Sixteen years after 9/11: lies, hypocrisy and militarism

12 September 2017

The sixteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed more than 2,900 people in the United States were marked once again on Monday with ceremonies at the site of the World Trade Center’s demolished Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania where one of four hijacked planes crashed as passengers fought to regain control of the aircraft.

Thousands gathered in New York City for the solemn reading of the names of those who lost their lives to a criminal and reactionary terrorist attack that served only the interests of US and world imperialism, which ever since have exploited the events to justify wars of aggression and attacks on democratic rights the world over.

The genuine emotions of sorrow and remembrance shared by those who lost loved ones on 9/11 once again stood in sharp contrast to the banality and hypocrisy of the official commemorations staged by US officials.

This longstanding dichotomy reached a new level with the main speech of the day delivered by the fascistic billionaire con-man President Donald Trump at the Pentagon Monday. Trump, whose first reaction on the day of the attacks was to brag—falsely—that the toppling of the Twin Towers had made his own property at 40 Wall Street the tallest building in lower Manhattan, delivered remarks that consisted of barely warmed-over platitudes from previous addresses, repeated tributes to the American flag and a vow to “defend our country against barbaric forces of evil and destruction.”

Trump repeated the well-worn cliché that on September 11 “our whole world changed.” The phrase is meant to suggest that the unending wars, police state measures and sweeping changes in American political life over the past 16 years have all been carried out in response to the supposedly unforeseen and unforeseeable events of September 11, having nothing to do with anything that came before.

That this is a cynical and self-serving lie becomes clearer with every passing year.

On the eve of the anniversary, new revelations emerged linking Saudi Arabia, Washington’s closest ally in the Arab world, to the preparation of the September 11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. The corporate media, which published nothing of any significance on the anniversary, largely blacked out this new evidence. The New York Timesmarked the anniversary with an editorial detailing efforts by the New York City medical examiner to identify human remains.

A federal lawsuit on behalf of the families of some 1,400 of the 9/11 victims has presented evidence that the Saudi embassy in Washington financed what was apparently a “dry run” for the 9/11 attacks in 1999. Two Saudi agents posing as students boarded an America West flight from Phoenix to Washington, D.C. with tickets paid for by the Saudi embassy. The lawsuit states that both men had trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan with some of the 9/11 hijackers. While on the flight, the two asked flight attendants technical questions about the plane that raised suspicions and twice attempted to enter the cockpit, leading the pilot to carry out an emergency landing in Ohio. Both men were detained and questioned by the FBI, which decided not to pursue any prosecution.

This is only the latest in a long series of revelations that have made it abundantly clear that the events of 9/11 could never have taken place without substantial logistical support from high places. Despite the repeated claims that the attacks “changed everything,” there has never been an independent and objective investigations into how they were carried out. And, despite being what is ostensibly the most catastrophic intelligence failure in American history, no one was ever held accountable with so much as a firing or a demotion.

What evidence has emerged makes it clear that the 9/11 hijackers were able to freely enter the country and attend flight schools despite the fact that a number of those involved had been subjects of surveillance by the CIA and FBI for as long as two years before the attack. Two of them actually lived in the home of an FBI informant.

Twenty-eight pages of heavily redacted documents released in 2016 after being concealed from the public for 13 years established that Saudi intelligence officers funneled substantial amounts of money to the hijackers in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks, while assisting them with finding housing as well as flight schools to attend.

While Saudi Arabia was the government most active in carrying out the September 11 attacks, the involvement of Saudi intelligence really means the involvement of a section of the American state apparatus. This is not a matter of conspiracy theories, but established fact. It is bound up with very real conspiracies involving the CIA, Afghanistan and Al Qaeda going back to the Islamist group’s founding as an arm of Washington’s dirty war against the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Far from the attacks having “changed everything,” they provided the pretext for acts of military aggression long in preparation. In the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union a decade earlier, the ruling class initiated a policy developed to use US military might to offset the decline of American capitalism on the world arena. Afghanistan and Iraq were targeted to secure military dominance over two major oil- and gas-producing regions on the planet, the Caspian Basin and the Middle East.

