Monday, September 11, 2006

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9/11 -- five years on

In an odd twist of fate, five years after the 9/11 attacks I'm again out of the country, and again in the U.K.

I have no idea what to do with that information, but then again, I have no idea what to say about the five-year anniversary.

I am sure this lack of ability on my part will not impair my readers from imparting their comments.

UPDATE: Incidentally, the BBC broadcast part 1 of The Path to 9/11 last night. I'm vaguely aware that many Clintonites have complained about the drama portion of this docudrama, and that some have complained about the religious background of the miniseries director. Having seen Part I, my take is that these objections are either overblown or ABC responded adroitly to them.

Having watched it, I didn't see anything flagrantly wrong with the Clinton portion -- none of the policy principals look like fools or incompetents. Some of them look like they did not place Al Qaeda as their highest priority, which is certainly accurate of both the Clinton and Bush adminisatrations. On the whole, it was surprisingly gripping -- perhaps because, in part I, there were victories (the capture of Ramzi, etc.) as well as defeats.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Having now seen part two as well, it strikes me that the complaint a partisan Democrat could lodge against the program was not what was included but what was omitted. There was no shot of President Bush reading My Pet Goat or otherwise looking wobbly on the day of the attack. There was no scene of Sandy Berger briefing the Bush team about the nature of the Al Qaeda threat, etc. On the whole, however, it was a well-constructed docudrama, and Harvey Keitel and Patricia Heaton were particularly good.

David Greenberg makes an interesting criticism of the whole enterprise:

For my part, I think it's an abuse of history to place much blame on either the Clinton or the Bush administration for "not doing more to prevent September 11" (as both teams are often alleged to have done, or not to have done). Anyone can second-guess others' actions with the benefit of hindsight. But historians are supposed to try get into the minds of the actors of a bygone era--and the time before September 11, 2001, does represent, in the matter of counterterrorism, a bygone era. Everybody thought about terrorism differently back then, and it's a historical fallacy to blame Sandy Berger or Condi Rice for not having a post-9/11 mindset.
Actually, it's worse than that -- the people who did have the post-9/11 mindset before 9/11, like Richard Clarke, seemed like monomaniacal pain in the asses before the attacks happened. That probably made it easier for Berger and Rice to downgrade their warnings.

posted by Dan on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM


I know this makes me a HUGE pinko, but I found the Frank Rich editorial in the Sunday times very moving.

posted by: Adrian on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

I don't think Berger and Albright came off looking rosy. I don't know if that scene with Berger was true, half true or whatever. But I do know the story of how Michael Scheuer lost one of his jobs at CIA, and as he tells it it involves Berger asking the UAE government why bin Laden is in their country and camping with government officials. CIA wanted to take him, but Berger telling the UAE meant that bin Laden wasn't there next time the satellites came around. When Scheuer (who I don't pretend to be a huge fan of) got pissed, he found the locks changed on the door to his office. This situation is also similar to how they depicted Albright in the movie, so it's not exactly pulled out of thin air. Tenet came off so-so, and Clarke came off wonderfully, which I think might have been a bit of a stretch for him. Of course, I'm sure Bush administration officials will be given a bit of a skewering tonight.

I think the biggest target of part one was the notion that we could fight terrorists like we fight bankrobbers and car thieves. Think about all they had to do to make sure Ramzi Yousef received a "fair" trial. The Egyptian army guy did not want to testify at first (understandably) and only acquiesced when they upped his payment significantly. Everyone was fretting over the fact that the two cops saved the VIN number on the van from the '93 WTC bombing. Everyone was certain the removal of evidence would kill their case. (And who was the genius that allowed the subway testing to continue right next to the bomb site??) The Filipino police officer took Yousef's laptop from his Manila apartment, which one of the FBI characters rightly said they would never be able to do (so thank god he was in Manila and not Brooklyn). It just goes on and on like that. Let's admit it, everything fell into place for the Yousef trial. We won't get that lucky on every trial if we have to fret about getting people who don't want themselves killed to show up to testify, or if evidence isn't handled perfectly in line with the same regulations used for a kidnapper. The fact that Yousef's trial, or someone like him, could attract some egotistical defense lawyer who wins on a technicality (don't pretend it doesn't happen) is just a ridiculous thought, and one that can, and should, be avoided.

posted by: Anon on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

My impression of last night's episode was that they were spreading the blame. Albright and Berger's shrieking before the program aired brought attention to scenes that might otherwise be forgettable. Interestingly. Muslims are shown in a favorable light, and are shown as the primary victims of many of these attacks. The plight of the young Pakistani who wants to help the U.S. was particularly gripping.

