News & Politics

The Ultimate 9/11 'Truth' Showdown: David Ray Griffin vs. Matt Taibbi -- Part III

The two writers lock horns over the accuracy of Griffin's recent book, <i>9/11 Contradictions</i>.
This is Part III of the "The Ultimate 9/11 'Truth' Showdown: David Ray Griffin vs. Matt Taibbi" Read Part I here and Part II here.[Ed. Taibbi is finishing his case here.]As for the rest of these questions, I apologize to readers, but I'm just not going to bother. It's hopeless. Mr. Griffin is weaving a market niche for himself based upon a reality that every prosecutor and investigator in the world recognizes as unavoidable -- that in any reconstruction of events, there will always be discrepancies in witness statements. History is always an approximation, and in Mr. Griffin's case, he's tangling with the most unreliable of approximations; a politically-charged government report.In a disaster as epic in scale as 9/11, officials at every level of government are going to be motivated to lie in order to cover their asses. They are going to say they were at their desks when they were not there; they're going to say they tried to make it to the scene as fast as they can when they actually sat on their thumbs and took their time. The same way that Soviet generals reported no failure of their air defenses on the day that 16 year-old Matthias Rust landed a Cessna in Red Square after limping through thousands of miles of heavily-armed Red airspace, our government is, of course, going to lie about how badly it fucked up on 9/11. This is not exactly big news.But Mr. Griffin makes it big news. He refuses to accept government witness versions of events when it suits him, but when it suits him to accept them as gospel -- for instance, when discussing the reported takeoff times of the fighter planes departing Cape Cod on the morning of 9/11, or the pilot statements that the planes were traveling "full blower," well, in those cases he doesn't quibble.My point about Griffin's napkin-scrawling math is that a sane person finds it much easier to reconcile the failure of fighter planes to arrive on scene a few minutes earlier -- perhaps they were only 90% of "full-blower," perhaps the planes took off a few minutes later, perhaps some witnesses are in error, perhaps every testifying member of our air defense network had bits of ass that needed covering -- than he does to assume the presence of a massive conspiracy to prevent the planes from arriving on time. So the numbers don't add up. So what? That just means the numbers are wrong, somewhere down the line, for some reason. Who cares?That's particularly true when coupled with the damning fact that there is no actual evidence of such an order; Griffin is deducing the existence of a conspiracy based upon his idea of what happened in the gaps. In conspiracy theory, the real incontrovertible evidence is always over the bend somewhere -- hidden under the rubble, or lost in the missing minutes. This is the historical version of bite marks in the carrot that prove the Easter Bunny was in the house last night. Personally, I'm waiting for photos of the actual rabbit.When I called defense analysts about the speed of the fighter planes involved, including people from Jane's Defense Weekly, I was told that nobody could authoritatively say exactly how fast, to the minute, those planes should have arrived. I'm sure one could make a guess, but that's all it would be, a guess. But David Ray Griffin, a desk-bound religion professor in California, deduces a vast conspiracy based upon his exact calculations of the speed of fighter planes? Why is that not every bit as silly as an Air Force Colonel harping about some hippie professor's doctoral thesis on Norse deities?In the end it all comes down to what you believe. If you believe that events in life tend to have simple explanations, then you're not going to be very impressed by Griffin's arguments. If on the other hand you think that the people running this country spend their days plotting to create phantom civilian jet-liner flights, disappearing whole fuselages full of passengers, and then shooting missiles into the Pentagon in broad daylight in order to cover up embezzlement schemes if you think, in other words, that our government is run by the same people who cook up second-rate French spy movies or your mind instantly produces the word "crossbow" when asked to produce A MURDER WEAPON by a Mad Libs script well, then, you're probably going to enjoy Griffin's books.Me, I don't know. I met with a U.S. Senator a few weeks back who told me about hundreds of millions of dollars in spare parts that the Air Force already has marked for disposal -- despite the fact that they haven't even been built yet. They're on order, you're paying for them, and yet they're going to throw them away as soon as they're ready. That's happening right out in the open. No one in the Pentagon is hiding it. They're not planning to shoot a missile at those invoices. Because they don't have to.And why? Well, if you're a David Ray Griffin fan, it's because you're worrying about this bullshit instead. So if this kind of stuff impresses you, mazel tov. I'm sure our government is happy that you have a hobby.p.s. Professor: as long as you decided to be a pedantic jerk about my spelling of "Olson," I should point out that the Pentagon is, in fact, the world's largest office building, with 17.5 miles of corridors and three times the office space of the Empire State Building. It can have up to 30,000 employees working in it at any time. But I agree, it sure doesn't look as tall as some of those other buildings. You're right there.David Griffin responds: Your fifth response illustrates most clearly your method. Although you insist that I, as an advocate of the alternative conspiracy theory, must come up with a complete theory, which can answer every conceivable question, you excuse yourself from this requirement with regard to the official conspiracy theory. With regard to the attack on the Pentagon, I have asked why al-Qaeda terrorists would have chosen to strike Wedge 1.The reason for this question is that, given their presumed motives, this was the worst possible spot: They would have wanted to kill Rumsfeld and the top brass, but Wedge 1 was as far removed from their offices as possible. They would have wanted to cause as much destruction as possible, but Wedge 1 was the only part of the Pentagon that had been renovated to make it less vulnerable to attack. Al-Qaeda operatives would have wanted to kill as many Pentagon employees as possible, but because the renovation was not quite complete, Wedge 1 was only sparsely occupied. And finally, given the fact that the pilots were amateurs, the planners would have had the pilot simply crash into the roof of this building, which, covering several acres, even a poor pilot might have managed; but the choice to hit Wedge 1 on the side meant that the pilot had to perform an amazing downward spiral, which expert pilots have doubted that they themselves could have performed (see statements by Ralph Kolstad, Ted Muga and Russ Wittenberg on the Patriots Question 9/11 website). Another problem with Wedge 1 was that it was the only part of the Pentagon that would have presented physical obstacles to an attacking airplane. However, you do not address any of these problems. You say: "We know why al-Qaeda would want to attack the Pentagon." The question, however, is why al-Qaeda would have attacked that particular part of the Pentagon. Rather than provide even the beginning of an answer, you divert attention away from this enormous problem in the government's conspiracy theory by going on the attack.The theory you attack, moreover, is not even mine. Responding to your assumption that an attack by Pentagon officials on their own building would have been pointless, I said: "I myself don't offer theories about what the point was, but this does not mean that a plausible theory cannot be provided." I then, as an example, mentioned the motive that has been suggested by Barbara Honegger (among others).In response, even though you later acknowledged that this is not my own theory, you wrote: "In exactly what form do you think this 'evidence' was kept? Do you think it was hammered into granite slabs and mounted, hieroglyph-style, on the building's walls?" However, besides treating the theory as mine, this question ignores the statement by Honegger that I had quoted, namely: "Were the auditors who could 'follow the money,' and the computers whose data could help them do it, intentionally targeted?" Not being the idiot you assume all members of the 9/11 truth movement to be, she knows the information would have been in the people and the computers, not in the walls. As to whether the desire to kill those people and destroy those computers could have provided a plausible explanation for why, if the attack was an inside job, the conspirators chose that particular part of the Pentagon, Honegger has reported that a civilian auditor for the Army, with whom she discussed this theory, did find it plausible (a fact that I report in The New Pearl Harbor Revisited). Being aware of your tendency to treat any proffered explanation of some decision as the explanation, I hasten to add that the primary motive for attacking the Pentagon as well as the Twin Towers was surely to provide a false-flag pretext for a "war on terror" directed selectively at oil-rich Muslim countries. These buildings, as symbols of America's financial and military power, were just the places, Americans were easily convinced, that al-Qaeda terrorists would have wanted to attack. (You yourself report that you have no trouble imagining why such terrorists would have attacked the Pentagon.) But just as that rationale surely did not provide the only motive for attacking the Twin Towers, it also surely did not provide the only motive for attacking the Pentagon. It certainly could not by itself explain why the planners targeted the first two floors of Wedge 1. You deride this kind of thinking by speaking of a "curious coincidence of criminal interests," with Giuliani, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush "just happening [to find] each other at just the same moment." But here again you're attacking a straw-man position of your own creation. When a variety of interests are served by a big operation, it is not a result of coincidence but of a plan designed to serve the interests of the various parties needed to carry out the operation.At this point, you said you are "not going to bother" responding to my other answers. By stopping there, you excused yourself from responding to some of the most difficult questions for the government's conspiracy theory: Given the FBI's report that Tom Burnett did not use a cell phone to call his wife, why did she report seeing his cell phone number on her Caller ID? Given its report that Barbara Olson did not complete any calls from Flight 77, did Ted Olson lie or was he, like Deena Burnett, deceived by someone? Why, if the Bush White House would not have been so evil as to engineer 9/11, which resulted in 3,000 deaths, did it order the EPA to lie about the safety of the air at Ground Zero -- a lie that will likely result in far more deaths than 9/11 as such? Why, after the mathematical calculations of