No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish...
—David Hume, On Miracles
This essay is certain to make many readers very angry with me. But ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
Last month I was a guest on a progressive radio talk show. About half-way through the hour-long program, the conversation was going well, until I expressed some doubts about the “controlled demolition” hypotheses of the collapse of the World Trade Center. That comment sealed the fate of the remainder of the hour, as it prompted an unvarying succession of angry rebuttals and a deluge of alleged “facts” supporting the view that the WTC towers were brought down by pre-set demolition charges, and that the Pentagon was not struck by a Boeing 747. And so I felt obliged to take a closer look at the theories and evidence regarding the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
After many hours watching videos this weekend of long presentations by David Ray Griffin, Steven Jones and James Fetzer, several other videos both affirming and rejecting "the official version" (OV), and reading numerous articles, it appears to me that the OV of the destruction of the World Trade Center is not credible. Too many anomalies are not explained. A closer look at the conspiracy theories (CTs) indicates that these too can not be true. Too many improbable assumptions. Thus one must conclude that the 9/11 attack on the WTC never took place.
No wait, that’s absurd. Of course it took place! So what we are left with is an abundance of contrary claims, unconfirmable “evidence” leading to utter confusion and no firm conclusions -- none, that is, regarding the World Trade Center attack. The Pentagon attack, however, should present little doubt: American Airlines Flight 77 struck the building.
The Evidence Problem
All accounts of the attacks, whether the official version or any of the numerous conspiracy theories, rest upon weak evidence – “weak,” that is, to all those who did not examine the evidence at the scene, or did not have access to evidence with a secure “chain of custody.” For all others, including myself and presumably all who read this, the evidence is 2nd, 3rd, and Nth-hand hearsay. The best evidence available to us, when relevant, are photographic and video images, and even these are subject to various interpretations.
Until recently, the public could rely on published evidence from government scientists and government-supported scientific research, as well as reputable media. But no more. We now know that the Bush Administration alters or withholds scientific reports to conform to policy, dogma, and pre-conceptions. The Bushites also lie outright in defense of their policies. As for the media, even that most reliable and respected "newspaper of record," The New York Times, has become a font of misinformation, including the Clinton Whitewater non-scandal, false and misleading reports of the Florida 2000 vote count, and Judith Miller’s notorious reports of Saddam’s alleged WMDs.
Even so, the critical reader should be capable of identifying and dismissing bizarre assertions, such as Morgan Reynold’s claim that no aircraft struck the twin towers on 9/11 – this in spite of thousands of eye-witnesses and a vast number of photo and video images.
The same critical reader can identify and set aside pronouncements that are devoid of supporting evidence, such as this narrative by James Fetzer of the fate of American Airlines Flight 77 which, if it didn’t hit the Pentagon, as Fetzer contends, must be somehow accounted for:
Flight 77 went off the radar screen in the vicinity of the Kentucky/Ohio border. This whole dotted path [on a map displayed by Fetzer] is a hypothetical or an imaginary path that the plane may have taken, but it was not recorded on radar. And my belief is in fact the plane actually went down in the Kentucky Ohio vicinity... Then a plane, probably a n A-13 Sky Warrior was substituted here very close to Washington DC.
Fetzer gives us no citation of the alleged disappearance from the radar screen. (I have heard nothing about this "radar disappearance." Have you?) Then it gets much worse: “hypothetical or imaginary path,” “may have taken,” “my belief.” Not a shred of evidence is offered in support of this fantasy.
The World Trade Center
Much of the “evidence” presented by the WTC conspiracy theorists is demonstrably false, fallacious, or irrelevant. For example:
“The temperatures were not hot enough to melt steel.” True but irrelevant. This is a persistent criticism by the CT. However, the OV does not claim that the steel melted at the impact points (melting temperature, 2700°F), only that it was weakened. The temperature sufficient to weaken steel by fifty-percent (1170°F) was well within the range of the burning jet fuel and office supplies.
