Monday, December 11, 2006

A Right to Know the Truth

The 9/11 Truth Movement is a controversial subject. I’ve even had some heated arguments with friends and family about it. The greatest barrier to discussion is the stigma of “conspiracy theorist,” which threatens anyone who takes the subject seriously to be labeled crazy or gullible or worse.

In one discussion, someone commented that the belief in a conspiracy fulfills a need for us to make order and sense out of senseless, chaotic events. This is a common notion, but I actually think the opposite is true. It’s much more comforting to believe that there are no conspiracies, at least of this magnitude. To think that an event this important, an atrocity that has become a central rationale for a whole new direction in our country’s foreign and domestic policies, was the result of a government conspiracy of some sort, is very frightening indeed.

But I think it’s wrong to speculate on the needs such a controversy fulfills, on either side, because it obscures the real issues involved. The key point should be—does the official version of the event make sense? If it doesn’t make sense, then we as citizens have not only the right but the duty to demand the truth.

This key point often gets lost because of our tendency to speculate about what the truth might be. Some of the speculations may seem more plausible than others, but they all shift the attention away from the questions of fact to the questions “Who did this and how?” It is much easier to ridicule such speculations than it is to refute a fact-based analysis of the event itself. Yet the tendency to speculate is inevitable, and so we must expect such things to crop up around any question of political conspiracy. With the JFK assassination, for instance, popular attention has tended to focus on speculative and sensational aspects—the “grassy knoll” and so forth—while the fact that the official version is flimsy from top to bottom, even if one only relies on the Warren Commission’s own evidence, is rarely recognized.

In addition, there will always be lunatics that are attracted to conspiracies. This fact is consistently exploited by those who attack conspiracy theories. They use the argument ad hominem and by association: find the least coherent conspiracy theorists you can, and then label all of them with the same brush. Everyone gets lumped together with believers in Roswell and Elvis sightings. But although there are wackos who are attracted to conspiracies, it does not follow that all conspiracy theories, or theorists, are necessarily wacko. Only a sober examination of facts, and not personal attacks on the sanity or general character of critics, is a valid form of argument.

There are quite a few on the left who are dismayed by the 9/11 Truth Movement because they see it as a distraction from the important work of grassroots organizing and resistance. I certainly agree that political action is of more importance in the larger scheme of things. And yet, if the official version of the attacks is wrong, I can’t imagine how anyone could justify denying the need for truth. Interpreting history is one way that the political class attempts to control people. Surely part of resistance is to be skeptical about the official version of history. And this particular piece of history is evidently being exploited in order to steer this country towards a more authoritarian, less democratic state, as well as putting us on a perpetual war footing. We can’t really claim, then, that the issue is irrelevant.

For the record, I am very troubled by glaring inconsistencies in the 9/11 story. Among the many aspects, the most bizarre, it seems to me, is the collapse of the WTC buildings. Even if one were to accept the idea that the airplanes could cause such a collapse (which I don’t), the collapse of WTC Building 7, which was not hit by a plane, is inexplicable. I am open to hearing rational explanations of these events, but so far I have noticed a peculiar defensiveness and hostility on the part of those who seek to refute criticisms. They all end up making ad hominem attacks on the critics, while using flimsy and scattershot arguments to rebut their questions of fact. I haven’t seen a sober, systematic refutation yet. And the attitude of the government, which has been to stonewall and bluff its way past attempts at investigation, is suspicious, to put it mildly. To be fair, the Bush administration lies so routinely about everything that it’s difficult to attribute rational motives a lot of the time. Still, it begs the question—if the truth about 9/11 was clear, and favorable to the government, wouldn’t it be more forthcoming, if only in self-interest?

The fact is that no one has ever been disciplined for negligence over this terrible event. Not a single person has had to pay the piper for allowing this to happen. There has never been an actual criminal investigation. All we got was a commission with a very unsatisfactory report. WTC 7 went conveniently unmentioned in this report, among other things. It’s absurd for the defenders of the official version to get testy about criticism when those who have presented this version have done such a lousy job.

