Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Power of Nightmares: Must-See BBC Documentary

The Power of Nightmares a must-see 3-part documentary from the BBC.

The scarred month of September is upon us again, and though I haven't gone a day since September 11, 2001 without hearing the term "9/11", the media is doubtless ramping up with replays and retrospectives of that day.

The morning of September 11, 2001 found me rising earlier than usual. I was employed as a technical writer by an IT company in Southfield, Michigan. Commuting across the border each day, I tried to beat the rush (6,000 of my fellow Windsor, Ontario citizens did the same thing each day), I usually got to work around 7 a.m. Not so much out of dedication, but due to my phobic fear and loathing of traffic jams and long waits at the border. However, on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was on the road at around 5 a.m. I shot into the town of LaSalle, just outside of Windsor, to pick up my inlaws who were journeying to Alaska that day for an Alaskan cruise--I was taking them to Detroit Metro Airport before heading to work.

I left my charges at Detroit Metro around 6 a.m., in plenty of time for their 8 a.m. flight, then I headed through the dark morning to Southfield. In those days I was in the habit of arriving to work very early and filling in some of that time by doing my fiction writing. Yes, I know, bad! bad! but it was one of the few ways I had of retaining my sanity in the corporate world. As the office came to life around 8:30 - 9 a.m., I finished up my writing and went online to some of my usual morning Web surfing -- checking out news sites. That morning, none of the news sites I frequented were available. I figured our network had probably been nuzzled by yet another global virus, and all hatches had been battened down by the Help Desk staff. So, I checked my email.

A few minutes after nine o'clock, my wife called me. She said that as she watched one of her morning programs while getting ready for work, she heard that one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York had been struck by a plane. For a moment, I thought she had witnessed some weird hoax on par with Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast in the 1930s. While we spoke, she gasped in horror as she watched live footage of another plane striking the other Trade Center tower.

On the second floor of the building in which I worked -- that floor was empty for some reason, used for storage -- a couple of TV sets had been set up so employees could watch the news in New York unfold. As I stood there, watching, coverage in New York was interrupted by word that the Pentagon had been struck by a plane, as well. It was then that the horror of 9/11 was slowly revealed -- planes had been high-jacked, surely more high-jacked planes were still in the air; all air traffic was in the process of being forced to land in all nearest and available airports.

I returned to my desk, queasy, frightened beyond anything I had ever felt in my life. The images on the news of people congregated and trapped on the roof of the World Trade Center buildings seared into my mind; all that black smoke billowing around them. How the hell would rescuers get to them? This was a full year after the Kursk Russian submarine accident stranded (and ultimately killed) two dozen submariners; a news story I had followed with the same greasy, shitty feeling in my stomach. I imagined this story would be worse with maybe two or three times that number killed.

I called my wife at work. She had also heard on the news speculation that still more high-jacked planes were in the air, and was terrified for her parents. I reassured her as best I could -- not very well, especially with images of the smoldering Trade Center buildings on every TV channel. I said that her folks' plane would probably be diverted to some place like Kanasas City, and they'd be inconvenienced as hell, but safe.

Soon after, I returned to the second floor. While watching the live broadcast on ABC, Peter Jennings doing a stunningly rotten job of commenting on the scenes of destruction, and passing along every manner of disinformation -- speculating at one point that possibly the high-jackers of the two planes that hit the Trade Center buildings acted independently: that two sets of psychos had conceived of the same plan, and carried it out at the very same time, on the very same day. That was the level of insanity of that God damned day.

Then the Trade Center buildings collapsed. Something in all of us plummetted irrevocably with them, I think. Amid the cacophony of news, I heard that the Canadian border had been closed. Numerous colleagues -- some whose last names I didn't even know -- offered their spare bedrooms to me, knowing I was stranded for the night; asked me to their homes for dinner, and to be with their families until I could get back to my own. The salve of that human empathy and goodness made it so I could get through the day. Such good, good people.

After a soul-crushing morning, during more than three hours of bottomed-out fear for my inlaws -- though no further crashes were reported after that plane was shot down over Pennsylvania -- my wife finally called to say her mother called, said they were safe, that their plane had been diverted to Kansas City. They ultimately made their Alaska cruise after a couple of days of hell in the airport.

By mid-afternoon, I was so rattled and in need of a familiar face that I telephoned a professor who resided in Detroit whom I had known at the University of Windsor. His wife was so unnerved by the events of the day she actually told me not to come over. Fair enough. It was a bad day for us all.

I spent that night at the home of a colleague, and headed for the Canadian border around four o'clock the following morning. The border was open and empty. The Customs official said nothing to me, and I floored my car to get home. I worked from home for the next week. When I finally returned to the office a week later, the lines at the border were so long, I would leave my home at 3 a.m. in an attempt to miss the worst of it. Less than a month later, as my company was swallowed up by EDS, I was laid-off. Just as well -- each morning I crossed the Ambassador Bridge to get to work. This is a main artery on which transport trucks supplying the auto industry, and countless other industries, pass over 24/7 in an unending flow. For anyone seeking to harm the U.S./Canadian economies they need only strike that bridge. Sitting in my car, amid the gridlock that backed up beyond the middle of the bridge was like sitting on a giant bulls-eye. I spent the entire time, creeping along with traffic, wondering if one or several cars around me might explode. A hell of way to begin the day.

