Question Authority ... Except About 9/11? A Reply to The Progressive
Question Authority ... Except About 9/11?
A Reply to Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive
By Allan Wood
On the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive, published a lengthy commentary on the magazine's website: "Enough of the 9/11 Conspiracies, Already". It was posted at Common Dreams the following day.
In discussing the 9/11 Truth Movement, Rothschild made some blatant distortions and omissions, which I would like to address.
I have been independently researching various aspects of 9/11 ever since the names of the 19 hijackers were first released on September 14, 2001. I helped write and edit entries for Paul Thompson's Complete 9/11 Timeline, I co-wrote an examination of what George W. Bush did on that infamous morning, and I spoke at a press conference for 9/11 Citizens Watch in lower Manhattan before the 9/11 Commission's first public hearing in 2003.
From my perspective, Rothschild's attitude – which echoes that of many progressives, including David Corn of The Nation – is 'Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, all of them, they lie day and night about every topic under the sun – except for 9/11.' Why would we think the Bush Gang would distort the facts about everything except the central event that has given them the opportunity and license to do everything they wanted?
The Administration's ability to take advantage of 9/11 – and their great success at doing so – certainly does not prove their complicity. It should, however, compel us to make sure we know exactly what happened on that day. The implied admonition in Rothschild's headline – "Don't ask questions" – runs counter to the basic premise of progressive thought.
At one point, Rothschild asks: “[Are we] supposed to believe that this incompetent Administration, which brought you Katrina, was somehow able to execute this grand conspiracy?”
I would never call the Bush Administration incompetent. In fact, I’m continually amazed at how efficient they have been at accomplishing their agenda – war without end, funnelling billions of taxpayer dollars to their business buddies, imprisonment with charges or trial, spying on civilians, concentration camps, torture, limiting dissent – the list goes on and on – all with little or no resistance from the Democrats, the media or the American public. Most of this has been accomplished by using the so-called war on terror as an excuse – and raising fears of another 9/11.
When Rothschild calls all 9/11 conspiracy theories "profoundly irrational" and insists they "lead nowhere" and are "almost all ... baseless", he gives tacit approval to the Bush administration's official story.
I use the term "official story" to refer to the broad outline of what supposedly happened on 9/11. It's very important to note that there is no one "official story". Nearly every aspect of what we've been told about 9/11 – the actual attacks and the military's reaction, the warnings from more than a dozen foreign nations, the hijackers and their backgrounds – can be called into question, either because the government has presented no evidence or because they have released several contradictory versions of the same incident.
Rothschild's third paragraph begins, "Here's what the conspiracists believe". With that one phrase, Rothschild lumps millions of people who doubt the official story of 9/11 into one monolithic group.
Even a cursory examination of the 9/11 Truth Movement will reveal that it's not a single organization or group, but many independent people doing diverse research and having radically different beliefs. There are perhaps no two people in the Truth Movement whose thoughts on 9/11 line up 100%. Yet Rothschild's starting point is that everyone who questions the official story believes the exact same things.
And what are these beliefs? Rothschild discusses only four: (1) 9/11 was an inside job, ordered by the Bush administration; (2) three buildings at the WTC complex collapsed because of pre-planted explosives; (3) a small plane or a missile hit the Pentagon; and (4) Flight 93 was shot down.
Rothschild chides those researchers "who never even took one college science course [holding] forth at great length" on how the World Trade Center buildings collapsed. Yet he appears guilty of something similar – dismissing the 9/11 Truth Movement without having done much research into it, or, seemingly, into the events of September 11th themselves. Rothschild's observations on the movement are very similar to other uninformed dismissals from the mainstream.
9/11 researchers do not agree on what caused the buildings to collapse or what hit the Pentagon. In fact, those are probably the two most divisive subjects in the movement. Many researchers, including myself, do not spend much time at all investigating or debating those topics.
In discussing what brought the two towers down, Rothschild gives credence to the March, 2005 cover story of Popular Mechanics, which set out to debunk many 9/11 conspiracies. In that article, PM's researchers showcased the silliest and flimsiest theories (including several that already had been discredited within the 9/11 community), as if these were the main talking points of the movement.