This thoroughly criminal enterprise, justified in the name of 9/11’s victims, has claimed the lives of over 1 million Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of Afghans and unleashed the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

The invocation of a “war on terror”—passed down from Bush to Obama and now to Trump—to justify these crimes has become not only threadbare, but patently absurd. The results of 16 years of uninterrupted US wars of aggression have included an unprecedented growth of Al Qaeda and related Islamist militias, largely as a result of US imperialism’s utilization of these elements as proxy ground forces in wars for regime change in Libya and Syria.

Moreover, the multiple wars and interventions conducted by the Pentagon and the CIA, from North Africa to Central Asia, can quickly metastasize into a global conflagration, with Washington simultaneously threatening nuclear war against North Korea and pursuing increasingly dangerous confrontations with its principal geo-strategic rivals, Russia and China.

September 11 did not “change everything,” but it did mark the beginning of an escalation of what George W. Bush called the “wars of the twenty-first century,” that is, escalating imperialist aggression that is leading mankind toward a third world war.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/09/12/pers-s12.html

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On the eve of the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the Aleppo gaffes show we have learned nothin

The foggy aftermath of Gary Johnson’s “What is Aleppo?” gaffe revealed how little U.S. policymakers know about ISIS

On the eve of the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the Aleppo gaffes show we have learned nothing
Men inspect a damaged site after double airstrikes on the rebel held Bab al-Nairab neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, August 27, 2016. (Credit: Reuters/Abdalrhman Ismail)

The 2016 campaign story of the week seemed to be Gary Johnson’s blunder during an MSNBC interview when he shockingly asked, “What is Aleppo?” That story, though, is really only the tip of the iceberg. The real story is the response to his gaffe. Quick to jump on the third-party presidential candidate for being woefully unprepared, political insiders and the media made a far worse error — the exact sort of error that led to our disastrous response to the 9/11 attacks.

Johnson couldn’t answer the question about what he would do about Aleppo. It’s bad news that a presidential candidate, even one from a third party with no shot of winning, could not recognize the name of one of the major cities in civil war-stricken Syria. This suggests that Johnson simply isn’t following the news related to one of most significant international crises today.

He later corrected his gaffe by saying he thought Aleppo was an acronym.  But the good news, is that Johnson didn’t pretend to know what it was. He didn’t just make something up or blather something incoherent as we might expect Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to do.

Johnson confessed ignorance, which shows a degree of integrity.

Not so with the corporate media and political insiders.

The New York Times committed the most egregious of the media mistakes. It chided Johnson for being wrong, then got it wrong itself. It started by describing Aleppo as the “de facto capital of ISIS.” (That would be Raqqa.) The Times then corrected that gaffe to state that Aleppo was the capital of Syria. (It is actually Damascus.) The Times finally changed its description of the city to simply be a “war-torn Syrian city.” As Salon’s Ben Norton reported, “There were five revisions to the Times story from 9:18 a.m. to 12:18 p.m. EST.”

On corporate TV news media, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC brought on Christopher Hill, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, who had fun mocking Johnson but also incorrectly identified the city: “But the capital of ISIS — very much in the news, especially in the past two days, but for last two years. And for him to draw that kind of blank — and, by the way, boy was that a blank stare on his face.” To make it worse, he wasn’t corrected.

And Richard Grenell, formerly the longest-serving U.S. spokesperson at the United Nations, also got it wrong and implied that Aleppo is controlled by ISIS, even though the organization doesn’t have a strong presence there. Norton pointed out Grenell, who has also become a prominent pundit, served as the national security spokesman for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.”

Both the corporate media and the political insiders it covers were simply wrong about basic facts regarding ISIS and the Syrian civil war. Not a little wrong — completely wrong. What’s worse is that these mistakes then go on to shape public perceptions. They fuel ideas about whether we should have “boots on the ground” in Syria and how we should handle the threat of ISIS.

But if we have no clue what these threats even are, how can we possible come up with a reasonable response?

Which brings me back to 9/11.

The attacks on the United States on 9/11 were a tragedy, but our response to them was a full-blown catastrophe. Even more important, our response was based in large part on a lack of knowledge of the basic players and a mistaken sense of geographical connections.

Consider that George W. Bush — who in 1999, as the Intercept reminds us, failed a pop quiz about the names of global leaders — ordered the disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq based on a series of mistaken associations and false “intelligence.” Now there seems to be significant evidence that many members of the Bush administration had been well aware that they were promulgating lies – but they were also surrounded by a team willing to accept the lies as truths.

The Bush administration was enabled by representatives of a corporate media all too happy to swallow their lies and ramp up the public for the war effort. As Raymond Bonner reported for The Atlantic, after the 9/11 attacks “journalists were swept up in the national feelings of fear and outrage — and failed to do their job.”

Recall from media coverage and political spin efforts the almost immediate association made between the 9/11 attackers, al-Qaida, the Taliban and the Afghan people.

Yet not one person on the 9/11 flights was Afghan or affiliated with the Taliban. The majority of the attackers were from Saudi Arabia. But those facts didn’t stop the association between Afghanistan and 9/11.

The rush to connect the Taliban with al-Qaida led to the worst possible outcome, since rather than negotiate with the Taliban, the United States pursued an aggressive push for war. As Foreign Policy Journal reported, members of the Taliban showed significant interest in handing over bin Laden; they just needed to be given a chance to do so while saving face.

Meanwhile, the U.S. media reported that the Taliban were intransigent. CNN, for instance, “reported that the Taliban [were] ‘refusing to hand over bin Laden without proof or evidence that he was involved’ in the 9/11 attacks.” But the truth was, as Abdul Salam Zaeef, an ambassador to Pakistan, explained, “deporting him without proof would amount to an ‘insult to Islam.’” But, “we are ready to cooperate if we are shown evidence,” he added. That interest in cooperation was absent in the media and political rhetoric because the truth of a collaborative Taliban didn’t match the desire for war.

The links between 9/11 and the Iraq War display an even greater breakdown in knowledge. CNN later reported that Bush and his team made 935 lies to the U.S. public in the two years from 9/11 to the start of the Iraq War. Those lies got media coverage, which then led to a massively misinformed public.

In 2003 the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found that a significant number of U.S. citizens linked Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi president, to 9/11 and al-Qaida to Iraq. There was also widespread misinformation about hidden “weapons of mass destruction” having been found in the country after the U.S. invasion, when they had not been. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed thought there was worldwide support for the war. Only 30 percent of those surveyed had none of these misperceptions.

It probably comes as no surprise that Fox News viewers scored the worst on misperceptions, with 80 percent of this group having at least one false belief about the war.

Both right after 9/11 and today political leaders and the media are too often misinformed on key facts central to issues being discussed. It’s not that they don’t know; it’s that they are wrong.

Thus, there is a significant gap between expressing Gary Johnson-like lack of knowledge and Christopher Hill-like mistakes. As scholars Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have pointed out, there’s a huge difference between being uninformed and misinformed. Folks who are uninformed can learn. Those who are misinformed are wrong. Nyhan and Reifler explained that misperceptions are extremely difficult to correct. It is far harder to change false beliefs than it is to educate someone in the first place.

As we consider the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we must realize that the problem is not just that so much public discourse is clueless; it’s that it is delusional. It’s not simply that we don’t know; it’s that we make things up then act on false information.

Before we have a chance at coming up with a good answer about we should do about Aleppo, we need to make a commitment to getting the facts right. We certainly blew it after 9/11 and could argue that those mistakes have only worsened the crisis in Syria. If we want to honor the lives lost due to the 9/11 attacks, we should start by getting the story straight.

 

Sophia A. McClennen is Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University. She writes on the intersections between culture, politics, and society. Her latest book, co-authored with Remy M. Maisel, is, Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics.