Note: I give this article by my late friend, Carl Lesnor, pride of place because his lucid, incisive (not-to-say enviable), prose makes for bracing reading as well as it is aptly serves to begin the discussion. Among much else, Carl reminds us of that brief period, ending perhaps in 2007 or 2008 when left spokespeople like Robert Fisk, Alexander Cockburn, Tariq Ali, and surely others, contended with 9/11 truth activists – -Fisk calls them “ravers” (as in stark, raving, mad). For this period, ravers persisted in expressing their unhappiness with the refusal or the inability of these luminaries to address the glaring evidence that 9/11 was an inside job.

Robert Fisk on 9/11 Truth: Good Beginning, Bob

By Carl Lesnor

September 2007

The government’s failure to provide an open investigation of this disaster is the real scandal; one colluded in by the American political oligarchy and the media that serves it.

--Carl Lesnor


Robert Fisk has written an article in the Independent  entitled Even I question the Truth About 9/11 (2007) that has attracted a great deal of attention and a certain amount of controversy.1 Fisk begins by complaining about the "ravers" as he calls them, who come to his lectures about the Middle East and accuse him of covering up the truth about the events of September 11. He usually replies that he is a Middle East correspondent and has no special knowledge of what happened to the World Trade Center, that he has "quite enough real plots on my hands in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Iran, the Gulf, etc., to worry about imaginary ones in Manhattan.”

Still, he has questions. More questions than answers, but raising questions about the government's account on the part of a famous and respected journalist is a notable event. He concludes his column by repeating that he is not a "conspiracy theorist" but that he'd like to know the full story, not least because it was the trigger for the disaster in Iraq, Afghanistan, and much of the Middle East.

He has been taken to task, sometimes gently, sometimes harshly, by people in the "truth movement" for being too ambiguous, for engaging in "doublethink" and by repeating in the last paragraph that he is not a "conspiracy theorist" (though he concludes by saying that he'd like to know more.)

Much depends on the words "conspiracy theory" and how it used. Let's begin at the beginning. Some of us are old enough remember that this expression dates from the time of the JFK assassination when, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the bullets came from two directions, the Warren commission claimed that they were all fired from the rear by a lone assassin. Thus the notorious "magic bullet" theory. Rejecting this theory automatically led to an inescapable conclusion: that if there were two or more assassins there was a conspiracy. That's how the law defines it. (Unless, of course, two lone assassins, unknown to one another opened fire at the same time.) If the magic bullet theory is true, the assassination can be explained in terms of psychology, but if it's false, then it becomes a political issue.

Naturally, the political implications of a conspiracy were enormous and inevitably led to speculation about the identities and motives of the conspirators. Much of the dispute was about these implications and people tended to take positions based on their political predispositions and to reason backwards. The trajectory of the bullets was determined not by ballistics, but by political beliefs and loyalties.

Those who trusted the government considered it disloyal to question its word. Those who considered Kennedy merely another servant of an omnipotent ruling class denied that its agents would have any interest in killing him. ([Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn maintain this position to this day.)2

Those who were relieved that the "Marxist" assassin was not being accused of acting on behalf of the Soviets or the Cubans, which they feared might lead to war, (like I.F. Stone) preferred to let sleeping dogs lie and not question the inconsistencies in the official story. Fortified by their devotion to this noble end, they had no compunction in attacking those who challenged the authorized version.

Those who were counting on the Kennedy family to challenge the Commission report took their failure to do as a reason to endorse it, though Robert Kennedy --as well as family friend, Arthur Schlesinger -- were careful to say that they "accepted" it, but hadn't actually read it. ([It has now been revealed that Robert Kennedy never believed it: see the review of Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot.

All of these people used the term "conspiracy theory" to discredit those who questioned the official findings and had no trouble some finding far-fetched theories as proof that all skeptics were the victims of paranoid delusions --- yet it is obvious that conspiracies have always existed and that no political history that rejects them a priori is possible. 

The events of September 11, 2001 present an entirely different question, for in this case the official version is itself a conspiracy theory, and on its face quite an implausible one. To begin with there are the obvious questions of how such a vast operation could have succeeded in overcoming US defenses. If the government was completely taken by surprise by this conspiracy in the morning, unable even to mount a defense of the Pentagon hours after the first alert was received, how could it have known just who was behind it in the afternoon? The nature of the evidence it presented -- the incriminating documents left in the rental car and in the suitcase that never made it aboard the plane, the passport that came floating down at the crash site -- was enough to arouse suspicions. The accumulation of conflicting stories and implausible events in the following days only strengthened them. (For a list of seventy --but by no means all -- of the reasons to doubt the official story see: 70 reasons to doubt the offiical 9/11 story)

But implausible doesn't necessarily mean impossible and suspicions aren't always justified; more complete information can dispel them. But in this instance, the behavior of the government in refusing to provide such evidence, stonewalling appeals for investigations, lying, and destroying evidence could only increase them. As in the Kennedy assassination, the cover-up itself can be seen as part of the conspiracy and cannot fail to fuel suspicions which give rise to conflicting theories, theories that not only conflict with the official story, but inevitably with one another. Some of them might seem fanciful; some indeed are, but this cannot simply be ascribed to the "paranoia" of those who put them forward and used as an argument for accepting the government story. The government’s failure to provide an open investigation of this disaster is the real scandal; one colluded in by the American political oligarchy and the media that serves it.

