Robert Fisk: For 10 years, we've lied to ourselves to avoid asking the one real question
Saturday, 3 September 2011
By their books, ye shall know them.
I'm talking about the volumes, the libraries – nay, the very halls of literature – which the international crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001 have spawned. Many are spavined with pseudo-patriotism and self-regard, others rotten with the hopeless mythology of CIA/Mossad culprits, a few (from the Muslim world, alas) even referring to the killers as "boys", almost all avoiding the one thing which any cop looks for after a street crime: the motive.
Why so, I ask myself, after 10 years of war, hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths, lies and hypocrisy and betrayal and sadistic torture by the Americans – our MI5 chaps just heard, understood, maybe looked, of course no touchy-touchy nonsense – and the Taliban? Have we managed to silence ourselves as well as the world with our own fears? Are we still not able to say those three sentences: The 19 murderers of 9/11 claimed they were Muslims. They came from a place called the Middle East. Is there a problem out there?
American publishers first went to war in 2001 with massive photo-memorial volumes. Their titles spoke for themselves: Above Hallowed Ground, So Others Might Live, Strong of Heart, What We Saw, The Final Frontier, A Fury for God, The Shadow of Swords... Seeing this stuff piled on newsstands across America, who could doubt that the US was going to go to war? And long before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, another pile of tomes arrived to justify the war after the war. Most prominent among them was ex-CIA spook Kenneth Pollack's The Threatening Storm – and didn't we all remember Churchill's The Gathering Storm? – which, needless to say, compared the forthcoming battle against Saddam with the crisis faced by Britain and France in 1938.
There were two themes to this work by Pollack – "one of the world's leading experts on Iraq," the blurb told readers, among whom was Fareed Zakaria ("one of the most important books on American foreign policy in years," he drivelled) – the first of which was a detailed account of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction; none of which, as we know, actually existed. The second theme was the opportunity to sever the "linkage" between "the Iraq issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict".
The Palestinians, deprived of the support of powerful Iraq, went the narrative, would be further weakened in their struggle against Israeli occupation. Pollack referred to the Palestinians' "vicious terrorist campaign" – but without any criticism of Israel. He wrote of "weekly terrorist attacks followed by Israeli responses (sic)", the standard Israeli version of events. America's bias towards Israel was no more than an Arab "belief". Well, at least the egregious Pollack had worked out, in however slovenly a fashion, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had something to do with 9/11, even if Saddam had not.
In the years since, of course, we've been deluged with a rich literature of post-9/11 trauma, from the eloquent The Looming Tower of Lawrence Wright to the Scholars for 9/11 Truth, whose supporters have told us that the plane wreckage outside the Pentagon was dropped by a C-130, that the jets that hit the World Trade Centre were remotely guided, that United 93 was shot down by a US missile, etc. Given the secretive, obtuse and sometimes dishonest account presented by the White House – not to mention the initial hoodwinking of the official 9/11 commission staff – I am not surprised that millions of Americans believe some of this, let alone the biggest government lie: that Saddam was behind 9/11. Leon Panetta, the CIA's newly appointed autocrat, repeated this same lie in Baghdad only this year.
There have been movies, too. Flight 93 re-imagined what may (or may not) have happened aboard the plane which fell into a Pennsylvania wood. Another told a highly romanticised story, in which the New York authorities oddly managed to prevent almost all filming on the actual streets of the city. And now we're being deluged with TV specials, all of which have accepted the lie that 9/11 did actually change the world – it was the Bush/Blair repetition of this dangerous notion that allowed their thugs to indulge in murderous invasions and torture – without for a moment asking why the press and television went along with the idea. So far, not one of these programmes has mentioned the word "Israel" – and Brian Lapping's Thursday night ITV offering mentioned "Iraq" once, without explaining the degree to which 11 September 2001 provided the excuse for this 2003 war crime. How many died on 9/11? Almost 3,000. How many died in the Iraq war? Who cares?
Publication of the official 9/11 report – in 2004, but read the new edition of 2011 – is indeed worth study, if only for the realities it does present, although its opening sentences read more like those of a novel than of a government inquiry. "Tuesday ... dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States... For those heading to an airport, weather conditions could not have been better for a safe and pleasant journey. Among the travellers were Mohamed Atta..." Were these guys, I ask myself, interns at Time magazine?
But I'm drawn to Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan whose The Eleventh Day confronts what the West refused to face in the years that followed 9/11. "All the evidence ... indicates that Palestine was the factor that united the conspirators – at every level," they write. One of the organisers of the attack believed it would make Americans concentrate on "the atrocities that America is committing by supporting Israel". Palestine, the authors state, "was certainly the principal political grievance ... driving the young Arabs (who had lived) in Hamburg".
The motivation for the attacks was "ducked" even by the official 9/11 report, say the authors. The commissioners had disagreed on this "issue" – cliché code word for "problem" – and its two most senior officials, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, were later to explain: "This was sensitive ground ...Commissioners who argued that al-Qa'ida was motivated by a religious ideology – and not by opposition to American policies – rejected mentioning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict... In their view, listing US support for Israel as a root cause of al-Qa'ida's opposition to the United States indicated that the United States should reassess that policy." And there you have it.
So what happened? The commissioners, Summers and Swan state, "settled on vague language that circumvented the issue of motive". There's a hint in the official report – but only in a footnote which, of course, few read. In other words, we still haven't told the truth about the crime which – we are supposed to believe – "changed the world for ever". Mind you, after watching Obama on his knees before Netanyahu last May, I'm really not surprised.
When the Israeli Prime Minister gets even the US Congress to grovel to him, the American people are not going to be told the answer to the most important and "sensitive" question of 9/11: why?