The series suffers from excessive use of hand-held recording - I'm sure it's meant to give a sense of urgency, but it is annoying

posted by: KXB on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

Five years on, it appears that the general approach the Bush administration took has been a very large mistake. They chose to wage WWII in their rhetoric, and the invasion of Grenada in their planning on how to fight the war.

Whenever the Bushies could do something without public scrutiny, they have taken borderline draconian measures. Whenever they had to do something in public, they layed it on thick with the "long-haul" "no quick victories" rhetoric, but they never asked the public to give up a thing.

Encouraging enlistments in the military -- budgeting for more ground troops to deal with planned future wars? Nope.

Responsible financing, so our defense isn't suddenly cut off as the result of a credit war or a cash crunch? Nope.

Anuy indication that our new war would require anything of our citizenry, other than a vote for the straight Republican ticket? Nope.

It's like our leaders saw the war we needed to fight, saw that taking some steps might actually result in debate and sub-60% approval ratuings, and hoped they could get it all done on the cheap. I'm sure they framed to themselves in terms of "how those wimps at the New York Times and CBS woll make us all look". But the truth is, they didn't believe in their vision enough to sell it to the American people. This is where the party of Reagan has ended up...

Where do we go from here? Any clue? Well, maybe they'll impeach Bush and Cheney and replace 'em with Nancy Pelosi in 2007. It's a measure of the dreadfulness of this administration that going through all that actually seems like it would only be marginally worse than enduring this administration until 2009.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

The fact that Yousef's trial, or someone like him, could attract some egotistical defense lawyer who wins on a technicality (don't pretend it doesn't happen) is just a ridiculous thought, and one that can and should be avoided.

How far are you willing to go down that path? It ends in Soviet-style denunciation-based "justice." What's your scheme for stopping short of that. It's all very well to say that something should be avoided, but there are complicated tradeoffs involves that you seem to ignore.

posted by: adychka on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

Before I start this poem, I'd like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honour of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last September 11th.

I would also like to ask you To offer up a moment of silence For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned, disappeared,
tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes, For the victims in both Afghanistan and the US

And if I could just add one more thing,
If it's not too much to ask . . .

A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the hands of US-backed Israeli forces over decades of occupation. Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people, mostly children, who have died of malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year US embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,

Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa, Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country. Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of concrete, steel, earth and skin And the survivors went on as if alive. A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam - a people, not a war - for those who know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their relatives' bones buried in it, their babies born of it. A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of a secret war .... ssssshhhhh.... Say nothing ... we don't want them to learn that they are dead. Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia, Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.

An hour of silence for El Salvador ...
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua ...
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos ...
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years. 45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas 25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky. There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains. And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west...

100 years of silence...

For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears. Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the refrigerator of our consciousness ...

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won't be.
Not like it always has been.

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written. And if this is a 9/11 poem, then: This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971. This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977. This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison, New York, 1971.

This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.

This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and Newsweek ignored. This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window of Taco Bell, And pay the workers for wages lost. Tear down the liquor stores, The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton's 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all... Don't cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we, Tonight we will keep right on singing... For our dead.


posted by: blah on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

So in retrospect, would ABC's 'Reagan' mini-series 2 years ago have been all that badly panned afterwards? The biggest GOP complaint I heard at the time wasn't so much about inaccurate content as it was paranoia about the Streisand/Brolin connection.

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]


So you tellin' me to shut up or what?

