September 21, 2004

Don't Go There

I love the Nation. It's a great journal, with intelligent, challenging writing. I have no problem with its staking out a political editorial position and being an advocate. For the most part I share its views. I think.

But there is one subject that The Nation really gets its panties up in a bunch about, and I always find that kind of reaction intriguing. Whenever anyone mentions the possibility of some involvement of government officials in 9/11, the Nation gets very jittery and seems to lose its center of gravity. There's a review in the September 27 issue of the book The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 by David Ray Griffin, which is right down that alley.

Just to be clear: I don't have a conclusion about 9/11. I am far from sophisticated or informed enough to feel any certainty about what happened. I am a student of the subject. And I think it's as important a subject as there is now to try to come to some understanding of. What happened that day, whether it was one version of events or another, could be extremely important in understanding what is happening now and navigating through some treacherous terrain. We need to know who and what is trying to destroy us or damage us and why.

I find it disturbing when I see people very urgently trying to close the subject and say all is known that needs to be known and anyone who digs into the subject suspiciously is somehow unpatriotic or a crackpot. I see no justification for that at all. For some the idea that an American politician would abuse public trust to such a monstrous degree is a hateful idea in itself. It's really not a question of facts, it's a matter of faith.

That's hard to criticize; we all have faith in various things. I do not share that faith about the current holders of power in Washington. And I admit, as I have before, the first people who came to mind when the towers were both hit were the Bush mob. Within moments from the attacks, the news stations were all saying, "This looks like Osama bin Laden's work." But I could never get the suspicion out of my mind that it was the Bushes. I've never seen any evidence that they would be incapable of such an act, which seems to be the one thing that eliminates the possibility in the mind of most.

9/11 was unspeakably monstrous, whoever did it. To me the jury is still out. I've seen many questions left unanswered that should have been looked into by any probe that was intended to be regarded as legitimate and authoritative. So to me, the big question is still open.

I do agree with Noam Chomsky that the most important thing is not what the Bush administration did before 9/11, but what it did after. And the Bushies obviously used it in the most egregious ways to advance an extreme radical agenda. That agenda is really the issue.

It's also easy to understand The Nation's concern that they -- not as a publication, but as a class -- will lose their credibility if identified with the fringey left, the whacko conspiracy theorists that we've all been well trained to laugh at by our talking head trainers. That's fine. In politics it's not just a mental exercise in pursuit of pure truth, it's about alignments.

But when the subject of official complicity in 9/11 comes up they get a little frenzied, and it makes me wonder what is eating them. The review of Pearl Harbor is written by Robert Baer, a CIA case officer in the Middle East from 1976 to 1997. Now right away the fact that this guy is a CIA officer requires one to make a decision as to his credibility. The TV mentality of course is to treat the man with great deference, not to say obsequiousness, as though he were a lord or something, and for someone to show such disrespect as to actually question him would be a treasonous act for which one should be summarily shot. Respect for the institution of the CIA, and the government for which it ... does whatever it does, seems to stand at the Nation too. Or at least the publication deemed this agent worthy of a listen.

One must make one's judgments based on the fact that the person is a member of a spy agency for many years, sworn to secrecy. Being a member of the CIA requires one to swear allegiance to the organization over any other allegiances, and to never tell the agency's secrets. That may be more or less relevant to his discussion about 9/11, but it is a consideration when evaluating the credibility of his piece.

Suspending judgment on that issue and evaluating the review strictly on its own merit, I have some problems with this argument. The first two words of the review are "conspiracy theories", which is an attempt to label and dispense with the book's arguments without having to raise them or disprove them. The use of the terms "conspiracy theory" to discredit an argument has really run out of gas in the Bush era, especially in the case of 9/11, in which the official version itself is literally a conspiracy theory. What were once called scandals, like the Iran Contra affair, are just business as usual now, conducted in full view, with arrogant assuredness of never having to suffer any consequences. Today the daily news is conspiracy theory. The world has been taken over by conspiracies.

"Conspiracy theories are hard to kill," Baer laments in the first sentence. Taking on the blubbering tone of indignation that defenses against this kind of theory tend to take, he complains: "Griffin's subtitle suggests this book is a search for truth, but don't let that fool you. His mind is all but made up."

I don't really have a problem with the book's author having his mind "all but made up" on the issue he is presenting. That is presumably what brought him to the point of writing the book. That is not an indictment of the book. But Baer presents that as if the author has misrepresented himself by "suggesting" that it's a search for truth, when really he's got his mind "all but made up." I think the subtitle is appropriate. The book raises "disturbing questions."

Baer says, "Griffin simply cannot accept that our national security system totally failed all on its own on September 11." What does that even mean? How could it "fail all on its own"? It is an organization of people, government people. What is this logical tautology supposed to be telling us?

To me it is saying, "Don't meddle with this." To even be thinking about it is somehow an act of bad character or derangement. This piece is all about preventing anyone from even looking at this argument. "Don't let that fool you," it says. It's a prohibition. Don't believe it. Don't listen to it. Don't open your mind to such ideas.

The 9/11 Commission, Baer says, "has rendered much of the detail of this book stale news. What's notable about Griffin's take on these events is how easily he leaps to larger evils, a conspiracy at the top." One might say the reverse of the 9/11 Commission's report.

Baer writes that a fellow CIA agent once told him it was the CIA that "took down Nixon." Baer listened to the theory and considered it, but in the end, he said, "It was the idea of a conspiracy itself that I could never accept."

I would have to assume then, that he doesn't believe the official story, but obviously this is not what he means. He means he cannot believe a conspiracy involving official people, like the president, members of the administration, or in the case of the other story, the CIA. People who are supposed to be beyond all that, who should not violate the public trust that way.

Regarding 9/11, he says, "Like most conspiracies, it has the allure of a deeper truth, but experience tells me that although this administration is dedicated to keeping the truth away from the average citizen, it could never have acquiesced in so much human slaughter and kept it secret."

This statement too, does not stand the test of logic. In the first place, the administration has engaged in a great deal of human slaughter that is not secret. A thousand Americans, over 10,000 Iraqis have been killed in Iraq. That is human slaughter. They are not just acquiescing in the slaughter, they are ordering it.

And in regard to the question, How could they keep it secret?, they can keep it secret as long as people want to believe. As long as people like Baer reject the whole idea at the outset that people like Bush, or the machine behind him, could acquiesce or be somehow complicit in the attacks of 9/11. It could be that in fact they were not able to keep it secret. That the truth is written all over all kinds of data that is in the public domain if one only has the courage to look and dare to connect the dots.

I just don't share that depth of Baer's faith in the system to always promote worthy people to positions of power. Not with what I have seen from these guys. To me, it is still a wide open question what happened and who was involved.

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