Adnan Zuberi has produced and directed a filmed documentary titled “9/11 in the Academic Community” (2013), and it is a winner at the University of Toronto Film Festival. The 73-minute picture features interviews with prominent Canadian professors about the very tepid response of university academics to a pivotal event of this century, one that has heavily influenced American foreign and domestic policies since its occurrence on September 11, 2001. Why have scholars been dormant on questions surrounding 9/11 and on the defects of the 9/11 Commission’s Report?
This documentary remains timely because nothing has altered the course taken by the U.S. government after 9/11. Although the official conspiracy theory of the government in the 9/11 report meets with increasing skepticism because of its anomalies, unanswered questions, contradictions and political origins, it remains the official account. Zuberi’s work reminds us that the university remains one of the few places where research is a way of life and, even if influenced by streams of government funding, a way of life that might nurture far more intensive inquiries into 9/11 than have heretofore been seen.
As for 9/11 being a pivotal event, were it not for 9/11 and in the absence of any similar provocative event that would have served a like function in producing a narrative that could be used by the U.S. government to create support for the U.S. war on terror with all its ramifications, we would not have seen the U.S. violate international laws by launching aggressions against Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya as well as such warring activities as we have seen in Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen. We would not have seen the U.S. adopt kidnappings and torture. We would not have seen the U.S. virtually discard the fourth amendment to its Constitution. We would not have seen the president assume the powers to make wars virtually unimpeded and to order forces including special forces into action on his own say-so. We would not have seen a president institute the aggressive policy of preemptive war. We would not have seen intrusive search procedures at airports, the burgeoning of the national security state with its blanket spying, or even the militarization of local police forces. We would not have seen the chilling of journalistic freedoms and the suppression of whistleblowers.
We need to recognize that even before 9/11, there were groups in Washington that were promoting the U.S. as a sole superpower and calling for its amplification and extension. There were groups calling for hegemony of the U.S. worldwide. There were those who called for not allowing any regional powers to arise anywhere in the world. There were those who articulated expansive views of U.S. interests and national security. There were those who were taking aim at a list of states in the Middle East that included Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Lebanon, Somalia and Iran. There were those who stood to gain personally from an expansion of the national security state and from a condition of permanent warfare or its equivalent.
9/11 proved to be a catalytic event that precipitated all these sorts of policies. Within days, American leaders and the unquestioning media framed a narrative based upon 9/11 that fastened upon al-Qaeda as an organized worldwide threat. Even after al-Qaeda was shown not to be so fearsome or powerful, and even after it was decimated, that narrative has been shown to be easily transformed simply by labeling new groups of terrorists as mortal dangers or by linking them however tenuously to al-Qaeda or by referring to them as affiliates or offshoots of al-Qaeda or by viewing them all as dangerous jihadists.
Yet with all the evident historical importance of 9/11, the event itself has been remarkably resistant to academic inquiry and searching examination. This documentary raises the question of why this has been the case, despite the very serious unanswered questions that remain to this day concerning what happened on 9/11 and what transpired preceding that day. Why has the university community been so silent about the numerous questions surrounding this important event? Why has this silence prevailed even among those who are critical of the Bush administration or of U.S. policies? In this documentary, a number of scholars raise significant questions about the 9/11 commission and its report in some depth, and they offer possible answers as to why the academy has not addressed these issues or attempted to generate the knowledge that we really need about this event.
The 9/11 Commission didn’t even get set up until 14 months after the event. The Bush administration dragged its heels. I hypothesize that there were two main reasons for this. One was to find a leader who would produce a report that supported administration policies. The other was to fashion an administration strategy that would lead to the least embarrassment for its failures, that is, to use the passage of time to create a kind of cover-up. A leader was found in the Executive Director, Philip D. Zelikow, a Bush insider and associate of Condoleezza Rice. He shaped the report and its narrative. He shaped the questions asked and not asked. Subsequently, co-chairs Kean and Hamilton wrote a book alleging that the commission was “set up to fail”.
The 9/11 Commission and its report must be seen as politically motivated and as political instruments aimed at producing support for administration policies. They cannot be seen as instruments of pure research designed to uncover facts and interpret them. In a similar case with similar far-reaching implications, which was the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana in 1898, there were several different immediate inquiries and several others in later years. There is a good chance that the U.S. Navy inquiry, the Sampson Board, whitewashed the case in adopting the explanation that a mine caused the explosion. 9/11 was surely an incident of at least as much importance that begged for the deepest kinds of unbiased inquiries. It still begs for them, even if much of the evidence has been destroyed.
This documentary serves a highly useful purpose in calling out attention to our social-political failings to have institutional methods of dealing with critical events like these that are used to inflame public opinion in order to put in place policies that certain groups desire. Certainly if we had had such methods, an incident like the Gulf of Tonkin might not have served to launch the U.S. into the Vietnam War.
The documentary highlights a number of significant areas of potential inquiry into 9/11 that have not been intensively investigated by scholars. What caused the towers to collapse? What caused Building 7 to collapse? Why did they collapse in the time that it took them to collapse? This has never been satisfactorily settled. Who did the insider trading in a collection of securities prior to 9/11? What persons are linked to the terrorists before 9/11 and reaching back to the first Trade Towers bombing in 1993? What were the U.S. intelligence failures prior to 9/11 and why did they occur?
Professor David Ray Griffin has published many books on 9/11. An accessible example of his work is here. He concludes in this article: “It would seem, therefore, that the first chapter of The 9/11 Commission Report is one long lie. As I have shown elsewhere, moreover, that is true of the report as a whole.”
This is highly provocative. Ordinarily one expects an outpouring of academic articles on such conclusions reached by a fellow scholar. Adnan Zuberi’s documentary raises the question as to why scholars have been so quiescent with regard to any work that challenges the conventional narratives, such as that of Professor David Ray Griffin.
Of the many possible answers, I will suggest one: the government monopolizes the research inputs for such big events but it is neither geared to obtaining those inputs nor to making them widely available to researchers. Research of this kind requires data. Data collection is costly. The collection of evidence at sites of destruction is costly. The collection of communications from various parties like the FAA is costly. When events like this occur, these tasks are carried out by government agencies and carried out haphazardly. Research is not their interest. Researchers don’t individually have the funds or the power to collect the data, even if they agree on the relevant data.
Equally and perhaps even more relevant is that much of the evidence on such events is about the behavior of government agencies. We’d like to know, for example, what Cheney knew and when he knew it. We’d like to know who had what responsibilities and how they actually behaved. We’d like to know the detailed interactions of FAA controllers, NORAD and government officials. We’d like to know what the FBI and CIA were doing about specific suspected terrorists in the years preceding the events. We’d like to know how 9/11 could have occurred. The government, however, is not geared to monitoring itself and the behavior of its people in events like these. It’s not geared even to finding out what happened after the event. The government is geared toward secrecy, the self-protection of people who are supposed to be protecting Americans, the prevention of embarassment and the maintenance of its public image and reputation.
American society and probably other societies in similar circumstances have the defect that important events like 9/11 can be used to arouse public opinion in support of radical and far-reaching shifts in government policies. These shifts undermine constitutions. They are long-lasting.
Government and society at times need brakes. They need non-government institutions that can do the research on big events. Even after years, universities are not doing this job.