the 9/11 truth movement showed that the military's excuse for not intercepting the airliners did not add up, did the 9/11 Commission create an entirely different story, according to which the FAA failed to notify the military about Flights 175, 77, and 93 until after they had crashed -- a story that contradicts an enormous amount of evidence? You apparently missed this last point, as you continue to discuss the military's first story about the planes being a few minutes late, which has not been the official story since the publication of The 9/11 Commission Report in 2004. Is it possible that you don't defend the official story because you don't know what it is? With regard to the idea of a stand-down order, you say "the damning fact that there is no actual evidence of such an order." But the first three chapters of my "9/11 Contradictions," to which you were purportedly responding, is devoted to this evidence: Mineta's story about Cheney in the underground bunker plus the many ways in which the 9/11 Commission tried to bury this story. In The New Pearl Harbor Revisited, moreover, I report additional evidence. Evidently believing that all the contradictions in the official story can be explained in terms of lies to cover up mistakes, you write:"In a disaster as epic in scale as 9/11, officials at every level of government are going to be motivated to lie in order to cover their asses. They are going to say they were at their desks when they were not there; they're going to say they tried to make it to the scene as fast as they can when they actually sat on their thumbs and took their time."Lies of this sort are certainly to be expected. But most of the contradictions to which I have pointed cannot be thus explained. For example, Cheney, Myers, and Rumsfeld did the opposite of what you suggest: They really were where they should have been but claimed they were not. Your screw-up theory also cannot explain why Ted Olson claimed to have received phone calls from his wife, why Atta and the other alleged hijackers partied with hookers if they were devout Muslims, and why the FBI changed its story about where it found the allegedly definitive evidence incriminating al-Qaeda. Your theory also cannot explain why NIST has denied the fact that dozens of witnesses reported massive explosions in the Twin Towers, that two city officials, including Michael Hess (NYC's corporation counsel and Giuliani's good friend), reported a massive explosion in WTC 7 early in the morning, and that independent scientists discovered steel from the buildings that had been melted (which required temperatures far in excess of the temperatures reached by the fires). The lies about 9/11 go far beyond the cover-your-ass type.You close by suggesting that the position one takes on 9/11 simply "comes down to what you believe." Although that is certainly true of some people -- those whom I call "paradigmatic" and "wishful-and-fearful" thinkers -- it certainly is not how the question should be decided. It should be settled on the basis of evidence, as I've suggested in a lecture entitled "9/11: Let's Get Empirical." You then add a postscript pointing out that the Pentagon is, "in fact, the world's largest office building," as if I had denied this by referring to "what you call the 'world's largest office building.'" The purpose of my comment, however, was merely to point out that you had erroneously used this description to suggest that the Pentagon could not have been evacuated in a few minutes. How long it takes to evacuate a building is not how many acres it covers (assuming that there are plenty of exit doors, as there were at the Pentagon), but how many stories it has. On this issue, you agree that the Pentagon "sure doesn't look as tall as some of those other buildings." But it's not simply a matter of looks: The Twin Towers actually were much taller than the Pentagon -- 105 stories taller, to be exact. The Pentagon, therefore, could have been evacuated about 20 times faster than either of the Towers. This means that of the 125 people in the building who were killed, 123 of whom were on the first two floor (while the remaining two were on the third), all, or at least virtually all, could have been evacuated within three minutes. Moreover, even if you doubt the idea that the E-4B over the White House meant that there would have been a three-minute warning, the 9/11 Commission itself suggests that the military had "one or two minutes to react to the unidentified plane approaching Washington" -- time for at least virtually everyone on the first floor to have escaped. Why, if Pentagon officials were too virtuous to have wanted any of their own personnel to die, were no alarms set off?I close by thanking AlterNet for giving me this opportunity to present to its readers some of the evidence that the government's conspiracy theory about 9/11 is a lie -- a lie, moreover, that has had enormous consequences for American policy, all of which have been destructive. There is, in my view, nothing more important than exposing this lie so that these policies can be reversed. And I thank you, Matt, for suggesting this interview.
Matt Taibbi is a writer for Rolling Stone. He is the author of The Great Derangement (Spiegel and Grau, 2008). David Ray Griffin is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Theology, Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University (California). His 34 books include seven about 9/11, the most recent of which is The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Cover-Up, and the Expos" (Northampton: Olive Branch, 2008).
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