The constant, growing refrain that sounded through my mind in the weeks following 9/11 was "Get the motherfuckers who did this! Get them!" I believe in law and order, and all that, but also felt that the people behind the 9/11 attacks ought to be skinned alive, rolled in salt, and fed to a herd of swine. That not only should their lives be extinguished, but the memories of their names, the memory that they ever existed should somehow be expunged from the earth.

From my reading and documentary-watching over the years, I figured America had numerous "General Jack Ripper"-types of insane commanders and planners they didn't dare retire into civilian life, ready to be wheeled out of the darkest compartments of the military apparatus to create plans of retribution. This heartened me, that there was finally a legitimate use for the psychotic military fringe -- unleash America's craziest and most dangerous upon the enemy's craziest and most dangerous. No part of me doubted the American crazies would win; and I would happily have contributed a keg of Wild Turkey bourbon to their victory party.

While Mayor Giuliani and George W. Bush encouraged the world to continue shopping, the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT)" was pulled off the shelf by Attorney General John Ashcroft -- legislation that complex and overarching isn't created overnight. Where the hell had that come from? The diversion of it caused me something close to physical pain. How in the world would surveilling American citizens down to the marrow of their bones deter people like those behind the 9/11 attacks?

Then came the attack/invasion of Afghanistan. This struck me as entirely wrong-headed. Not that I was so concerned about its sovereignty -- the year before I had followed in the news the Taliban's destruction (much to the rest of the world's consternation) of millennias-old artifacts and statues. The invasion struck me as a lumbering, clumsy response to the 9/11 attacks. First, if the U.S. was interested in attacking the country most of the high-jackers had in common, they should have attacked Saudi Arabia. Which illustrates the problem at hand -- the attackers may have originated from Saudi Arabia, but that didn't mean they attacked on behalf of Saudi Arabia. And just because they trained in Afghanistan didn't mean they attacked on behalf of Afghanistan, either. Afghanistan is about as barren and remote a country as our earth possesses -- with the exception of the North and South poles. It was basically a vast vacant lot where crazies could shoot guns, swing on monkey bars, and shout "Jihad!" without being bothered.

To battle such people, you don't send in a huge, lumbering military that can be seen and heard coming from miles away. You infiltrate these groups. Christ, why don't we have our own suicide bombers? You've seen footage of how close journalists and cameras have gotten to Osama Bin Laden. If the rotters of the world can find suicide bombers to carry out their plans, why can't we?

Also, that American-Taliban fighter who was captured in Afghanistan, John Walker Lindh, apparently had a couple of face-to-face meetings with Osama Bin Laden. His being an American was the chief reason why Bin Laden requested to meet with him; John Walker Lindh hadn't been supplicating those around him for a meeting with Bin Laden. If that misguided sleepwalker could get close to Bin Laden, why couldn't the all-powerful, over-funded Central Intelligence Agency get someone in that close? Were they even trying? Or, were they too busy going through some dictator's underwear drawer in South America or Eastern Europe?

And, you know what? Poring over the news, on TV and the Web, during those weeks after 9/11, I saw no actual proof that Osama Bin Laden was behind the attacks. His name surfaced in the immediate aftermath, but never did I hear or see even a sketchy chain of facts that led from Bin Laden to the 9/11 attacks. I was willing to take BushCo's word for it for a while, but given BushCo's already-evident trouble with the truth, I wasn't going to trust their word, alone, for long.

Then I heard that some of the 19 men identified as the 9/11 high-jackers were actually alive, in other countries. The details about how the high-jackers took control of the planes bothered me, too. You see, a month before the 9/11 attacks I did some travelling on business, flying from Detroit to Des Moines, Iowa (with a change of planes in Chicago). Now, I hate flying. Not only am I afraid of crashing, but during the summer of 2001, there were an increasing number of stories in the media about "air rage" -- drunken, crazed idiots attacking airline crews and even attempting to invade airplane cockpits. These bothered me to the point where I emailed a family friend who flies tens of thousands of miles a month to ask if he had ever witnessed an instance of "air rage." He said he had not. Though this consoled me to some degree, I made my flights to Chicago and then to Des Moines with white knuckles.

My point? Had anyone interfered with one of my flights -- and been armed with anything short of a flame thrower or M-16 machine gun -- I would have personally torn out their larynx with my teeth. So, the idea of some guys with "box cutter" blades commandeering the doomed flights on 9/11 just didn't strike me as plausible. Surely I'm not alone in my attitude toward people who might interfere with a flight I was on. We are a civil, passive society, but there still are bar-room brawlers and road-rage addicts among us, are there not?

Other aspects of 9/11 that bother me:

  • The collapse of the WTC buildings sure looked like a "controlled demolition". No steel building has ever collapsed due to fire. Even FEMA, in its report, states that it has no idea what caused the collapse of the WTC. Since the debris was removed as quickly as humanly possible, no expert has had an opportunity to examine any portion of it

  • The damage to the Pentagon is not consistent with it being hit by a passenger jet

  • Had the supposed high-jacked plane that hit the Pentagon struck it on its approach, it would have slammed into the side of the building where Donald Rumsfeld's office, among many others, was located. Instead, the plane made an incredible 270-degree turn, and miraculously struck the virtually unoccupied, newly strengthened side of the building

  • Nothing about the Air Force "stand down" or bumblingly slow response to the high-jackings sounds right to me. The incompetence was all too convenient for the high-jackers

  • Kenneth Star spent more than $60 million investigating the sex life of President Clinto. The 9/11 Commission was given less than $6 million. Many of its experts quit in disgust because of political interference

  • George W. Bush's comments about his reactions to the 9/11 attacks are inconsistent and border on the bizarre

Then came America's fixation on Iraq, although we later learned this fixation existed while George W. Bush was campaigning to be president in 2000. The more I heard about the "link" between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, the less I believed it. Call me crazy, but I believe accusations should always be accompanied by evidence. So, when Colin Powell went before the U.N. and made his presentation of America's "proof" that Iraq was an imminent threat, I listened with great anticipation. And was not the least bit persuaded. But it wasn't long before it was learned much of Powell's presentation came from a plagiarized student essay -- reproduced with spelling errors, and all -- that had been written before the first Gulf war in 1991. And by now we all know the entire presentation was bullshit.

George W. Bush always intended to go into Iraq, and sure enough, America is now embroiled in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

The part of the BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares that troubled me most dealt with the American Neo-Conservatives. These men -- Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, among others -- dramatically overstated the intentions and capabilities of the Soviets in the 1970s, and have done the same with Al Quaeda two decades later. I was stunned to hear one researcher state that Al Quaeda, in fact, does not exist. Osama Bin Laden only began using the term after the 9/11 attacks because that's what he heard western media call his "group." Also, no vast organized terrorist Web exists. Sure, there are uncountable crazies in the world, of all stripes, but according to experts there is no proof that a mafia-like organizational structure exists among them.

And the mounting refrain that steadily grew in my mind following the 9/11 attacks -- "Get the motherfuckers who did this!" -- continues. It's now apparent that the 9/11 attacks were allowed to occur by the Bush administration in order to create a pretext by which to embark on its adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan (see the German Reichstag fire of 1933; see the attacks on Pearl Harbor; see "Operation Northwoods" proposed by American generals in the 1960s). Whether or not Osama Bin Laden was actually behind the 9/11 attacks doesn't seem to matter any more. The Bush administration has pretty much given up on finding or killing him. Somebody should tell the poor soldiers still in Afghanistan, if anyone even remembers that they're still there.

* * *

When I was a kid I remember watching the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite with my father. Other than the 1979 taking of Americans hostages in Iran, the news story I remember most vividly from that time was The Atlanta Child Murders. Evening after evening, another child was murdered by some psychopath stalking the city. Atlanta police seemed a complete loss on how to stop or find him. For the most part, the kids were in my age range, I recall the same refrain filling my mind then as it did following 9/11 -- "Get the guy who's doing this." At some point, a man named Wayne Williams was arrested and convicted for only two of the 21 murders. In fact, the murders for which Williams was convicted were of men, not children. In fact, it didn't look like Wayne Williams was the Atlanta Child Killer at all. But the authorities were content to have a guy for the murders, if not the actual guy.

That's where I guess I differ from the world. In cases like 9/11 or the Altanta Child Murders, I think it's important to get the guy(s) responsible -- not someone who looks the actual guy, not someone of the same religion as the actual guy, not someone who drives the same kind of car as the actual guy. I want the actual guy caught, and for authorities not to rest until they capture him. So few people in charge seem to share this idea.

The world is less safe today because George W. Bush lied and doctored intelligence, and bullied allies in order to begin a war with Iraq. Once a liar is revealed, who the hell will believe him? Particularly one so methodical and so thoroughly unmasked as George W. Bush, who has America stomping around the world in precisely the arrogant, destructive manner its detractors have always accused it of doing. The officials at Guantanamo Bay's Camp X-ray have not yet held up a single detainee as being guilty of anything.

As the documentary The Power of Nightmares so expertly illustrates, while BushCo is off pursuing its own hidden agenda in Iraq and Afghanistan, the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks remain free to act again. How can anyone call this success or even progress?

This period in history, if it's remembered at all, will be known as a time when people of conscience, people who "knew better", sat on their hands and let the hysterics run wild, creating an environment of War Without End, Fear Without Resolution, and ever decreasing freedoms for the law abiding. When the tyrant leading the charge against good sense and honest protection of the innocent can be convincingly compared to a chimpanzee, persons of conscience ought to be utterly ashamed of themselves.

No comments: