The Silence About September 11
by William Rivers Pitt
They call it "The fog of war" for a reason. A lot of things get lost in the fire and the smoke that should not be forgotten, and yet they are, spent and cast aside like depleted uranium shell casings left to roast on a dusty desert roadside. In this relatively quiet space between war in Iraq and whatever battle zone the Bush administration will next come to conjure, it serves us to remember a few home facts that should never, ever be lost.
I have been giving a lot of talks lately at colleges and for organizations about the Iraq war. Always in my remarks I ask the same question. "It has been almost 20 months since the attacks of September 11. It has been over 570 days since the Towers fell. The 9/11 attacks are the principle reason, according to the Bush administration, which justifies the war. Can anyone tell me why those attacks happened? Has anyone in the Bush administration or the media come forth with a reasonable explanation besides 'Evildoers who hate our freedom?'"
Every time I get blank stares, and always a few sets of widened eyes, as if my question caused them to suddenly realize that no such explanation has ever been put forward.
The fact is that the Bush administration has labored mightily and long to make sure no such answers are coming. They fought the creation of an independent investigative body because they wanted to be able to choose the chairman. Once they were gifted this privilege, they abused it with the appalling nomination of Henry Kissinger. If you want a fair and open examination of facts, regardless of shadowy loyalties and compromising corporate connections, you do not choose Kissinger. If you want the master of the black bag and the black op, the undisputed heavyweight champion of Washington insiderdom, the gold standard for cover-up and cover-your-ass, you cannot do better than Henry. This choice told us everything we need to know about the Bush administration's desire to get to the bottom of 9/11.
When I ask my question at these talks, someone in the audience always demands an answer. More often than not, I tell them about Zbigniew Brzezinski and the Afghan Trap. In 1979, Brzezinski was serving as Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor, and he decided the time had come to challenge the Soviet Union in their own back yard. At this time, Afghanistan was ruled by a communist puppet regime of the Soviets called the People's Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, or PDPA. Brzezinski instituted a plan to train fundamentalist Islamic mujeheddin fighters in Pakistan, and sent those fighters to attack the PDPA. The idea was not to destroy the PDPA, but to make the Soviets so nervous about the stability of their puppet regime that they would invade Afghanistan to protect it. Brzezinski wanted, at bottom, to hand the Soviet Union their own debilitating Vietnam.
The plan worked. The Soviets invaded in 1979, and over the next ten years spent its blood and treasure trying to defeat the Afghan warriors who banded together to defend their country. By 1989 millions of Afghan civilians had been killed, millions more had been internally displaced, and hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops had been killed. In the process, the nation of Afghanistan was torn to pieces. Worst of all, the United States – which energetically worked to start the war, and which armed and funded the Afghan mujeheddin once the war was underway – did absolutely nothing to aid ravaged Afghanistan once the Soviets withdrew. Brzezinski proudly described the Afghan Trap in an interview he gave to a French publication called Le Nouvel Observateur in 1998:
Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs ["From the Shadows"], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?
Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.
Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?
B: It isn't quite that. We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.
Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn't believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don't regret anything today?
B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.
Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?
B: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?
How innocent we were in 1998. How gravely we misjudged the dire ramifications of empowering the Taliban. How profoundly we underestimated the strength of the "stirred-up Moslems" we armed and trained with American tax dollars. What a price we have paid.
You see, the Afghan Trap led to the incredibly vicious civil war in Afghanistan that came once the Soviets withdrew. By 1996, the Taliban – made up of our secret allies in the Soviet war - had won the civil war and controlled the nation. The Afghan Trap likewise gave birth to a man named Osama bin Laden, who became a demigod to the Taliban and the Afghan people for his service in the war against the Soviets we started in the first place. The combination of our efforts to begin that war, the social annihilation in Afghanistan caused by that war, the Taliban's rise, and the succor they gave bin Laden, led like an arrow to the attacks of September 11 and the dire estate we currently endure.
How ironic that Brzezinski's desire to end one Cold War gave birth to another. Actions, I tell the listeners at these talks, have consequences. You stir up a hornet's nest, best you expect to get stung. Boy, did we ever get stung.
The actions of a Carter administration official in 1979 can hardly be laid at the feet of George W. Bush and his administration, of course. It is telling, however, that no one in that administration has made an effort to put 9/11 into the historical context to which it belongs. Why such an oversight? Perhaps the folks in the administration believe Americans too dull-witted to comprehend the complex Cold War motivations that gave birth to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Perhaps they are afraid to speak of such things, because it suggests that we inadvertently bought the trouble that came two Septembers ago to find us.
Then again, perhaps the administration was engaged in similar gamesmanship before 9/11. Perhaps they are afraid to address the issue at all. The nomination of Kissinger to the 9/11 committee certainly suggests a desire on the administration's part to never, ever, ever have the facts of that attack come fully to light. They do not want people to know that Brzezinski's actions in 1979, and the naiveté regarding the potential blowback from his decisions he displayed in 1998, was compounded by the actions of the Bush administration in 2001. Brzezinski asked in his interview what was more important in 1979: Ending the Cold War or creating the Taliban? In the early days of the Bush administration, a similar question was certainly asked - what is more important in 2001: Gaining access to an incredibly lucrative energy supply, or the dangers of threatening the Taliban?
A pipeline project, aimed at exploiting massive natural gas reserves along the Caspian Sea in Turkmenistan, was revived by the Bush administration when it arrived in Washington in January of 2001. The pipeline project, which sought to bring oil and natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to a warm water port, had been the brainchild of American petroleum giant Unocal for much of the 1990s. After the destruction of two American embassies in Africa in 1998 by Osama bin Laden, the Clinton administration forbade any American companies from doing business with the Taliban, which had been sheltering bin Laden in Afghanistan. Unocal's pipeline project was frozen.
After the Bush administration came to power, reinvigorating the pipeline project became a high-priority matter of policy. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca was dispatched to Pakistan to discuss the pipeline with Taliban officials in August of 2001. Rocca, a career officer with the CIA, had been deeply involved in Agency activities within Afghanistan. A Pakistani foreign minister was present at the meeting, and witnessed the exchange.
How does this pipeline relate to September 11th? The main obstacle to the completion of the pipeline was the fact that it had to pass through Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The project would receive no international support unless the Afghan government somehow became legitimized. In bargaining for the pipeline, the Bush administration demanded that the Taliban reinstate deposed King Mohammad Zahir Shah as ruler of Afghanistan, and demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden for arrest. In return, the Taliban would reap untold billions in profit from the pipeline. A central part of the Bush administration's bargaining tactics involved threats of war if these conditions for the legitimization of Afghanistan were not met.
The BBC of London reported on September 18th, 2001 of the existence of war plans on Bush's desk aimed at Afghanistan. Niaz Naik, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, stated that the war plans were slated for October of 2001. Conditions set by the Bush administration to avoid war involved the Taliban's handing over of bin Laden and the acceptance of King Zahir Shah. Naik went so far as to doubt that America would hold off on war even if these conditions were met.
The result was total disaster. The Bush administration fundamentally misunderstood the Taliban regime, much the way Brzezinski did in 1998. To bring back the King and hand bin Laden over to the West would have been tantamount to suicide for the Taliban. The arrival of Shah would shove them out of power, and handing bin Laden over to the West would have been seen as a high crime to the Islamic world. Instead of acquiescing to the hard-sell tactics of the Bush administration, the Taliban unleashed Osama bin Laden upon America. They were going to lose everything, and chose to attack first in the hope that all-out war would break out in Central Asia and rally other Muslim nations to their cause.
Actions do indeed have consequences. The motivations behind 20 months of silence regarding the cause of 9/11, along with the appalling nomination of Kissinger as chief investigator, become far more clear.
The families of those slain on 9/11 have not taken all of this lying down. They have sued the government of Saudi Arabia for civil damages totaling $1 trillion, accusing them of harboring and aiding the terrorists who took down the Towers. There is profound merit to their claim, as 15 of the 19 terrorists who flew the planes on 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia, as does Osama bin Laden and the Wahabbi sect of Islam that motivates their jihad. The suit seems logical and reasonable. It is disturbing, then, to consider the legal team hired by the Saudi government to defend against the charges. Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi defense minister, is being represented in court by the prestigious Houston law firm Baker Botts.
The 'Baker' in Baker Botts is James Baker III, Secretary of State to George Bush Sr. and prime fighter for Bush Jr. in the Florida election brawl. Baker also shares another employer with Bush Sr.: Massive multinational corporation The Carlyle Group, owner of the arms manufacturer United Defense, which is making a gold-plated mint off the war in Iraq.
I'd be gratified if someone could explain all this away. I could sleep at night.
The war we have waged against Iraq was justified to the American people as being a necessary response to September 11. We were told Iraq had terrible weapons that could kill us all, that Iraq was a major threat, and that the country will be safer once the Hussein regime was fired. The fact that we have found exactly zero weapons of mass destruction, and the relative ease with which we destroyed Iraq's army, proves they were no threat whatsoever. We went anyway, however, to make the world safer at the point of our incredibly sharp sword.
Albert Einstein, arguably the most brilliant human being ever to draw breath on planet Earth, defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results." America instigated a horrible war in Afghanistan 24 years ago to make the world safer. We have attacked and destroyed another Muslim nation purportedly for the same purpose. One of these days we are going to realize that such actions never serve the cause of peace, but only serve to perpetuate and augment the horrors of this terrifying world. We will learn, for all time, that actions have consequences.
In the meantime, though, we have silence about September. We have evildoers who hate our freedom, and we have war after war after war, instigated by an administration that has so very much to answer for. I tell the people at my talks about all this, and they leave the room quivering with rage. They have the answers, as do I, and God help the administration because of it. Secrets love to whisper.
William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. He is the author of War On Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You To Know (Context Books, 2002) with Scott Ritter, and The Greatest Sedition is Silence which will be published in May by Pluto Press. This essay first appeared in Truthout (www.truthout.org)