Friday, 11 September 2009

9/11: an excerpt from my Thesis…

In contrast to my earlier post – an opinion piece from a punk rock fanzine, written eight years ago, about the events of 9/11 – I thought it might also be worthwhile uploading an excerpt from my 2008 Ph.D. Thesis about the September attacks and subsequent “war on terror”, so that you can see the evolution of my teenage views into something firm and fact-based.

Within the wider thesis, this section is used to illustrate the democratic failings of contemporary capitalist media vis-a-vis fulfilling the necessary “political teleology” I have argued for in any justifiable system of political power, utilizing Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s “propaganda model” of mass media in its critique of post-9/11 news coverage. 

Though the Chomsky/Herman model – and my wider theory – is not explained at all in this excerpt, hopefully, the section still speaks for itself, and shows why I am opposed to our continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq…


From: McKee, D, 2008: A Critical Examination of Ethical Justifications for Political Power, pp.,256-269, (Ph.D. Thesis; Cardiff)


When terrorist attacks occurred across the United States on September 11th, 2001, they were quickly reported as being the work of Islamic militant group, al-Qaeda, and less than a month later, on October 7th, the new ‘war on terror’ got underway with a castigatory battle declared against Afghanistan, the country heralded as al-Qaeda’s home-base.

As an immediate consequence, ‘between 3,125 and 3,620 Afghan civilians were killed by US bombing’ and ‘between 10,000 and 20,000 people died as an ‘indirect’ result’.[1] This is not to mention that ‘according to the UN in March 2002, Afghanistan had become littered with 14,000 unexploded bomblets’,[2] landmine-like devices left behind by cluster-bombs with the potential to go off at any time.

The way these two events were reported at the time in the commercial news media and by the politicians in charge of it, made it appear that the attack on Afghanistan was an entirely justified response to an initial aggressive act, and fully permitted under traditional just war theory and international law. America was attacked, the papers said, and al-Qaeda did it. Al-Qaeda must be destroyed, the TV newscasters told us, and so too therefore must Afghanistan because, the politicians told us, that’s where al-Qaeda is based and, in the words of President Bush, ‘if you harbour terrorists, you are terrorists.  If you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist.  If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you're a terrorist, and you will be held accountable by the United States and our friends.’[3]

Closer inspection of the full context and total body of evidence surrounding these events outside of the five filters of the propaganda model, however, show us a very different picture indeed, and a clear example of how the news media misinformed the public and crippled their ability to democratically function.

The most immediate difference between reality and perception concerning 9/11 was the very idea that a retaliatory war needed to be fought at all, especially against Afghanistan. America had been attacked, but one cannot call the suicidal acts of an autonomous terrorist cell, no matter how well-orchestrated, a war-declaring act of international aggression from an enemy nation.

It was a crime, without a doubt, but it was a crime committed by one autonomous cell of individuals in a loosely affiliated network of cells with no overall leadership structure. Whilst Osama bin Laden made a perfect personification of the Jihadist bogeyman for front-page photographs, and certainly provides key funding for al-Qaeda activities; in reality, as each cell runs its own operations independently, without any overarching authority, the group cannot be tied down to one individual leader, let alone any single ‘base’ country of operations.

As a crime, a criminal investigation of the 9/11 attacks should have been undertaken immediately and the perpetrators brought to justice as soon as possible. Of course, that is hard when the perpetrators themselves are as dead as their victims, but if the claim that it was al-Qaeda and bin Laden was true, as was repeatedly and unquestioningly reported, there should have still been many leads to go on for finding the terrorist group legally. A good start would be basic intelligence gathering from those with connections to the terrorists responsible, but within hours of the attacks ‘top White House officials authorized planes to pick up 140 Saudis, including two dozen members of the bin Laden family, from ten cities and spirit them back to Saudi Arabia’ without interrogation – this at a time when all commercial flights in the country had been suspended until further notice.[4]

Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers, like bin Laden, were Saudi Arabian. They also had legal visas to enter the U.S., gained from the Saudi Arabian government. The other hijackers received their visas to enter the U.S. legally from both Germany and the United Arab Emirates. According to the 9/11 Commission’s report on the attacks (a report from which twenty-eight pages relating to Saudi Arabia’s role in the attacks were withheld by the Bush administration[5]), ‘beginning in 1997, the 19 hijackers submitted 24 applications and received 23 visas…the 19 hijackers entered the United States a total of 33 times. They arrived through ten different airports, though more than half came in through Miami, JFK, or Newark’.[6] Why then, with no seeming connection to the crime, was Afghanistan bombed and not, say, Saudi Arabia?

