UQ Wire: Will Pitt - September 11 Revisited
September 11 Revisited
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Sunday 11 September 2005
... and the shock was subsonic
and the smoke was deafening
between the setup and the punch line
cuz we were all on time for work that day
we all boarded that plane for to fly
and then while the fires were raging
we all climbed up on the windowsill
and then we all held hands
and jumped into the sky ...
- Ani DiFranco, "Self Evident"
I have a small glass of whiskey sitting beside me on the desk as I write this. I have no intention of drinking it - it is not even noon yet, and despite the notoriously dissolute reputation writers carry around, I have no intention of getting sloshed before the sun crosses the yardarm - but I need it to be there for the smell. The smell, you see, is my memory trigger for September 11. I was teaching that day, and shepherded a building filled with children through their own terror while stuffing mine down into my stomach, and walked out of school with my brave face still on, and stopped on the way home for a bottle of Bushmills, and sat down in front of my television with a glass, and poured, and watched, and wept.
The smell still reminds me, and so here sits the glass as I look back down a blood-soaked corridor of four years gone. I remember the day before that awful morning, Monday September 10th, looking forward to the Newsweek cover story that was going to put the bricks to the woeful Bush v. Gore decision. I remember scanning the headlines of virtually every major publication in the country that day, all of which had nothing but hard words for the wild boys in the White House. I remember thinking that things had been pretty bad, but maybe it was all about to turn around. I remember thinking that the country was finally waking up to a hard fact: this administration was thrashing around in the dark, and has no idea what it was doing.
And then, the smell of whiskey. Suddenly, mystically, the Bush administration could do no wrong, they walked on water, they were the exemplar of all that was good and strong and righteous. The flags came out. The double-barreled blast of "How dare you criticize the president at a time like this!" and "No one could have expected such a thing to happen!" drowned out anything but bullhorn blather, and we were off to the races. The bodies started to drop, the press lined up in stalwart support behind the administration and its policies, and a shroud of fearful stupidity descended over our public discourse. Anyone with a question, a concern or a critique was wrapped in plastic sheeting and duct tape, smothered by everyone's knee-jerk need to cling to an image of strength so as to cleanse their eyes and minds of what they had seen on that sun-blessed Tuesday morning.
We've had four years to let this all cook, and the cake coming out of our collective mental oven reeks of failure. The merry-go-round has rolled and rolled, and as we look things over after four long years, we are finding ourselves right back at the spot I found myself on that innocent Monday four years gone: this administration is thrashing around in the dark, and had no idea what it is doing.
Perspective these days is a beast with damned sharp teeth. Four years ago, we got kicked down onto our knees. In the aftermath, all we heard was that there was no way such an awful attack could have been stopped, so there was no fault to be found. Four years later, we hear the same kinds of excuses coming from our elected leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I'm waiting for the moment when some Bush-bot gets on television and says that criticizing the president at a time like this only strengthens the resolve of the hurricanes.
Here's the thing, though. Katrina was the single most anticipated natural disaster in the history of the country. Report after report, study after study, everything and everyone for years and years said that a hurricane making a direct hit upon New Orleans would flood the city out of existence and kill a lot of people. The National Weather Service dipped into dire poetics to try to warn all of officialdom that the ram was coming. Yet despite all this, the catastrophe happened anyway.
Where is the parallel to September 11? Let's see.
In 1993, a $150,000 study was undertaken by the Pentagon to investigate the possibility of airplanes being used as bombs. A draft document of this was circulated throughout the Pentagon, the Justice Department, and to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In 1994, a disgruntled Federal Express employee invaded the cockpit of a DC10 with the intention of crashing it into a company building.
Again in 1994, a pilot crashed a small airplane into a tree on the White House grounds, narrowly missing the building itself.
Also in 1994, an Air France flight was hijacked by members of a terrorist organization called the Armed Islamic Group, who intended to crash the plane into the Eiffel Tower.
The 1993 Pentagon report was followed up in September 1999 by a report titled "The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism." This report was prepared for the American intelligence community by the Federal Research Division, an adjunct of the Library of Congress. The report stated, "Suicide bombers belonging to Al Qaida's martyrdom battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA, or the White House."
Ramzi Yousef was one of the planners and participants in the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Yousef's right-hand man, Abdul Hakim Murad, was captured and interrogated in 1995. During that interrogation, Murad described a detailed plot to hijack airplanes and use them as weapons of terrorism. The primary plan was to commandeer eleven commercial planes and blow them up over the Pacific Ocean. The secondary plan was to hijack several planes, which would be flown into CIA headquarters, the World Trade Center, the Sears Tower, the White House and a variety of other targets.
Ramzi Yousef eluded capture until his final apprehension in Pakistan. During his 1997 trial, the plot described by Murad resurfaced. FBI agents testified in the Yousef trial that, "The plan targeted not only the CIA, but other U.S. government buildings in Washington, including the Pentagon."
Abdul Hakim Murad described plans to use hijacked commercial airplanes as weapons in 1995. Ramzi Yousef's trial further exposed the existence of these plans in 1997. Two reports prepared by the American government, one from 1993 and another from 1999, further detailed again the existence and danger of these plots. The Federal Express employee's hijacking attempt in 1994, the attempted airplane attack on the White House in 1994, and the hijacking of the Air France flight in 1994 by terrorists intending to fly the plane into the Eiffel Tower, provided a glaring underscore to the data.
