For the families, friends and neighbors of the victims, 9/11 has one special evil aftermath that can never be erased and redeemed, one that the rest of us fortunately can share only at a remove. The 9/11 plane hijacks and crashings were acts of terror, the modern piracy. They were an offense against humanity and the law of nations, and it was right to seek out the guilty in Afghanistan and elsewhere where we had reason to believe they lurked—a category to which Iraq had never at any relevant time belonged prior to the US-led invasion; whether our invasion has turned Iraq into a international terrorist haven is less clear.
For all of us, 9/11 has a second subtler and yet also evil aftermath—one that was and is avoidable: the making of scapegoats, the punishment and torture of the innocent, the national turn towards fear, suspicion, paranoia, encouraged by politicians with a firmer grasp of self-interest than of the national interest. Where are the leaders who understand that the corrupting effect of fear is more to be feared than those relatively puny forces who try to make us fear them?
9/11 fostered a policy climate, or became an excuse to create a policy climate, that lost any interest in compliance with international law when inconvenient. It remains an excuse invoked to justify domestic policing characterized by increased elements of 'security theater', and unleashed police brutality. This involves disdain for niceties of human rights and even human decency both abroad (Abu Ghraib) and at home (Padilla, Hamdi and many other illegal detentions). Some of the hardest hit at home are immigrants, not all of them in full compliance with visa requirements and thus in some cases not total innocents or totally blameless, but none deserving to become unpersons, or to be shackled for months in solitary confinement without access to counsel.
By scaring the gutless — including notably our leaders — into the abandonment of some of our core ideals, the 9/11 terrorists scored an infinitely more damaging and potentially lasting victory than just one day of mass murder.
Think I am overdoing it? Read the news. Or if you can't read the news, watch the pictures.