This doesn't mean that all who accepted, persuaded themselves to accept, or thought it prudent to accept the official story are equally culpable; many refused to listen to conflicting evidence for fear of its implications. Shortly after the attack on the twin towers I attended a talk given at Columbia University by a noted British radical, Tariq Ali, who spoke about its political implications. During the question period he was taken aback by the widespread disbelief in the official account on the part of his New York audience. When asked whether he actually believed it, he replied that he didn't want to think about it. In addition to this fear, which was shared by many, we might add the fear of ridicule, the fear of being discredited by being seen as embracing "irresponsible" speculation.

Refusal to open Pandora's box, disinclination to isolate oneself, to risk undermining one's political credibility for fear of being branded a "loony"--all this might not be admirable, but it is certainly understandable. Fisk's emerging doubts, however guarded and tentative, should be welcomed, for the question is not whether or not he is waffling, but finding out what happened. If we welcome his first step on the road to truth, we can ask him to be consistent and take the next step.3              

Fisk gives the impression of trying to allay his increasing doubts by pulling the well-worn but comforting blanket of "incompetence" over his head.4 This is the last refuge of the denier of conspiracies, for it is undeniably true that government officials -- as much as, or more than others -- often produce disasters through mere incompetence and "stupidity." But this argument only goes so far: taken to its logical extreme, it can be used to deny any and all purposeful action. That there are unintended consequences doesn't mean that there are no intended ones. This becomes painfully obvious when Fisk writes:

"My final argument – a clincher, in my view – is that the Bush administration has screwed up everything – militarily, politically diplomatically – it has tried to do in the Middle East; so how on earth could it successfully bring off the international crimes against humanity in the United States on 11 September 2001?

Well, I still hold to that view. Any military which can claim – as the Americans did two days ago – that al-Qa'ida is on the run is not capable of carrying out anything on the scale of 9/11."

The obvious objection to his last sentence is that the U.S. claim is not an error, but a lie. Surely Fisk understands that there's a difference between what a military spokesman claims and what he actually believes. After spending a lifetime listening to them he cannot possibly believe them honest but dimwitted. Similarly, his assertion that the administration has screwed up everything it has tried to do in the Middle East rests on the assumption that the stated reasons for its intervention were the real reasons. (Or else that he has discerned what the 'real' reasons are, but that they, too, conflict with what Cheney-Bush have brought about.) The poor man is suffering; he would like to be able to get back to sleep, but the incompetence comforter isn't going to succeed in shutting out the light. He would like to believe it "a clincher," but he already knows that it isn't.

The End

1. Robert Fisk: Even I question the 'truth' about 9/11  (August 2007) Here’s the first paragraph of Fisk’s article:

Each time I lecture abroad on the Middle East, there is always someone in the audience – just one – whom I call the "raver". Apologies here to all the men and women who come to my talks with bright and pertinent questions – often quite humbling ones for me as a journalist – and which show that they understand the Middle East tragedy a lot better than the journalists who report it. But the ‘raver’is real. He has turned up in corporeal form in Stockholm and in Oxford, in Sao Paulo and in Yerevan, in Cairo, in Los Angeles and, in female form, in Barcelona. No matter the country, there will always be a ‘raver.’" For  an open letter  responding to Fisk’s article see H.Fenton: Open Letter to Robert Fisk re 911 Truth or Conspiracy, published on 911blogger.com.  

2. Alexander Cockburn still believes in the Warren Commission and its 'magic bullet.' He makes his political motives quite clear: "These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx..." a fact he deplores. If they had they would have been able to resist the "diffuse, peripatic (sic) conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly "rogue" agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list." https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/20/syria-and-neo-mccarthyism/

As he makes very clear, his refusal to examine the evidence is rooted in his a priori view that everything can and ought to be explained in terms of Marxist theories of vast anonymous forces such as capitalist accumulation and the falling rate of profit. Conspiracies, he thinks, are more to the taste of "the libertarian and populist right" which "mistrusts government to a far greater degree than the left..." Obviously, after mastering Volume Three of Capital, one has no need of empirical evidence, even if Marx never did get around to writing his book on the State.

Cockburn -- as well as Chomsky -- know in advance that all US presidents are all equally servants of ruling class interests and that therefore it wouldn't make any political sense to assassinate them, ergo an assassination is merely a fait diversr [current event], devoid of political significance, ergo the bullets all came from the sixth floor of the Book Depository. 

Cockburn also asks: What do we make of Osama taking credit for the attacks? That he's still on the CIA payroll?"  The fact is that Osama explicitly denied having anything to do with the attacks and indeed condemned them. http://www.robert-fisk.com/usama_interview_ummat.htm

After denying and condemning it publicly, he then is supposed to have made a private video, claiming credit for what he publicly denied, and condemned, and somehow allowed it to fall into the hands of the Americans.

3. He might begin by going back to his interview with Bin Laden, where he encountered a man seemingly cut off from what was happening in the world (he devoured a two-week old newspaper that Fisk was carrying in his backpack). Is it possible to reconcile that with the idea that such a man could have been the "mastermind" of this complicated and ramified plot. (He might also care to reread the interview with Bin Laden referred to above.

4. Cockburn goes him one better: After flinging the word "idiocy" against David Ray Griffin's claim that..."In light of standard procedures for dealing with hijacked airplanes not one of these planes should have reached its target, let alone all three of them," Cockburn goes on to claim: "A central characteristic of the conspiracists is that they have a devout, albeit preposterous belief in American efficiency. Many of them start with the racist premise--frequently voiced in as many words in their writings -- that "Arabs in caves" weren't capable of the mission." It is hard to recognize in such gratuitous accusations of "idiocy" and "racism" any sign of genuine conviction or dedication to finding the truth. Rather such name calling appears to be a desperate attempt to discredit the motives of those who differ.