When the gentleman writing the poem also mourns the loss of life in prison camps in China or Vietnam or the former Soviet Union, or all those who died in the name of the Rights of Man in France, or the victims of human sacrifice practiced by the indigenous cultures of the Americas, I'll figure he's entitled to respect. Otherwise, I find the "we must be impotent because we have blood on our hands in the past" a pretty noxious creed. But it does solve the problem of figuring out how you can feel morally superior while doing nothing.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]


Bear this in mind: you may have seen a more sanitized version of the miniseries than that which aired here.

It is far easier to sue for libel in the UK than many other places. Liberace successfully sued the daily Mirror for insinuating that he was gay.

I cannot imagine that the BBC aired it without it being heavily vetted and with agreements from the producers that cuts would be acceptable to stave off libel suits.

posted by: Randy Paul on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]


Pretty selective history, eh? Don't suppose Mr Ortiz has a few verses for the 10 million dead of famine in Ukraine or the millions who died in the Great Leap Forward in China? I wonder if he has shed a tear for the millions of Afghans who were more than humiliated, they were killed or run out of their homes by the Red Army? Does his heart break at the sight of millions of bone-thin children in North Korea? Does he spare a few seconds of his silence for the children of Chernobyl? Perhaps Mr ortiz should consider what textbooks his children might be reading had the Cold War turned out differently.

Today is the day when 3000 innocent Americans died in an unprovoked attack. This a day for us to remember our loss. We have the other 364 to worry about what a mess Pax Americana has made of the world.

posted by: SteveinVT on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

I found the mini-series, especially after part 2 this evening, very engaging and insightful. I don't see what all the fuss was about. It made some people look bad, and now some appear to have a scapegoat or alibi. Was this at all politically motivated? Probably so....

posted by: troy on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

I don't know if this makes me unusual or insensitive, but I haven't been able to bring myself to watch or listen to any of the commemorative 9/11 programs that have aired over the last few days. That goes for dramatizations too; the reaction of former Clintonites to the ABC series might be a good hook for observations about how public figures in this country all seem to carry around such a vast sense of entitlement that the idea of criticism outside their spin cycle just outrages them. But I could make those observations without sitting through a miniseries.

I figure I saw about all the footage aired of 9/11 within a month of the event. It isn't like Pearl Harbor, which happened before I was born, or the moon landing that happened when I was a child. I absorbed the message of 9/11, at least that part of it that can be conveyed visually, the first time.

posted by: Zathras on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

I watched a few minutes, until the scene cut to Clinton misleading the country about Lewinsky. I thought that his relationship was a non-issue at the time, but when he lied about it, he should have resigned. The lies in this docu-drama, in my opinion, are more damaging to the country than Clinton's. The fuss is that we are not yet satisfied we know what happened leading up to 9/11. For a commercial enterprise to obstruct the process is a topic worthy of debate [fuss].

posted by: jf on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

jf, there can't be a lie in a docudrama. A lie is a statement known to be false presented as truth to mislead. This used to be common knowledge, back before Clinton did it (at which time we were assured that everyone does it, so I had thought everyone knew what it was). It is impossible to lie in something that is explicitly not presented as fact.

posted by: bgates on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

Bgates, the claim that this docudrama isn't presented as fact is utterly bogus.

Note that more than 30% of the american public still believes that Saddam was connected to 9/11. More than 20% believes that Saddam had a working WMD program. The public will consider this lying docudrama as fact.

For balance, they should have included a scene showing Bush during 9/11.

At the beginning he's reading My Pet Goat while his handlers panic. "What are we going to do?" "I don't know." "What can we do?" "I don't know. "We have to do something." And a bodyguard says "We have to get him out of here. The terrorists know where he is."

So they take him to the plane.

Handler: Mr. President, we have to get you out of here. The terrorists know where you are."

Bush: But my guards are here. I'm safe, right? I'm safe.

Handler: Not if they drop an airliner on you.

Bush: Oh my god. Oh my god.

T-man: We're setting up to take you to Cheyanne mountain, sir. It's the safest place in the country, it will handle anything short of 50 megatons.

Bush: Why isn't anybody doing anything? Why aren't we moving?

T-man: We have to get clearance, sir. Every plane in the country is grounded and if they don't know you're the President they'll shoot us down.

Bush: Oh my god. Oh my god.

Rove: Dombo! There you are! We have to do something, it's a crisis. You could lose 10 points, maybe 20 points in the polls unless we do something quick.

Bush: The terrorists are about to blow us up. We have to get out of here.

Rove: Oh my god. Oh my god.

It's just docudrama, nobody's supposed to believe it's true, right?

posted by: J Thomas on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

I'm like Zathras, avoiding the rehashes. I read the 9/11 report when it came out (just like I read the Warren Commission report on JFK's assassination). Ever since I read the Wohstetter book on Pearl Harbor (also a prime target for conspiracy theorists--I was born then--barely) I've had lots of sympathy for decisionmakers who get second guessed in hindsight. Sure, they're mostly pompous idiots, but they try, and if you and I were pompous enough and stupid enough to rise to decisionmaking jobs we'd screw something up just as they have.

posted by: Bill Harshaw on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

"the people who did have the post-9/11 mindset before 9/11, like Richard Clarke, seemed like monomaniacal pain in the asses before the attacks happened. That probably made it easier for Berger and Rice to downgrade their warnings."

Amazing. In this, your last statement, you ocmpletely refute everything you said leading up to this.

This is like looking over the rim at the Grand Canyon of vacuity.

posted by: paul a'barge on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

Response to briefing folder titled /bin Laden Determined to Strike in US/: "OK, you've covered your ass now".

Oops - that scene got left on the cutting room floor. Coinkydinks I am sure.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

