President Bush Declares a War on Terror


On September 20, 2001, just a few days after the devastating attacks of 9/11, George Bush spoke to a joint session of Congress and declared the War on Terror. During the address, Bush displayed the shield of Port Authority Police Officer George Howard. Howard had died days earlier after responding from home to the World Trade Center attack. Police Officer Howard’s mother had met the President and had given him her son’s shield. During his speech, Bush held up Howard’s shield, stating, “It is the police shield of a man named George Howard, who died at the World Trade Center trying to save others. It was given to me by his mom, Arlene, as a proud memorial to her son. This is my reminder of lives that ended, and a task that does not end.”

This speech by President Bush denoted a change in the way the United States addressed terrorism. Not only did it articulate a Global War on Terror, it changed the legal architecture for handling terrorist acts. In the past, it was seen as a criminal act, with the Department of Justice often given the lead in prosecuting those responsible. Going forward, military tribunals could be authorized to try terrorists as war criminals.

Christopher Flanagan


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