Rothschild writes: "Osama bin Laden has already claimed responsibility for the attack several times and boasted of the prowess of the suicide bombers who hijacked those planes. Why not take him at his word?"
On September 16, 2001, bin Laden explicitly denied any involvement: "The US government has consistently blamed me for being behind every occasion its enemies attack it. I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks."
Bin Laden may have been lying when he said this, but why wouldn't Rothschild also "take him at his word" on this statement? In June 2006, when asked why there is no reference to the September 11 attacks on the FBI's bin Laden Wanted Poster, Rex Tomb, the Bureau's Chief of Investigative Publicity, conceded that "the FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11."
Rothschild continues: "And if bin Laden were working in cahoots with the Bush Administration, why was the President warned on August 6, 2001, in a Presidential daily briefing that Osama bin Laden was about to attack the United States? Wouldn't that risk exposing the conspiracy?"
This naively assumes that everyone in the Bush administration (or FBI, or CIA) would have had to be in on a conspiracy in order for one to exist. Was every Enron employee in cahoots with the criminals that ran that company? No. Is every newspaper reporter privy to what goes on in editors-only meetings? Of course not.
Rothschild claims, "The problems with a vast conspiracy theory are obvious. There's the likelihood that someone along the chain would squeal." He then quotes Richard Clarke, who served as counterterrorism czar for both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush: "The government is not sufficiently competent to pull off such conspiracies and too leaky to keep them secret."
This is a common belief, but it is also a Catch-22. If we're aware of various government secrets, then someone must have leaked them. But if the government has been successful in keeping things hidden, how would we know? It's still a secret!
Daniel Ellsberg, who knows a fair amount about conspiracies and secrets, addressed this matter in his book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (my emphasis):
It is a commonplace that "you can't keep secrets in Washington" or "in a democracy," that "no matter how sensitive the secret, you're likely to read it the next day in the New York Times." These truisms are flatly false. They are in fact cover stories, ways of flattering and misleading journalists and their readers, part of the process of keeping secrets well. Of course eventually many secrets do get out that wouldn't in a fully totalitarian society. ... But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of secrets do not leak to the American public. This is true even when the information withheld is well known to an enemy and when it is clearly essential to the functioning of the congressional war power and to any democratic control of foreign policy. The reality unknown to the public and to most members of Congress and the press is that secrets that would be of the greatest import to many of them can be kept from them reliably for decades by the executive branch, even though they are known to thousands of insiders.
Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the co-chairmen of the 9/11 Commission, admit in their new book, Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission, that officials from the Pentagon, NORAD and the FAA all likely lied to the Commission in their testimony. And while the Commissioners considered referring the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation, in the end, they did nothing.
Top administration officials – including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers – have given multiple, contradictory accounts of their actions on the morning of September 11. In my own research, I found seven different accounts of how Bush learned about the first WTC plane crash. I believe the American people deserve a straight answer, but the Commission never demanded or even requested one.
Rothschild's statement on the possible shoot down of Flight 93 is surprisingly weak:
[Many] conspiracists allege that Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, was brought down not by the passengers struggling with the hijackers but by a U.S. missile. But we know from cell phone conversations that passengers on board that plane planned on confronting the hijackers. And, as Debunking 9/11 Myths [the Popular Mechanics book] notes, "a Cleveland air traffic controller assigned to Flight 93 heard signs of a struggle in the cockpit, followed shortly by screaming."
Plans to confront the hijackers and sounds of a struggle do not preclude a shoot-down. All three events – or any combination of them, or none of them – could have occurred.
There are solid, bona fide reasons why the crash of Flight 93 should be investigated further, including the numerous reports from local residents right after the crash of other planes in the area, TV news reports that morning that two F-16 fighters were tailing Flight 93 before it crashed, and a flight controller's statement on September 12 that an F-16 fighter made several 360-degree turns to remain close to the airplane.
As I mentioned above, I have not spent much time examining what hit the Pentagon. The incessant bickering within the movement on this subject seems more like a diversionary tactic than an attempt at constructive debate. However, since the FBI has admitted that it possesses film footage from no less than 84 security cameras stationed around the Pentagon, it could likely put all conspiracy theories to rest by simply releasing all of the film from those 84 cameras that was taken between 9:15 to 9:45 AM on 9/11.