Possibly, because Saudi Arabia is an American ally, to which the indebted U.S. economy is intricately tied, or perhaps because of the Bush administration and Bush family’s longstanding business connections to the bin Laden family and Saudi Arabian oil industry?[7] There are many possibilities, but none that were raised by the press at the time. Instead Afghanistan’s culpability was simply asserted, without evidence or argument, and its legitimacy as a military target was never seriously brought into question. The official fiction was repeated and repeated as fact: bin Laden (a Saudi) runs al-Qaeda (not strictly true) and has been hiding out in Afghanistan (as I write this, over half a decade since Afghanistan was invaded, bin Laden has yet to be found there) so Afghanistan must be bombed (not the only logical conclusion if the 9/11 attacks are considered the crime that they were instead of an act of war).

The rationale repeated and repeated until considered unchallengeable was that al-Qaeda had committed the attacks and ‘if you harbour terrorists, you are terrorists’, therefore Afghanistan, who is harbouring bin Laden, is a viable target of war.

Except that the Afghani Taliban government were not harbouring terrorists. Before the October 7th strikes, they had offered to give bin Laden over to American authorities several times, so long as the U.S. government could provide evidence to back up their accusations about bin Laden’s involvement; a common legal convention in preparation for extradition, especially to a country where it is unlikely that the extradited individual will receive a fair trial. Yet the Taliban requests were not only rebuffed; the Taliban themselves became equated with al-Qaeda in both governmental speeches and the news. ‘For their part, the media effectively suppressed evidence of the Taliban’s offers to extradite Mr bin Laden, and distorted the Taliban’s position, thereby making war seem natural and inevitable.’[8]

As Chomsky reminds us, the assertion that al-Qaeda was responsible at all was itself still questionable as the first bombs dropped on Afghani soil.

Support for the bombing was based on a crucial presupposition: that those responsible for 9-11 were known. But they were not, as the government quietly informed us eight months after the bombing. In June 2002, FBI director Robert Mueller testified before a Senate committee…Mueller informed the Senate that “investigators believe the idea of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon came from al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan,” though the plotting and financing may trace to Germany and the United Arab Emirates. “We think the masterminds of it were in Afghanistan, high in the al Qaeda leadership,”…If the indirect responsibility of Afghanistan could only be surmised in June 2002, it evidently could not have been known eight months before, when President Bush ordered the bombing of Afghanistan.[9]

In Peter Singer’s words, it is ‘possible that the horrendous nature of the attacks of September 11, still fresh in everyone’s memory, swayed people’s judgment and prevented the kind of calm reasoning that is desirable before making a momentous decision that puts at risk the lives of many people, including innocents.’[10] But I think such an opinion is too charitable. It ignores the wealth of evidence for a ‘continuity theory’ of Western foreign policy, and its history of ideological manipulation, and leaves out the notion that such grief and horror might also sway people’s judgement if it is used to do precisely that; which is exactly what it seems the media unwittingly but methodically did after 9/11.

The media also neglected to give important context to the attacks, preferring to repeat the President’s hollow platitudes that the hijackings happened out of the blue, because the terrorists were irrational ‘evil-doers’ who ‘hate our freedoms’.[11] Even if we are to accept al-Qaeda’s responsibility for the attacks, important questions about who al-Qaeda are, how they came into existence and why they did what they did were not answered until long after it was too late.

As John Cooley remarks, the ‘Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was the event which was the fateful first link in the chain of dark destiny which led the United States to its present serious crisis.’[12] When Russia invaded, America’s CIA, together with Pakistan’s Interservices Intelligence Directorate (ISI), funded, trained and armed ‘a mercenary army of Islamist volunteers’[13]called the mojahidin, to repel the Soviets in what they called ‘jihad’ or ‘holy war’. The holy war took a decade and it was not until 1989 that the Russians were defeated. By this time, ‘Afghanistan lay in ruins, wasted by the jihad. Its society and people were ravaged by drugs, poverty and horrific war injuries from fighting and land mines.’[14] Worse still, as government funding for the extremist army ran out whilst the war took its course, the anti-Soviet jihad was forced to find private money from wealthy individuals like Osama bin Laden to fund it, who ‘was paying with his own money to recruit and train the Arab volunteers who flocked to Pakistan and Afghanistan…the CIA even helped bin Laden build an underground camp in Khost, where he was to train recruits from across the Islamic world.’[15]

Britain too was involved in the genesis of al-Qaeda. As well as supplying weapons to the jihad,

A British private “security” company, KMS, undertook training of small numbers of mojahidin commando units in Afghanistan and at an MI6 base in Oman, cleared by the Foreign Office. Ex-SAS men took over the KMS training programmes while a few other SAS veterans also trained Pakistani forces…selected Afghan fighters were smuggled into Britain disguised as tourists and trained in three-week cycles at secret camps in Scotland. Some SAS officers’ role went beyond that of trainers and they were involved in scouting and back-up roles with the mojahidin.[16]

This U.S./UK-created jihad eventually, and inevitably, turned against its masters once the war with the Soviets was over and they could turn their attention towards other enemies of Islam. Similarly the Taliban, created and manipulated only to serve U.S. and Pakistani power interests in the region, eventually, and predictably, grew out of control.

Was America targeted because ‘they hate our freedoms’ as the President told us? No. As Palast states, ‘there should be no confusion’ over bin Laden’s aims because, ‘Al Qaeda states its mission, like most enterprises, on its Web site’.[17] The reason bin Laden declared his holy war on his former American masters was not because he hates freedoms, but because of his opposition to the presence of U.S. military bases in the holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.[18] Also because, as we have been discussing vis-à-vis power protecting power, bin Laden does not want to damage his own economic interests and power in the region, claiming that ‘the presence of the U.S.A. Crusader military forces on land, sea and air in the states of the Islamic Gulf is the greatest danger threatening the largest oil reserve in the world.’[19]

The idea that the terrorists might have had rational aims and a defined agenda, no matter how flawed their chosen method of obtaining them, or misguided their ultimate goals may be, and were not simply raving madmen was seldom, if at all, mentioned in the mainstream media. But even with this new perspective on things and the revelation of U.S. and UK complicity in the original genesis of al-Qaeda, we still do not yet entirely have the full story. Another essential piece of information, relevant to a true contextual understanding of 9/11 is that the group known as al-Qaeda ‘was barely mentioned in U.S. intelligence reports until 1998.’ [20] In that year, U.S. embassy buildings in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up by a terrorist group linked to Osama bin Laden. U.S. President, Bill Clinton, responded to the attacks by unilaterally bombing Sudan and Afghanistan despite there being little or no evidence that the countries were involved, and destroying the El Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries factory in the process, a major supplier of medicines and veterinary drugs to Sudan and other third world countries that had no military connections at all.

This ‘bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998 effectively created Al Qaeda, both as a known entity in the intelligence world and also in the Muslim world’, says Chomsky. ‘In fact, the bombings created Osama bin Laden as a major symbol, led to a very sharp increase in recruitment and financing for Al Qaeda style networks, and tightened relations between bin Laden and the Taliban, which previously had been quite hostile to him.’[21]

This fact was echoed by Adam Curtis in his 2005 documentary The Power of Nightmares,

Al Qaeda as an organisation did not exist. The attacks on America had been planned by a small group that had come together around bin Laden in the late 90s. What united them was an idea: an extreme interpretation of Islamism developed by Ayman Zawahiri. With the American invasion, that group had been destroyed, killed or scattered. What was left was the idea, and the real danger was the way this idea could inspire groups and individuals around the world who had no relationship to each other. In looking for an organisation, the Americans and the British were chasing a phantom enemy and missing the real threat.[22]

Curtis explains that ‘In January, 2001, a trial began in a Manhattan courtroom of four men accused of the embassy bombings in east Africa. But the Americans had also decided to prosecute bin Laden in his absence…to do this under American law, the prosecutors needed evidence of a criminal organisation…that would allow them to prosecute the head of the organisation even if he could not be linked directly to the crime.’ In other words, the idea of a definite and cohesive organization was essential in order to achieve the criminal prosecution of bin Laden under American law and so the FBI, alongside an ex-associate of bin Laden’s, Jamal al-Fadl, strung intelligence together in such a way as to create the necessary organization as a useful fiction.

Although terrorism and terrorist groups clearly did exist, ‘the American and other governments…transformed this complex and disparate threat into a simplistic fantasy of an organised web of uniquely powerful terrorists who may strike anywhere and at any moment’, and as time went on, ‘the scale of this fantasy just kept growing as more and more groups realised the power it gave them’, be it the small-scale terrorist groups who could utilize the identity of the U.S.-created al-Qaeda monster to boost their own image, or the Western governments using the al-Qaeda idea and ‘war on terror’ to forward their own agenda and fill the ideological gap left by the end of the Cold War.

The pure invention of the ‘al-Qaeda’ name was even admitted by former UK foreign secretary Robin Cook, a month before his death in 2005, when he explained, ‘Al-Qaida, literally "the database", was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.’[23]

In short, there is ‘no evidence that bin Laden used the term “Al Qaeda” to refer to the name of a group until after September the 11th, when he realized that this was the term the Americans have given it.’[24] Al-Qaeda was merely a self-fulfilling prophecy, an idea created by the U.S. government to name a phantom enemy but, oft repeated in the media’s echo chamber; eventually this fantasy became a reality.

Despite governmental reaction and mass media reporting, the idea that the atrocities of 9/11 were committed for inexplicable, freedom-hating reasons by a clear-cut organized enemy led by Osama bin Laden and called al-Qaeda, based in the definitive territorial location of Afghanistan and criminally harboured by the Taliban regime is very far removed from the truth. It is an entirely ideological construct. In actual fact, America was attacked by an autonomous and independent group of mostly Saudi Arabian individuals, largely trained and created by the U.S. themselves, who had come into the country legally from a variety of destinations and been accepted by U.S. immigration services. They may, or may not have had, financial backing from Osama bin Laden, but not enough information is known – possibly because ‘the Bush administration blocked key [FBI] investigations into allegations that top Saudi Arabian royals and some members of the bin Laden family, not just Osama, funded and supported al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations’ in the months before 9/11[25] - and they certainly did not attack the World Trade Centre and Pentagon because they hated freedom; they did it because they were clear and symbolic targets of American militarism and economic imperialism, and their problem with the U.S., clearly stated for those who cared to listen, was its continued unwanted military and economic presence on Islamic holy lands in Saudi Arabia.

But the ‘war on terror’, and its ideological support from a compliant mass media, did not end with the invasion of Afghanistan. Its next phase was the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, a country which had already once before fallen victim to the ideological propaganda of Western capitalist mass media.[26]

A spurious connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein was posited and repeated, without any credible evidence, within days of 9/11 by Dick Cheney and other senior members of the Bush administration. Citing the crime of gassing his own people at Halabja in 1988 as proof of Saddam’s tyranny (whilst neglecting to mention the U.S. / UK support for it at the time), with the war in Afghanistan already raging, it was alleged that Iraq was in possession of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMDs), and thus a threat to international security which had to be thwarted.

Such claims, since proven to be entirely unsubstantiated despite their furious repetition and unqualified assertion in the mass news media in the run up to war, were surprising to anyone actually familiar with the facts. As long ago as 2001, the man who would conversely later try to convince the UN of Saddam’s WMD threat, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, had admitted publicly that Saddam Hussein ‘has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction.’[27] Similarly, former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter claimed in 2002 ‘a 90 to 95 percent level of verified disarmament’[28] from when he and his team of inspectors left the country in 1998.

Two years previously, Ritter had reported that ‘as long as monitoring inspections remained in place, Iraq presented a WMD-based threat to no one’,[29] and it should be noted that the only reason these recommended monitoring inspections did not remain in place, was because inspectors were pulled out by the U.S. themselves in 1998 in order to allow the increased U.S. bombing of the country.

The increase in bombing was in alleged response to Iraqi non-cooperation, but in Ritter’s own words, in 1998 UNSCOM became compromised from fulfilling its original task of seeking out weapons of mass destruction, and instead of cooperating with Iraq on disarmament, ‘inspectors were sent in to carry out sensitive inspections that had nothing to do with disarmament but had everything to do with provoking the Iraqis.’[30] As soon as Iraq was provoked, and questioned the reasoning behind these new demands for the inspection of sensitive sites; instead of seeking diplomatic negotiation with them, the U.S. decided to immediately use force and pulled out the inspectors in preparation for bombardment. This lack of serious concern at attempting peaceful disarmament, coupled with the fact that the American CIA had largely taken over the supposedly multilateral UNSCOM and had began using it as a means to spy on Iraq for the U.S., led to Ritter’s eventual resignation.

The contempt for the inspection process did not end there however. When a new inspection team, UNMOVIC headed by Hans Blix, was formed in late 1999, it was immediately undermined by the United States and the UK through opposition in the UN security council; unreasonable demands for access in Iraq which immediately antagonized the country instead of gaining its cooperation; strategic leaks of Washington war plans and CIA plots to assassinate Saddam which led to Iraqi distrust of the already once-infiltrated inspection team; a refusal to answer Iraq’s questions about the inspectors in the security council; and attempts at smearing Blix himself, thus discrediting both him and his team.[31]

The final undermining came just before the 2003 invasion, when UNMOVIC’s reports of finding no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and needing more time to inspect, were systematically ignored and war was declared anyway, despite there being no definite evidence of a clear and present threat and no grounding in UN resolutions or international law to justify it.[32]

A democratic media truly concerned with holding power to account, might well have brought all of this up when governmental leaders began their talk of fantasy WMDs and spurious Iraqi non-cooperation, but in both the UK and the U.S., just as it had with Afghanistan, the ideologically capitalist media – whilst offering the occasional superficial critique – stuck close to the propaganda model; keeping the general public misinformed by repeating, unedited, the words of official sources, without searching any further for proof; perpetuating ideological fictions that sent many of their citizens off to die.

[1] Curtis, M, 2003. Web of Deceit, p. 49. (Vintage; London)

[2] Ibid., p. 54

[3] (accessed: 07/02/08)

[4] Goodman, A, 2004. The Exception to the Rulers, p. 43. (Arrow Books; London)

[5] Ibid., p. 47

[6] (accessed: 07/02/08)

[7] Unger, C, 2007. House of Bush House of Saud. (Gibson Square Books; London)

[8] Rai, M, 2002. War Plan Iraq, p. 38. (Verso; London)

[9] Chomsky, N, 2004. Hegemony or Survival, p. 200. (Penguin; London)

[10] Singer, P, 2004. The President of Good and Evil, p. 147. (Granta Books; London)

[11] (accessed: 07/02/08)

[12] Cooley, J, 2002. Unholy Wars, p. xiv. (Pluto Press; London)

[13] Ibid., p. xv

[14] Ibid

[15] Curtis, M, 2003. Web of Deceit, p. 61. (Vintage; London)

[16] Ibid., pp., 62-63

[17] Palast, G, 2006. Armed Madhouse, p. 10. (Allen Lane; London)

[18] Fukuyama, F, 2007. After the Neocons, p. 79. (Profile Books; London)

[19] Palast, G, 2006. Armed Madhouse, p. 12. (Allen Lane; London)

[20] Chomsky, N, 2005. Imperial Ambitions, p. 108. (Hamish Hamilton; London)

[21] ibid

[22] Curtis, A, 2005. The Power of Nightmares: The Rise in the Politics of Fear, BBC

[23] Cook, R, The Struggle Against Terrorism Cannot Be Won By Military Means: The Guardian, July 8th, 2005:,12780,1523838,00.html (accessed 10/9/07)

[24] Curtis, A, 2005. The Power of Nightmares: The Rise in the Politics of Fear, BBC

[25] Palast, G, 2002. The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, pp., 91-92. (Robinson; London)

[26] See Appendix

[27] In Singer, P, 2004. The President of Good and Evil, p. 162. (Granta Books; London)

[28] In Rampton S and Stauber J, 2003. Weapons of Mass Deception, p. 85. (Robinson Books; London)

[29] Rai, M, 2002. War Plan Iraq, p. 72. (Verso; London)

[30] Ritter , S and Rivers Pitt, W, 2002. War On Iraq, p. 52. (Profile Books; London)

[31] Rai, M, 2002. War Plan Iraq, pp., 57-63. (Verso; London)

[32] Sands, P, 2006. Lawless World, (Penguin; London); see also: Norton-Taylor, R, 2005. Attorney General Told Blair War Could Be Illegal;, April 27th, 2005: (accessed: 13/07/08)

No comments:

Post a Comment