Earlier this year we witnessed the sorry spectacle of a mentally ill extremist named Ann Coulter, who actually has a voice in the media during these strange times, attacking the 9/11 widows as publicity seekers. I don’t think the real problem was that these widows supposedly supported John Kerry, although that’s the way it was framed. The problem is that they’re not satisfied with the official version of the event that caused the deaths of their husbands. This speaks particularly to my point, because I don’t think these widows are conspiracy theorists. At least, that’s not my impression. I haven’t heard any speculations from them. What I do hear is that the version of 9/11 that we’ve been given does not seem like the whole truth to them. And I know if my spouse had died in this attack, I wouldn’t care what anyone, Ann Coulter or otherwise, said about it—my sole focus would be finding out the truth. If the entire world told me to shut up, I wouldn’t stop talking as long as I thought there was some part of the truth that was still hidden.

What is a legitimate issue for the widows is a legitimate issue for the rest of us as well, because this event has been a catalyst for so much more tragedy. For myself, I can say with complete sincerity that I have no stake in what particular form the truth might take. If it were proved that Osama Bin Laden did it, I would be relieved. I would prefer not to have to face the possibility of government complicity. But as long as the events are not reasonably explained, strictly on the basis of reason and science and not on name-calling or innuendo, I can’t dismiss the issue from my mind. And I don’t think the American people will be able to forget either.


whig said...

How will you go about investigating what happened? It seems to me that this is properly part of the war crimes trials to come.

Chris Dashiell said...

I don't think there will ever be war crimes trials. And chances are that 9/11 won't be investigated any more, not officially. The establishment in general is more frightened of "stirring things up" than of staying ignorant of the truth.

whig said...

You sound defeated.

Chris Dashiell said...

Not defeated. Realistic, I think. If I were defeated I wouldn't be protesting and organizing.

Owl said...

This is a very good post, well laid out. Even so, I totally disagree with the notion that the collapse of any of the WTC buildings is ``inexplicable.'' The arguments showing that the airplane impacts and subsequent fires set off all the events hardly are ``flimsy and scattershot.''

There are ``sober, systematic'' explanations, extremely well presented last month at Counterpunch.

Clearly, it is true that the events of 9/11 have been ``exploited in order to steer this country towards a more authoritarian, less democratic state, as well as putting us on a perpetual war footing.'' With that I do agree. And there is plenty of mystery to uncover about the relationships of the hijackers to US covert operations of the last couple of decades. But I feel that the extent to which there is a cover-up, it's more out of embarassment that actual complicity.

I've been guilty recently of going off pretty hard on 9/11 conspiracy theorists. I really don't mean to have such ``peculiar defensiveness and hostility.'' But look at the harsh stuff James Fetzer (9/11 "truth" guru) is all the time saying about Chomsky, Amy Goodman, and the ``left gatekeepers.'' The really serious unpleasantness is over in that corner.

Chris Dashiell said...

Yes, there is some defensiveness and, to be honest, paranoid thinking on the part of some 9/11 truth movement people. It can be hard to separate the valuable information out from the self-aggrandizement in the cases of folks like Michael Ruppert, for instance, or Alex Jones. I don't think invalidates everything they say. Once again, I think the important point to remember is that the burden of proof regarding the official story falls on the government, and I think they've failed.
I'm very skeptical about Counterpunch, simply because Alexander Cockburn has shown a contempt for any talk of conspiracy, with a quality much more emotional than based on respect for facts. I stopped listening to him when he gleefully interviewed Warren Commission investigator Wesley Liebeler in order to prove the Oswald theory.
In any case, I'd be interested if you could point me to a credible refutation concering the WTC collapses, and particularly WT-7.

Charles said...

Ironically, the House Assassinations committee concluded that a shot wasfired from the grassy knoll.

But you're right that the speculation that goes on is not helpful. People should simply say, "A proper investigation was not done. Bush delayed, harassed, limited, and lied to the 911 Commission. So of course people believe all kinds of things."

Only a real investigation, with experts in civil engineering, architecture, and fire safety (conspicuously missing from the 911 movement), declassification of all relevant documents, and oversight by aggressive investigators will satisfy people.

Owl said...

