saudi Arabia and Sudan in the post- Soviet period, returned to Afghanistan in 1996 and became involved in funding military training camps and building up his plans for a global, anti-American jihad, but – although there was some overlap between Al Qaeda and parts of the Taliban leadership – the vast majority of the recruits, as I've indicated, were involved not in a grand "clash of civilizations" but in a provincial inter-Muslim civil war.
And from that we get to Guantanamo, and Iraq.
For more on the Guantanamo trial processes there is this further article by Worthtington.
It has been a long and twisted and tortuous path indeed.