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
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
Ram zi 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.
Ram zi 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. Ram zi 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
"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
"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.