One thing that struck me as odd in the days after 9/11 was Bush saying "We will not tolerate conspiracy theories [regarding 9/11]". Sure enough there have been some wacky conspiracy theories surrounding the events of that day. The most far-fetched and patently ridiculous one that I've ever heard goes like this: Nineteen hijackers who claimed to be devout Muslims but yet were so un-Muslim as to be getting drunk all the time, doing cocaine and frequenting strip clubs decided to hijack four airliners and fly them into buildings in the northeastern U.S., the area of the country that is the most thick with fighter bases. After leaving a Koran on a barstool at a strip bar after getting shitfaced drunk on the night before, then writing a suicide note/inspirational letter that sounded like it was written by someone with next to no knowledge of Islam, they went to bed and got up the next morning hung over and carried out their devious plan. Nevermind the fact that of the four "pilots" among them there was not a one that could handle a Cessna or a Piper Cub let alone fly a jumbo jet, and the one assigned the most difficult task of all, Hani Hanjour, was so laughably incompetent that he was the worst fake "pilot" of the bunch. Nevermind the fact that they received very rudimentary flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, making them more likely to have been C.I.A. assets than Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. So on to the airports. These "hijackers" somehow managed to board all four airliners with their tickets, yet not even ONE got his name on any of the flight manifests. So they hijack all four airliners and at this time passengers on United 93 start making a bunch of cell phone calls from 35,000 feet in the air to tell people what was going on. Nevermind the fact that cell phones wouldn't work very well above 4,000 feet, and wouldn't work at ALL above 8,000 feet. But the conspiracy theorists won't let that fact get in the way of a good fantasy. That is one of the little things you "aren't supposed to think about". Nevermind that one of the callers called his mom and said his first and last name, more like he was reading from a list than calling his own mom. Anyway, when these airliners each deviated from their flight plan and didn't respond to ground control, NORAD would any other time have followed standard operating procedure (and did NOT have to be told by F.A.A. that there were hijackings because they were watching the same events unfold on their own radar) which means fighter jets would be scrambled from the nearest base where they were available on standby within a few minutes, just like every other time when airliners stray off course. But of course on 9/11 this didn't happen, not even close. Somehow these "hijackers" must have used magical powers to cause NORAD to stand down, as ridiculous as this sounds because total inaction from the most high-tech and professional Air Force in the world would be necessary to carry out their tasks. So on the most important day in its history the Air Force was totally worthless. Then they had to make one of the airliners look like a smaller plane, because unknown to them the Naudet brothers had a videocamera to capture the only known footage of the North Tower crash, and this footage shows something that is not at all like a jumbo jet, but didn't have to bother with the South Tower jet disguising itself because that was the one we were "supposed to see". Anyway, as for the Pentagon they had to have Hani Hanjour fly his airliner like it was a fighter plane, making a high G-force corkscrew turn that no real airliner can do, in making its descent to strike the Pentagon. But these "hijackers" wanted to make sure Rumsfeld survived so they went out of their way to hit the farthest point in the building from where Rumsfeld and the top brass are located. And this worked out rather well for the military personnel in the Pentagon, since the side that was hit was the part that was under renovation at the time with few military personnel present compared to construction workers. Still more fortuitous for the Pentagon, the side that was hit had just before 9/11 been structurally reinforced to prevent a large fire there from spreading elsewhere in the building. Awful nice of them to pick that part to hit, huh? Then the airliner vaporized itself into nothing but tiny unidentifiable pieces no bigger than a fist, unlike the crash of a real airliner when you will be able to see at least some identifiable parts, like crumpled wings, broken tail section etc. Why, Hani Hanjour the terrible pilot flew that airliner so good that even though he hit the Pentagon on the ground floor the engines didn't even drag the ground!! Imagine that!! Though the airliner vaporized itself on impact it only made a tiny 16 foot hole in the building. Amazing. Meanwhile, though the planes hitting the Twin Towers caused fires small enough for the firefighters to be heard on their radios saying "We just need 2 hoses and we can knock this fire down" attesting to the small size of it, somehow they must have used magical powers from beyond the grave to make this morph into a raging inferno capable of making the steel on all forty-seven main support columns (not to mention the over 100 smaller support columns) soften and buckle, then all fail at once. Hmmm. Then still more magic was used to make the building totally defy physics as well as common sense in having the uppermost floors pass through the remainder of the building as quickly, meaning as effortlessly, as falling through air, a feat that without magic could only be done with explosives. Then exactly 30 minutes later the North Tower collapses in precisely the same freefall physics-defying manner. Incredible. Not to mention the fact that both collapsed at a uniform rate too, not slowing down, which also defies physics because as the uppermost floors crash into and through each successive floor beneath them they would shed more and more energy each time, thus slowing itself down. Common sense tells you this is not possible without either the hijackers' magical powers or explosives. To emphasize their telekinetic prowess, later in the day they made a third building, WTC # 7, collapse also at freefall rate though no plane or any major debris hit it. Amazing guys these magical hijackers. But we know it had to be "Muslim hijackers" the conspiracy theorist will tell you because (now don't laugh) one of their passports was "found" a couple days later near Ground Zero, miraculously "surviving" the fire that we were told incinerated planes, passengers and black boxes, and also "survived" the collapse of the building it was in. When common sense tells you if that were true then they should start making buildings and airliners out of heavy paper and plastic so as to be "indestructable" like that magic passport. The hijackers even used their magical powers to bring at least seven of their number back to life, to appear at american embassies outraged at being blamed for 9/11!! BBC reported on that and it is still online. Nevertheless, they also used magical powers to make the american government look like it was covering something up in the aftermath of this, what with the hasty removal of the steel debris and having it driven to ports in trucks with GPS locators on them, to be shipped overseas to China and India to be melted down. When common sense again tells you that this is paradoxical in that if the steel was so unimportant that they didn't bother saving some for analysis but so important as to require GPS locators on the trucks with one driver losing his job because he stopped to get lunch. Hmmmm. Yes, this whole story smacks of the utmost idiocy and fantastical far-fetched lying, but it is amazingly enough what some people believe. Even now, five years later, the provably false fairy tale of the "nineteen hijackers" is heard repeated again and again, and is accepted without question by so many Americans. Which is itself a testament to the innate psychological cowardice of the American sheeple, i mean people, and their abject willingness to believe something, ANYTHING, no matter how ridiculous in order to avoid facing a scary uncomfortable truth. Time to wake up America.

posted by: Enlightenment on 09.11.06 at 10:51 AM [permalink]

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