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Alexander Cockburn and the Politics of 9/11

Joseph Murtagh

Alexander Cockburn and the Politics of 9/11


December 12, 2006 -- Now that we’ve reached the point where even the New York Times has stopped blaming the war in Iraq on al-Qaeda, it’s probably safe to say that as long as the information about 9/11 remains on the internet, there are going to be fewer and fewer people believing in the “official story.”  There are some reactionary types who have taken it upon themselves to champion the government’s cause, but in general I think it would be extremely difficult for people from both sides of the political fence to watch a movie like 9/11 Press for Truth and not come away feeling that there is something seriously amiss about the way 9/11 has been represented to the American public.  Which means the problem now is no longer convincing people that there are anomalies in the official story, but of trying to keep everyone who feels that there’s been something incredibly weird and insane about the structure of reality in America over the last six years on the same page. 


Because right now, very few of us are on the same page.  Instead where we are is on a kind of continuum.  It begins with people like the editors of the New York Times who while they might not question the official story of 9/11 no longer believe that the government’s propaganda is an accurate reflection of reality and who now realize that if you’re really intent on solving the cultural division between east and west, talking about the “ideological struggle of centuries” is probably not the best way of going about it. 


Next on the continuum we get into the region of 9/11 questioning proper, but of a quiet sort that tends to get drowned out by the more rambunctious parts of the continuum.  This is the region of 9/11 Press for Truth, the Jersey widows, Paul Thompson, FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, people who because of their special insight realize that there’s something wrong with the official story and that the 9/11 Commission was a joke, but who are hesitant to leap to any conclusions. 


Smack dab in the middle of the continuum is the region of Loose Change, of Alex Jones, of government complicity and controlled demolitions and explosions in the towers, of the 9/11 Scholars and the work of BYU physicist Steven Jones, all of whom are pretty much responsible for that fact that any of us found out about this issue in the first place.   


And a little farther out on the continuum, probably because it isn’t addressed by Jones in his paper, is the claim that a missile, not a Boeing 757, hit the Pentagon.  And it’s around this point too that you begin to realize there is dissension among the ranks of the scholars themselves, and that there’s this big debate going on between the controlled demolition folks and a smaller contingent of scholars who assert that actually, there were no planes, and the towers were brought down by a sort of death ray beam that shot out of WTC7. 


And from here we can use the no planes/death ray beam theory as a kind of wormhole into the icy, nebular reaches of the continuum’s far end, where we encounter people like David Icke, who argues that actually everybody’s got it wrong and the real conspiracy behind 9/11 is a race of supremely powerful reptilian humanoids that includes Queen Elizabeth II, George W. Bush, Kris Kristofferson, and Boxcar Willie.


At the heart of all of this speculating lies a political lesson that certain people on the left need badly to get through their heads, which is that the kind of organized lying practiced by the Bush administration over the last six years does not belong to the normal order of politics and that the whole “for or against us” attitude is a moral aberration that only enters the historical scene during periods of corruption and political bankruptcy.  Lying of this nature isn’t some temporary expedient, like military deception.  It’s an absolutely integral part of the exaggerated, conspiratorial world the Bush administration has managed to impose on the rest of us, and without it, the whole thing would come crashing down like a house of cards.  Which is why, contrary to Nancy Pelosi’s expectations, Bush is not going to suddenly start “acting rationally” or “behaving normally” now that the Democrats have taken Congress.  Not because he’s a bad person – what we’re dealing with here totally transcends issues of individual character: I still think, despite everything that has happened over the last six years, that Bush would probably be an okay guy to have a beer with – but because he’s harnessed himself to a lying organizational structure without which he would be a man just like any other man, and not the extraordinary figure all of his lying has convinced him (falsely) that he is. 


It’s the structure that needs to be gotten rid of, because its existence poses a very real and very dangerous threat to a free society.  Its authority stems from one thing and one thing only: secrecy, which is why something like the following ought to be nailed to the wall of every newsroom in the country:


The only reason all these conspiracy theories are happening in the first place is because the Bush administration has been the most secretive administration in U.S. history, and so it seems like the right and honorable thing for congressmen and journalists alike to do is not to blame the people who are doing the theorizing, who after all, are just ordinary people relishing the joy of having their eyes and ears returned to them after six long years of government propaganda, but instead to demand that steps be taken to force the Bush administration to stop being the most secretive administration in U.S. history, a good example of which would be getting the government to declassify important materials that would help the public understand what happened on 9/11, which, it just so happens, is also the date when the Bush administration began being the most secretive administration in U.S. history.


Because so far, there have been a lot of journalists taking potshots at the wrong people.  Like Alexander Cockburn for instance, who just last week published yet another one of his extremely counterproductive articles denouncing the 9/11 conspiracy theorists as a bunch of loons.  Counterproductive not only because these articles of his smack of an ugly kind of intellectual elitism, the whole “I’m so smart because I can quote Adorno to disprove the theories of a bunch of people who believe the World Trade Center was brought down by death beams from space” attitude, and not only because the huge amount of time he’s spent picking apart the arguments of the Loose Change crowd could have been spent picking on people his own size, like members of the federal government, but because every time he comes out with one of these articles, in which he tries to crush the middle to far end of the continuum, he ends up steam rolling over and inadvertently discrediting the closer, quieter side of the continuum, which is composed mainly of people who have a problem with the way the government is handling terrorism. 


It angers them, and it angers me too (for the simple reason that I don’t want any of my family or friends dying in another horrible, catastrophic event like 9/11), that not only have the Democrats failed to enact the very few recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that did make sense, but that according to Jersey widow Lorie van Auken (who, if you’ll remember, was one of the people responsible for bringing us the 9/11 Commission in the first place) the 9/11 Commission itself was a total whitewash that failed to answer 70% of the families’ questions. 