“The debris was quickly collected without inspection and shipped off to Asia for recycling.” False. It was relocated to a collection site at Staten Island, where it was examined by forensic engineers, and where personal effects were identified. (Here, here, and here are three of the 54,000 Google hits from a search for “World Trade Center” and “Staten Island” and “Debris”)
No steel frame building has ever collapsed because of a fire.” Another “fact” repeatedly asserted by CT-s. Irrelevant, even if true. The WTC towers were brought down by a combination of fire and structural damage caused by the impact from the planes. (The collapse of WTC Building #7 was not caused by either fire or impact from planes -- a problem for the CV which we will discuss later).
Now look very carefully at these images of the collapse of the WTC towers, here (north tower, 35:20. 36:40), here (south tower, 5:37), and here. (The numbers in parenthesis indicate the time locations in the videos). Notice that the collapse begins at the points of impact. Below the points of impact, the towers remain in place as the disintegration proceeds from the top down.
Next look at these video images of controlled demolitions (131:40) and also the collapse of WTC #7 (1:05). In all these cases, the collapse begins at the base, where the charges were set.
Assume now what your eyes plainly tell you: that (a) the collapse of each tower begins at the point of impact, and (b) that the collapse proceeds from that point downward. Next, try to weave these assumptions into the standard CT hypothesis that the towers were brought down by pre-located explosive charges. What results is this highly improbable scenario:
Charges had to be set beforehand at the points of impact, the 94th to the 98th floors of the north tower, and the 78th to the 84th floors of the south tower. Both aircraft, in stunning feats of piloting skill, succeeded in striking precisely at those pre-arranged locations. However, all charges placed below those points of impact were either duds or were insufficient to precipitate collapses. The towers stood firm as the demolition moved downward from the impact points.
In rebuttal, one might point out that the towers were supported by both the outer walls and an inner core. Might not the charges at the base have caused the collapse of the inner core, while the outer walls remained intact? This would account for the downward vertical plunge of the north tower.
Nice try, but it won’t wash. If the core collapsed within, the accumulating debris from above would have demolished the outer walls below. This did not happen.
However, the official version is not without problems, and the conspiracy theory is not yet out of the contest. There remain some troubling anomalies for the OV:
Foremost among these is the collapse of WTC Building No. 7. Five hours after the towers came down, this forty story structure collapsed. And this time, as you can see here (1:05), the collapse followed the exact pattern of a controlled demolition: beginning at the base and falling uniformly on its own “footprint.” The best that the OV can offer as explanation is that the foundation was weakened by fire, by seismic shock of the collapsing towers, and by the overload of debris from the towers. It is not a compelling explanation, to say the least. Perhaps this explains why an account of the collapse of WTC #7 is missing from the 9/11 Commission report.
Prof. Steven Jones, to my mind the most credible of the 9/11 critics, claims that melted and congealed steel was found in the rubble, and that it originated at the base of the standing buildings. The only plausible cause of melting with these properties, Jones claims, would be a high temperature explosive such as thermite. Jones is well-qualified to make this assessment. He is a professor of physics at Brigham Young University, with a specialty in metal-catalyzed fusion.
And this is just the beginning of a long list of anomalies that undercut the official version. Among them:
There were numerous reports of explosions below the impact points at the time the towers were hit. Others report that there were explosions before the planes hit.
Tapes of interviews with air traffic controllers were destroyed.
When news of the attack reached the Florida school where Bush was visiting, the Secret Service failed to remove the president from that previously publicized location.
There was a flood of "put options" (anticipations of loss) on American Airlines and United Airlines stock, within the week before 9/11.
The website, 911research.wtc7.net lists numerous additional anomalies; no doubt many of these are bogus, but there are others that are troubling.
The governments, New York City and State, and the Feds still have a lot of 'splainin to do.
The Attack on the Pentagon.
