Before 2001, 11 September was universally identified as the date of another attack on democracy: the day, precisely four decades ago, when Augusto Pinochet ended hope of a progressive, socialist and pacifist democracy in Latin America, by leading a bloody military coup in Chile.
The brutal attack on the citizenry of the small nation entailed a sustained period of violence during which Pinochet's regime employed torture, disappearances, and the systematic and selective death of thousands of people – all the while touting messages of reform and progress.
By contrast, the attacks of 2001 were an indiscriminate massacre by foreign terrorists, and America's response was as swift and powerful as one might expect from the world's most potent military superpower. The message was clear: actions against the US have dire consequences.
But the reactive "war on terror" has had many consequences of its own, ushering in an era of great restriction on rights and civil liberties, and making commonplace the use of torture, renditions, and other perverse tactics. Far from contributing to safety, these actions have jeopardized the manifold achievements in international human rights laws and norms from the last century that serve to protect the global public.
This same two-dimensional mentality was evident 40 years ago in the US government's support of the Chilean coup d'etat. Salvador Allende was brought to power with the vision of an inclusive and egalitarian democracy in Chile, one that would fight against social inequality, poverty, and wealth disparity. His overthrow was co-ordinated by those who feared his socialist ideals above all. Their preferred alternative was a violent dictatorship, driven by economic interests, and an expansionist ideology that favoured militarism and fascism.
For two decades, Chile's authoritarian rule dashed the hopes of the millions who had supported Allende's vision, through repression, a complete lack of justice and accountability, and the relentless persecution of pro-democracy advocates. Yet, throughout the reign of terror, Chilean human rights advocates persisted, and resisted, pressing the international judicial community to act in accordance with their responsibilities to uphold the rights of the people, to stop standing idly by in the face of injustice.
Their dedication came with heavy costs, but it did eventually pay off. In 1998, Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London on charges of genocide, torture and terrorism against his people. When he was returned to Chile, new investigations began there, as well.
And as became clear to the world during the course of the investigations, the US-backed dictator had broken every possible ethical code. In addition to his violent criminality, he was an economic predator as well, having used his mandate and position to launder tens of millions of dollars into secret bank accounts in the US while many thousands of Chileans suffered from poverty.
While it is true that death got to Pinochet before the judicial system could deliver true justice, it was also clear that Pinochet had already been tried and convicted as a traitor of the people long before his passing. In addition, the Riggs bank, which had aided Pinochet's illegal dealings, suffered a penalty, and a significant compensation for the victims was made through the Salvador Allende Foundation. It was through these legal channels that democracy triumphed against terror.
In the wake of these historical shifts, and facing its own terror problem, the American political machine still remains, in many respects, fixated in its cold war mentality. The CIA no longer runs amok in South America, yet the US is still trying to influence and control sovereign nations in Latin America: American "soft power" may be more subtle than the crude subversion that sank the entire continent into internal conflict and military repression throughout the 1970s and 80s, but the imperialist mindset remains.
This same mentality that gave us the disastrous interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan also now continues with the drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen – which fly in the face of international legal norms. And finally, we see the United States still wedded to cold war doctrines of state secrecy and surveillance in its persecution of whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and its spying on the communications of foreign citizens and governments.
And as the security state tightens its grip, the war purportedly waged in defence of democracy now finds itself as the foremost contributor to the erosion of democratic ideals. Rather than learn from the example of the Chilean struggle, and accept its responsibility for the suffering it brought, America's warmongering, and its many violations of international law, fly in the face of the hard-fought victories of Chile's victims and their supporters.
As we approach 40 years since the devastating events in Chile, and a dozen since the horrific attacks of 2001, we must remember that to truly honour the memory of all those who lost their lives in the fight for democracy, we must uphold the principles of freedom and equality that democracy represents.
Facing his certain death, President Allende said, in his final address to the Chilean people:
Go forward knowing that sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again where free men will walk to build a better society.
The time to build that better society is now.