There remain scores of serious 9/11 issues that have been ignored by the media and thus invisible to the American public. When one of these topics is mentioned, either in public or on internet message boards, the defenders of the official story fall silent. Sadly, Rothschild doesn't so much as hint at these important issues.
Here are three items I'd like to see get some front-page attention and serious investigation:
* There were as many as 12 war games being staged on the morning of 9/11 (scroll down on this page), some of which involved the simultaneous hijackings of passenger planes, both military and civilian airliners "impersonating" hijacked planes, and the crashing of a plane into a government building. For some of the military exercises, false "blips" meant to represent hijacked planes were placed onto FAA radar screens. This is a critically important issue in understanding the response of the American military, yet no media outlet has yet reported on these exercises and the 9/11 Commission casually mentioned only one of them in passing in a footnote.
* David Schippers (the House Judiciary Committee's chief investigator in the Clinton impeachment trial) claims that several FBI agents knew the targets and date of the attacks as much as six weeks before 9/11. During August 2001, Schippers tried to interest anyone in Washington (including then-Attorney General John Ashcroft) in this information, but no one seemed to care.
* Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi – two eventual hijackers the CIA knew had connections to the USS Cole bombing – had a very close relationship with Abdussattar Shaikh, a long-time undercover FBI informant who worked closely with the Bureau on terrorism cases. Alhazmi lived with Shaikh in San Diego for almost one year – and two other hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Hani Hanjour, may have also hung around Shaikh's house.
In his book Intelligence Matters, Florida Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the Congressional Joint Inquiry into the attacks in late 2002, discloses how the FBI first failed to tell the Inquiry about Shaikh, then refused to allow him to testify (while insisting its internal investigation had determined his innocence), moved him to a secret location "for his own safety", and apparently set him up with "a well-known former Justice Department attorney [who had] a strong relationship with the FBI".
The 9/11 Commission's Final Report refers to this FBI asset only once – as an anonymous "homeowner".
These three issues may turn out to lead nowhere. But one needn't be profoundly irrational to believe they should be addressed.
Rothschild refers to David Ray Griffin (a professor of theology and religion, who has written more than 25 books, including three on 9/11) as "the guru of the Truth Movement" and spends much of his essay taking apart Griffin's theories of controlled demolition and what hit the Pentagon. But he completely ignores Griffin's best work – his untangling of the convoluted explanations given for the military's lack of response to the four hijacked planes.
Indeed, most people don't know that in its Final Report, released in July 2004, the 9/11 Commission invented a brand-new chronology for the US military. This new timeline not only contradicted every single news report since the attacks occurred, but also contradicted the Commission's interim reports and many of the witnesses it had called. The Commission did not mention or explanation this discrepancy.
Paul Thompson, the editor of The Complete 9/11 Timeline (published as the book The Terror Timeline), has documented seven radically different versions of the military's response. The first account was given by Richard Myers, the acting Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 9/11, in sworn testimony before the Senate on September 13, 2001. He testified that no military plane was scrambled to respond to the attacks until after the Pentagon was hit – more than one hour after the first plane was known to have been hijacked. It was on the following evening that the "official" story began to change.
Rothschild admits that the government's version doesn't make complete sense, but he's quick to say that trying to solve the mystery is pointless.
To be sure, there are discrepancies and omissions … But almost all of their [conspiracists'] major assertions are baseless. And their own theories have such gigantic holes and require such monumental leaps of logic that they discredit themselves.
At bottom, the 9/11 conspiracy theories are profoundly irrational and unscientific. ... The 9/11 conspiracy theories are a cul-de-sac. They lead nowhere.
Progressives and liberals demanded to see evidence of Iraq's WMDs prior to the US invasion, and we howled when it became obvious that such evidence did not exist – and that the Bush administration knew that from the start. Why is it wrong to demand the same regarding 9/11?
It's bad enough that conservatives and moderates, in every available media outlet, ridicule everyone who doesn't toe the Bush line on 9/11. That progressives do the same thing is shameful – and hypocritical.
redsock/Allan Wood lives in Ontario, Canada.