Before the Smoke Cleared: Decision-Making in the Immediate Aftermath of 9/11

37 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2013

Date Written: December 18, 2012


In the days that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States reacted with numerous actions designed to confront the persons responsible and prevent similar instances of terrorism on American soil. There has been much criticism about the laws enacted in the wake of those tragic events, whether aimed at the curtailment of civil liberties, the decisions to engage in armed conflict abroad, or the disregard of other international and domestic commitments. This article focuses on the decisions made specifically during the period from September 11, 2001 through September 14, 2001. This article discusses how rapid decision-making immediately following the attacks on 9/11 created significant additional problems in the United States and accomplished one of the major goals of those responsible. I argue that the only appropriate reaction to terrorist acts great or small is measured response derived from policies emotionally removed from the actual events that trigger the response. Section II of this paper discusses the purposes behind terrorist acts in general and how terrorist groups use fear to get their enemies to subconsciously enact self-destructive policies. Section III examines decision making processes in times of crisis, specifically discussing the biases triggered by acts of terror. Section IV scrutinizes government action in the four days that followed the terrorist attacks, including the Bush Doctrine and the Authorization for Use of Military Force. Section V argues that it is necessary to create uniform policies for reacting to acts of terror in order to prevent bias from negatively affecting the larger long-term goals of American society.

Keywords: terrorism, heuristics, bias, September 11, 9/11, terrorists, decision-making

Suggested Citation

Stewart, Brian, Before the Smoke Cleared: Decision-Making in the Immediate Aftermath of 9/11 (December 18, 2012). University of Miami Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

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