FBI agents in Phoenix issued a warning in the summer of 2001 about suspicious Arab men receiving aviation training in American flight schools. The warning was never followed up. An agent in the Arizona field office commented in his case notes that Zacarias Moussaoui, arrested in August after suspicious activity at one of these flight schools, seemed like a man capable of flying airplanes into the World Trade Center.
Newspapers in Germany, France, Russia and London reported in the months before September 11th a blizzard of warnings delivered to the Bush administration from all points on the compass. The German intelligence service, BND, warned American and Israeli agencies that terrorists were planning to hijack commercial aircraft and use them as weapons to attack important American targets. Egypt warned of a similar plot to use airplanes to attack Bush during the G-8 summit in Genoa in June of 2001. This warning was taken so seriously that anti-aircraft missiles were deployed around Columbus Airport in Italy.
In August of 2001, Russian intelligence services notified the CIA that 25 terrorist pilots had been trained for suicide missions, and Putin himself confirmed that this warning was delivered "in the strongest possible terms" specifically regarding threats to airports and government buildings. In that same month, the Israeli security agency Mossad issued a warning to both the FBI and CIA that up to 200 bin Laden followers were planning a major assault on America, aimed at vulnerable targets. The Los Angeles Times later confirmed via unnamed U.S. officials that the Mossad warnings had been received.
On August 6, 2001, George W. Bush received his Presidential Daily Briefing. The briefing described active plots to attack the United States by Osama bin Laden. The word "hijacking" appeared in that briefing. Shortly after this briefing, George W. Bush departed to Texas for a month-long vacation.
"No one could have anticipated an attack like this," right? Nonsense. Just as with the hurricane, the warnings were there but the disaster happened anyway. The attacks became enveloped in this asinine mysticism, as if they were magic, as if they were some kind of unstoppable bolt from Heaven itself. This was politically expedient, and was also the product of a stunned populace that didn't want to even begin to consider the possibility that their leadership could screw up so catastrophically. In fact, the attacks had been anticipated, feared, described before they ever happened, and warned against. The attacks should have been stopped, should never have happened in the first place. Such is the only available conclusion to be reached once the mystical nonsense is ripped away.
The magical qualities attributed to 9/11 helped the Bush administration to pursue what has since become yet another colossal and bloody disaster: the invasion of Iraq. Had the proper perspective been in place, no one in their right mind would have allowed these fools to pursue an attack of this magnitude after screwing up on 9/11 so badly. Like September 11, like Katrina, this was a scenario that had oodles and oodles of people warning that chaos was in the offing. Like September 11, like Katrina, the Bush administration blew right through the warnings to do as it pleased.
One such warning came from me, in a book published in August of 2002 titled "War on Iraq - What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know." In that book, I said, "The case for war against Iraq has not been made. This is a fact. It is doubtful in the extreme that Saddam Hussein has retained any functional aspect of the chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons programs so thoroughly dismantled by the United Nations weapons inspectors who worked tirelessly in Iraq for seven years. This is also a fact. The idea that Hussein has connections to fundamentalist Islamic terrorists is laughable - he is a secular leader who has worked for years to crush fundamentalist Islam within Iraq, and if he were to give weapons of any kind to al Qaeda, they would use those weapons on him first."
"The coalition that came together for the Gulf War is nonexistent today," continued the book, "and a vast majority of the international community stands furiously against another war on Iraq. If Bush decides unilaterally to attack, he will be in violation of international law. If Bush does attack Iraq, he will precipitate the exact conflict of cultures between the West and Islam that Osama bin Laden was hoping for when his agents flew three planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. An attack on Iraq could bring about a wider world war America cannot afford, and that a vast majority of Americans do not desire. These are facts."
Later in the book, in the section dedicated to an interview with former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, Ritter said, "This is truly becoming the clash of cultures Osama bin Laden wanted. That's one reason he attacked us: he wanted to turn this into a war between the West and Islam. Almost everyone said that's ridiculous. But the United States is turning this into a war between the West and Islam. And we won't win. It's not that we'll suddenly be occupied, but we'll lose by not winning. It could be a humiliating defeat for the United States, a significant defeat that could mean the beginning of the retrograde of American influence around the world. It could be devastating to our economy."
"We can kill more efficiently than anyone else in the world," continued Ritter. "The question is, what will constrain us? When you start talking about urban warfare and digging people out of a built-up area loaded with civilians, your options are very limited as to what you can do. Understand that we will also take considerable casualties. Our death toll will be in the high hundreds, if not thousands."
That book is three years old now. The warnings within remain eerily accurate, and mine was but one voice among a large chorus that included Mr. Ritter and a whole slew of very smart, experienced people. Despite these warnings, Bush blundered into Iraq anyway. One thousand, eight hundred ninety-six American soldiers have died there. One hundred and one other soldiers from the "Coalition" have died there. Thousands and thousands more have been horribly wounded. Because we don't do body counts, we don't know how many Iraqis have been killed and wounded, but the most conservative estimates put the toll in the tens of thousands. The invasion has cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and there is no end in sight.
Perspective is a hell of a thing. Perhaps now that we have Iraq under our belt, perhaps now that we have Katrina under our belt, perhaps now that we have had a few unspeakably costly lessons on just how wretched, stupid, useless, blind, willfully ignorant, dangerous, petulant, frightening, narrow-minded, foolish and ultimately deranged this administration is, perhaps now we can look at September 11 for what it really was: just another Bush administration failure that came with another massive body count.
Hell with it. I'm drinking the whiskey. Here's to you, America. May you finally wise up.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.
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