Now, if Congress only knows 30% of what happened on 9/11, we are in sorry, sorry shape to prevent another attack.  So it seems reasonable to demand another investigation, so that we can know 100% of what happened on 9/11, and get the government to do whatever it needs to do to ensure that an attack like 9/11 never happens again.  And I’m sure that if Alexander Cockburn would pause and look at it from this perspective for a few moments, he would agree. 


Because otherwise the debate seems to be less between conspiracy theorists and official story advocates than between people who care about protecting the country from terrorism and people who don’t, a point that becomes all the more significant when you recall that the perpetrators of 9/11 are still at large.  A convenient thing for the U.S. government has always been that according to the official story nineteen of the twenty criminals got gobbled up in the crime, which meant that what remained to be dealt with was a single quantifiable individual – bin Laden – and a diffuse unquantifiable mass – al-Qaeda – the second of which could then be extended by a sort of imaginary osmosis to people who had nothing to do with the attacks at all.  Like the people of Iraq, for instance, 650,000 of whom we’ve murdered by now. 


Ignored was what Bush always ignores: what the experts had to say.  According to the biographical description on the back of his book Osama bin Laden: the Man Who Declared War on America, Yossef Bodansky is an internationally renowned military and threat analyst, who serves as the director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare.  A former senior consultant to the U.S. Departments of Defense and State, he is the author of eight books on international terrorism and global crises and has been studying Osama bin Laden since 1981.  Here are his words, published two years before the 9/11 attacks:       


            Ultimately the quintessence of bin Laden’s threat is his being a cog, albeit an important one in a large system that will outlast his demise – state-sponsored international terrorism…Islamist international terrorism, perpetrated by deniable all-Islamic fronts such as bin Laden’s and made up of individuals genuinely convinced of the righteousness of their cause and methods, enables the sponsoring states to escalate their struggle against the West at a relatively low level of risk…Both regional and international terrorism can be used by a relentless and unscrupulous government to further strategic objectives, as Pakistan has proven with its war by proxy against India waged in Kashmir, and Iran has proven with its campaign of pressure and coercion against the Persian Gulf States. [Emphasis mine]


Now, when it comes to knowing what went down on 9/11, I think it’s wiser to trust a guy like Yossef Bodansky than the guys over at the ScrewLooseChange blog, not only because Yossef Bodansky has, in his own words, “been studying terrorism and subversion, particularly around the hub of Islam, for more than a quarter of a century now,” but because what he has to say accords with what we already know about 9/11.  We know, for instance, that several U.S. intelligence officers told Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker magazine just after 9/11 that Osama bin Laden couldn’t have pulled off the attacks on his own:


            In interviews over the past two weeks, a number of intelligence officials have raised questions about Osama bin Laden's capabilities. "This guy sits in a cave in Afghanistan and he's running this operation?" one C.I.A. official asked. "It's so huge. He couldn't have done it alone." A senior military officer told me that because of the visas and other documentation needed to infiltrate team members into the United States a major foreign intelligence service might also have been involved. "To get somebody to fly an airplane—to kill himself," the official added, further suggests that "somebody paid his family a hell of a lot of money."


We know that Senator Bob Graham (FL) has stated publicly that there is “very compelling evidence that at least some of the terrorists were assisted not just in financing – although that was part of it – by a sovereign government…it will become public when it’s turned over to the archives, but that’s twenty to thirty years from now.”  We know from the work of the intrepid Paul Thompson that there are suspicious ties between 9/11 and certain elements within the governments of Pakistan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, each of which has suspicious ties to certain elements within our own government, and that all of these elements together would have shared a common interest in seeing certain elements within the Iraqi government removed from power.  And most importantly, we know that there are a limited number of actual physical bodies walking around out there who are responsible for the attacks, and that so far absolutely nothing has been done to either 1) identify who these bodies are, and 2) put them in jail.


We know all these things, and yet Alexander Cockburn won’t stop writing his stupid articles saying there’s nothing to know.  It wouldn’t be so infuriating if it didn’t involve the welfare of you and me and pretty much everyone else in the country.  Because it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that as long as those actual physical bodies responsible for the attacks continue to walk around out there, this country isn’t going to be safe.  Which is why, when seen from this angle, the Jersey girls, who are calling for a second investigation, seem like good, civic-minded citizens, while Alexander Cockburn, who’s desire to shut down the debate is now bordering on the pathological, seems like the purveyor of a sort of divisive petty attack politics that at the end of the day is not that much different from the sort of divisive petty attack politics Anne Coulter engages in.  Because it serves nothing except to make some people feel good about themselves and to piss some other people off.


In the end, what it comes down to is this: the perpetrators of 9/11 are still at large, and as long as they remain at large, they can do it again.  This fact has to take its place alongside all the other issues that have been laid at the feet of the Bush administration: manipulated intelligence, the Iraq war, torture, profiteering, wiretapping, corruption, the response to hurricane Katrina.  It shouldn’t be isolated as a “movement,” or treated like some kooky topic that can’t be talked about in the mainstream media.  Because it involves a very important question that America is going to have to come face to face with eventually: are we serious about figuring out who attacked our country?  Or put another way: are we serious about fighting terrorism?  Because we can’t fight terrorism until we know who the terrorists are, and we won’t know who the terrorists are until we stop thinking in terms of fuzzy generalizations – like al Qaeda – and start thinking in terms of individuals.  In other words, we need to begin investigating this thing like the crime that it actually was.  And that’s not going to happen until everyone – Congress and Alexander Cockburn included – is on the same page.                    


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