Sun, Sep 10, 2006 - Page 17 News List

The plot thickens

As the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 nears, academics query the official version of events and claim the US government was complicit in the attacks

By Christina Asquith  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

But Barrett says the experts have been fooled by an "act of psychological conversion" not unlike the tactics CIA interrogators use on their victims. "People will disregard evidence if it causes their faith to be shattered," he says. "I think we were all shocked. And then, when the voice of authority told us what happened, we just believed it."

History has revealed that governments have a tradition of misleading the public into going to war, says Barrett, and the next generation of Americans will realize the truth. "Europe and Canada are way ahead of us on this."

The Sept. 11 scholars go to great lengths to portray themselves as rational thinkers, who have been slowly won over by a careful, academic analysis of the facts of the day.

However, a study of the full extent of their claims is a journey into the increasingly absurd: Flight 93 did not crash in Pennsylvania but landed safely in Cleveland; desperate phone calls received by relatives on the ground from passengers were actually computer-generated voices from a laboratory in California. The Pentagon was not hit by American Airlines Flight 77, but by a smaller, remote-controlled A-3 Sky Warrior, which shot a missile into the building before crashing into it.

Many of the 9/11 scholars have a history of defending conspiracy theories, including that the CIA plotted both the Lockerbie bombing and the plane crash of John F Kennedy Jr. and his wife, and that "global secret societies" control the world.

Professor Robert Goldberg, of the University of Utah, wrote a book on conspiracy theories, Enemies Within: the Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America. He recounts a history of religious and political leaders using conspiracy theories for personal and political gain. The common enemy is usually Jews, big government or corporations. The public laps it up, either because these theories are more exciting than the truth, or out of emotional need.

"What the conspiracy theorists do is present their case with facts and figures: they have dates, meeting places and always name names," he says. "The case is always presented in a prosecutorial way, or the way an adventure writer presents a novel. It's a breathless account. They are willing to say hearsay is a fact, and rumor is true, and accidents are never what they seem.

"One of the stories is that a missile hit the Pentagon, and all the data is there. But what is missing is: what actually happened to the plane and the people on it? Conspiracy theorists avoid discussion of those facts that don't fit."

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the public's willingness to believe conspiracy theories parallels their dissatisfaction with the Bush administration. In recent years, the American public has felt misled over false claims that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that Saddam Hussein was connected to Sept. 11.

Many fear infringements on their civil liberties now the National Security Agency has gained access to phone billing records from telecommunications companies, the Bush administration has engaged in wiretapping without court warrants and there are thousands of cases of indefinite detentions of American and foreign citizens without trial. Those who criticize the Bush administration's "war on terror" are accused of being unpatriotic.

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