America after 9/11

How 9/11 ushered in an era of fear, mistrust, and division in America.

  • Fred Vigeant

On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda operatives carried out the deadliest terror attack on America in the country’s history, killing nearly 3,000 people and injuring thousands more.

As the U.S. prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the tragedy that changed everything, FRONTLINE presents America After 9/11, an epic re-examination of the U.S. government’s response across four presidencies — and the unintended consequences.

Gripping, sobering and illuminating, the film draws on dozens of revelatory interviews with elected officials, White House and intelligence insiders, military leaders, journalists and others — as well as on those conducted over 20 years of FRONTLINE’s coverage of 9/11 and its aftermath — to present a bold reinterpretation of 9/11’s legacy.

With extraordinary access to key participants and decision-makers, America After 9/11 chronicles mistakes and missteps in what the George W. Bush administration termed the “war on terror,” starting with strategic failures in Afghanistan — and continuing on to the administration’s determination to go to war in Iraq and its inaccurate claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda.

Tracing the lack of planning, chaos and sectarian civil war that followed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s ouster, the film goes on to explore how the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA’s embrace of torture and the abuse captured at Abu Ghraib became symbols of America’s willingness to use any means necessary in response to 9/11 and to prevent further attacks. “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,” says Rasha Al Aqeedi of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, the film reports, attempts to successfully exit Iraq, win in Afghanistan and close Guantanamo foundered. By 2014, ISIS — a terror group with roots in Al Qaeda — entered the world stage. And despite being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize months into his presidency, Obama continued waging his predecessor’s war on terror in new ways. He would authorize 10 times as many drone strikes as Bush had — hundreds in total during his time in office, killing nearly 4,000 people, including hundreds of civilians, and prompting backlash across the globe.

In tracing the evolution and legacy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan across multiple presidencies, the documentary explores how the U.S.’s standing in the world has been impacted.

FRONTLINE – America After 9/11 is available to watch on demand through the PBS Video App.

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next

The Uncertain Hour