Despite assertions to the contrary by people from the so-called 9/11 Truth Movement, the reports published by NIST do consitute credible, sober evidence analyzed by experts in civil engineering, architecture, and fire safety. No doubt that Cockburn can be a crank. As I recall, his exposition on the Kennedy assassination mainly was concerned with debunking the Oliver Stone version. I once read all of that material, and never felt that it lacked credibility (unlike the picture presented by Oliver Stone). Counterpunch on 9/11 ran lengthy articles by physicist Manuel Garcia. These are accessible here.

farang said...

I'm curious Owl. You state that you "totally disagree with the notion that the collapse of any of the WTC buildings is 'inexplicable''".

That is very interesting, seeing as how you go on to state "The arguments showing that the airplane impacts and subsequent fires set off all the events hardly are 'flimsy and scattershot.'"

Well Owl, anyone that states this explains how WTC 7 collapsed is either ignorant, or intentionally ignoring the fact no plane hit WTC 7.

And ignores the radio communications made public of the firemen that reached the 79th floor, and found no fires large enough to "melt steel" nor even stop their progress to impact site. Please explain.

Counterpoint demonstrated no explanation, nor did the NCIS report. Can you tell me why my eyes witnessed a controlled demolition of WTC 7? If not, please do so, or stfu.

But let's forget that, let's concentrate on insider trading and shorting of stock the weeks leading up to 9/11/01, shall we?

Chris Dashiell said...

I would hope that we can be respectful here. I asked for a source that attempts to soberly refute arguments concerning the buildings, and Owl did that. One of my two main points in the original post had to do with sticking to the case rather than flaming or using ad hominem arguments.
So thanks for the link. I must say that I can't characterize Mr. Garcia's writings as completely sober by my standards, since he spends a great deal of space at the beginning of his piece indulging in some amateur psychology and broad statements about myths and so forth. And yes, he even goes about flying saucers and Godzilla, which to me is a way of saying that if you ask questions about 9/11 or have doubts about the official story concerning 9/11, you're a naive kook. And this is just the kind of thing I object to, and I also wonder at, because the contempt it reveals for the sincerity of a search for truth makes no rational sense to me.
Later in the article he makes the familiar argument of incompetence, which is (in a nutshell) that the architects of Iraq couldn't possibly have pulled off something so complex. I think it's a fallacious argument because it makes assumptions about who did it and how that are just assumptions, and I think it really rests on a common revulsion against the idea of conspiracy itself as being outlandish, but only when it's American officials conspiring.
In any case, not being a physicist or an architect, it's impossible for me to distinguish truth from error on such technical issues regarding the building. I still have a "reasonable doubt," as they say in court, partly just because I've seen the footage of WTC7 falling straight down suddenly, and it just doesn't look like a collapse from a fire. Maybe I'm wrong there. There are many other aspects of this case that seem peculiar to me as well, including the failure of NORAD, links to Pakistani secret service, the stock market phenonema that Farang mentioned, even Bush's behavior.
In any case, the main points I was making stand independently, I believe, of whether or not there was actual government complicity or not. I don't think that justice was served in the matter, either in terms of investigation or accountability. And I think that the dismissal of those who ask questions or ask doubts as "nuts" (Cockburn's term of choice) or some synonym thereof, is wrong.
I certainly agree that being abusive to Chomsky or Amy Goodman and calling them "gatekeepers" is stupid. To be honest, it reminds me of the frustrations of children who become enraged when their parents don't believe something they say. But I hardly think that "the really serious unpleasantness is over in that corner." That kind of talk might sound more desperate, and therefore more unpleasant, but I think we should keep in mind that the dominant narrative in the media and from the "mainstream," both right-wing and liberal,is that people who doubt the official version or believe
in a different conspiracy than the bin Laden one are automatically nuts, wacko, lunatics, etc. In terms of real power relations, that seems far more unpleasant to me, since a matter of grave importance to all of us is basically being treated as if it were negligible.
I do appreciate the fact that you are taking the time to address this issue in an adult and respectful way. I think it's vital that we do that. When either side on this issue starts to take it personally instead of just talking about it rationally, it does a disservice to all who are sincerely interested in the truth.