Unlike the WTC attacks, the Pentagon is rather simple and cut-and-dried. The official version is correct: The west side of the building was struck by American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757. The evidence is clear, unequivocal, and overwhelming. The alternative conspiracy theories (impact by a fighter plane or cruise missile) are plainly false, and at times simply pathetic.
This conclusion is compelling when we apply "the David Hume test” to the conspiracy theory: namely, the improbability of CT being true, despite the evidence for OV. Specifically, for CT to be true, we must also assume that:
Hundreds of eyewitnesses on the George Washington Parkway at morning rush-hour were either (a) victims of mass-hallucination, or (b) taken aside and threatened or bribed to testify falsely that they saw a commercial aircraft.
Immediately after the impact, squads of conspirators rushed to the scene (including the inside of the burning Pentagon) to plant body parts, personal effects, and bogus aircraft parts (some, like the engines and landing gear weighing several hundred pounds). Others dumped aviation fuel, to "falsely" suggest involvement of an airplane.
Alternatively, eyewitness testimony of those claiming to find these parts were also coerced, and published photographic evidence faked. All press reports were also concocted to give credence to the official version.
Finally, some explanation must be presented as to the fate of Flight 77 and its passengers, which somehow disappeared without any further trace at the precise time the alleged military aircraft or cruise missile approached and struck the Pentagon.
Sorry, but its just too much for me to swallow.
What Does it all Mean?
How then are we to explain the Bush Administration inaction before 9/11, and its willingness to take full advantage of this “new Pearl Harbor?” I don’t know, but that doesn’t keep me from speculating. So here’s my hunch – and it’s only a hunch which I am willing to revise or abandon if and when more evidence appears. The Busheviks were forewarned (“Bin Laden determined to strike in the US”), but they expected attacks on the scale of the USS Cole and the African embassies: perhaps a few dozen casualties -- "acceptable." They did not take countermeasures because they saw a strategic advantage in such a “mini-Pearl Harbor.” For such a purpose, the attack on The Pentagon would suffice. They did not expect the destruction of the World Trade Center. However, after 9/11 the die was cast, and so they eagerly launched their “war on terror," along with the policy outrages that were to follow: the USA PATRIOT ACT, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo. The Iraq War, we now know from Richard Clarke and the Downing Street memos, was on the drawing boards long before 9/11, awaiting just such an event to set it in motion.
All that is little more than a guess. But we can arrive at some more substantial conclusions from our unresolved examination of the 9/11 attacks.
First of all, it is clear that the 9/11 Commission is a travesty. Too many phenomena are unexplained. The evidence must be revisited and validated, and the critics’ anomalies explained. And this must be done fearlessly and independently of any political biases or agendas.
Second, the critics of the official version should, as much as possible, get their facts straight, whereupon they must then cease presenting falsehoods as evidence; e.g., that the debris was shipped immediately, uninspected, to Asia; that the OV assumes and claims that steel melted; that no physical evidence of the plane was found at the Pentagon, etc.
Third: there is no shame in suspending belief -- i.e., in being skeptical. Conversely, it is shameful to jump to a conclusion and a conviction on insufficient and conflicting evidence. Acceptance of the official version, or conversely of the conspiracy theory, are not our only alternatives. Both views are vulnerable and leave many crucial questions unanswered. Far better that we admit to ourselves and tell the world that we simply do not know. Suspension of belief is not a conspicuously American trait. But it is a stock-in-trade of honest scholars and scientists. And it is spur to further investigation, which is most assuredly called for in this case.
Finally, partisan passions should not get in the way of a rational assessment of the evidence. Personally, my web publications testify that I yield to no one in my contempt for Bush and his crime syndicate. I would like as much as anyone to see these crimes pinned on Bush, Inc. But the evidence (however weak) is what it is.
What happened on 9/11? Who is responsible? The questions remain open even as they remain urgent. The American people deserve answers, and more immediately, competent and sustained investigation leading to these answers.
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers." His book in progress, "Conscience of a Progressive," can be seen at www.igc.org/gadfly/progressive/^toc.htm. E-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2006 Ernest Partridge