The 9/11 atrocities cost the lives of nearly 3,000 people (Image: DPA/PA )
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We watched as the dreadful events played out on television, images we can never forget: the burning World Trade Center towers; the bodies falling like rag dolls from the sky, the immense buildings, those monuments to America’s pride, collapsing into rubble. We all know the basic facts. Four hijacked passenger aircraft crashed in New York, Washington DC and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing 2,977 people ‑ 67 of them from Britain ‑ in a nightmare plot conceived and carried out by Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda followers. Yet incredibly, on Saturday’s 20th anniversary, disturbing, fundamental questions still remain over what exactly happened that fateful day.
Like many people, I have visited One World Trade Center, the $25billion complex that sits uncomfortably at the site of the Twin Towers in downtown Manhattan as a cross between a bustling tourist destination and a solemn memorial.
What remains of the rubble is scrubbed and on display in a museum filled with photographs that reflect the fading snapshots in our minds.We can read how history remembers that terrible morning, but if you were to ask the survivors, or, indeed, the families of the nearly 3,000 people who died if they know what led to the attacks, I can guarantee you that most of them would not be able to tell you the full story.
The US government will certainly not tell you.
The memorial complex sits at the site of the Twin Towers in downtown Manhattan (Image: Matthew Carroll/Getty)
This explains why so many conspiracy theories have sprung up attempting to explain the events leading up to 9/11. There are rabbit holes here that are certain to infuriate most right-minded people, let alone those who lost loved ones.
When the last President of the United States publicly denies the election results of his country and anti-vaxxers seriously question whether Covid-19 exists, it is little wonder people bristle at the term conspiracy theory.
But history is also littered with brave souls who dared to stand up and speak out, sometimes at great danger to themselves. So what do you call a conspiracy theory that turns out to be correct? I guess you’d call that the truth.
It is both astonishing and shameful that so many of those who lost so much on 9/11 are still trying to discover the full facts, and it is disgraceful that the people in power we trust to protect and to lead us still obfuscate the truth.
The 9/11 families have long complained that nobody has connected the dots for them to satisfactorily explain the lead-up to the attacks on New York and Washington.
It partly explains why so many of them ‑ more than 6,000 family members of those who were killed and survivors of the attacks ‑ are still involved in two lawsuits, the biggest in US history, seeking to prove Saudi Arabia’s complicity in the plot.
This is no conspiracy theory; it’s a serious legal complaint that has already changed the law in America, making it possible to sue a foreign power through the US courts.
It’s easy to forget that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.
Hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon (Image: Federal Bureau of Investigation/Getty)
What is certain is that Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, two of the Saudi-born terrorists who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and crashed it into the Pentagon, arrived in California 18 months before the attacks and the CIA was aware of their presence. But they did not inform the FBI, the agency with a responsibility for domestic operations in the US.
Former FBI Special Agent Mark Rossini, who was working as a liaison between the CIA and FBI at the time, says he and a colleague were instructed not to pass that information to their superiors.
He is convinced the spy agency wanted to let the terrorists run in the hope that ‑ with the cooperation of the Saudis ‑ they could land some bigger fish, perhaps even bin Laden himself.
If that was, indeed, the plan, then it went disastrously awry. Rossini is not alone in the intelligence community in believing the US authorities have gone to great lengths to cover-up this horrendously botched operation.
Similarly, many members of families who lost loved ones believe the 9/11Commission, an inquiry formed by President George W Bush to get to the bottom of the atrocity, turned out to be nothing more than a whitewash when it reported in 2004.
“It’s unconscionable. I think what’s really bad is that 20 years out, we’re still trying to get documents and evidence,” said Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband, Ronald, in the Twin Towers and has spent the last two decades fighting to find out what happened.
“Literally, the United States Department of Justice sits on the side of the Saudis in the courtroom and blocks evidence,” she added. “My husband was killed and nearly 3,000 others were murdered in broad daylight and the government itself did not prosecute one person. In some ways, the 9/11 Commission was our baby. So, what do you do when your baby grows up to be a serial killer?”
Some of the so-called conspiracy theories stemming from 9/11 are not just the lunatic ramblings of the fantasist fringe; some are serious issues raised by serious people.
The idea that the Twin Towers were felled not by the fires from the planes but by controlled demolitions from explosives planted in advance may sound far-fetched, but a group comprising literally thousands of architects and engineers point to detailed scientific evidence supporting just that.
The world watched the dreadful events unfold (Image: Getty)
They ask, with some justification, how two rogue aircraft could bring down the Twin Towers AND World Trade Center Building 7, which also crashed to the ground even though it was 370 feet away and wasn’t even hit?
The group, Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, have commissioned their own studies that suggest it was impossible that the Twin Towers and Building 7 could have fallen into themselves through heat alone as the official narrative suggests.
Many have put their professional reputations on the line to insist that bombs were planted by saboteurs to ignite simultaneously with the air attacks. They are less persuasive in explaining why such a thing may have happened, but the questions remain.
Similarly, it really doesn’t make sense that the American military, the most powerful and advanced in the world, didn’t manage to get a jet fighter within miles of the doomed airliners in the one hour and 17 minutes from when American Airlines Flight 11 first hit the WTC’s North Tower through the subsequent strikes on the South Tower and the Pentagon in Washington to United Airlines Flight 93’s crash landing in the fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Some argue the US government had a sinister motive for allowing the planes to carry on their disastrous course, allowing the attack to happen to help trigger war in the oil-rich Middle East. To me, that stretches belief too far.
A simpler and more realistic reason is that the guardians of America’s skies were ill-prepared for such an audacious attack and were caught by surprise in the chaos of the moment.
Beneath the 1,776-foot-tall Freedom Tower and behind the walls of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, a world away from the noisy hustle and bustle of tourists and workers outside on the streets of New York, is the silent resting place of the 9/11 dead.
Astonishingly, the remains of 1,113 people are still unidentified. Just 293 bodies were recovered intact, a tragic mercy to those families able to give them a conventional funeral.
The great majority of the victims were obliterated by the plane crashes, the fires or the collapses of the towers ‑ 21,905 pieces of human remains were eventually collected from the ruins, many of them as small as a nail or an inch of skin.
Of those pieces, 7,204 have not been tied into a victim. The unidentified remains are held in a private climate-controlled underground repository behind the museum, awaiting the DNA technology that may one day pair them to the names of the dead. It is a long and painstaking job.
9/11 factfile (Image: EXPRESS.CO.UK)
But what this repository of heartache does illustrate is the agony that continues to this day for the 9/11 families. For so many of them, it has meant that a funeral left an emptiness that cannot be filled. They will never know the end of the story.
We are too used to Hollywood endings where the spy overcomes all odds to save the world, just in time. The reality is way messier. The line dividing right and wrong is often so thin as to be invisible and the truth is often simply the most every convenient lie.
The deaths of nearly 3,000 people shocked the world and dominated the headlines for a while, and then the world moved on, leaving the families who lost everything to pick up the pieces themselves.
An independent inquiry, backed by the full force of the US law, is the only way to right this wrong. The investigators must have full access to every official document connected to the 9/11 attacks and the legal weight to demand what is not volunteered. Every document, every page, should be unclassified. Enough time has passed; the sell-by date on secrecy has long run out.
The inquiry should not be answerable to the White House or Congress or any political party. It should be answerable to the public.
Only then can the innocent victims of the attacks rest in peace.
9/11 The Conspiracy Theories: The Truth and What’s Been Hidden From Us by David Gardner (John Blake Publishing, £9.99) is out now.
Call Express Bookshop on 020 3176 3832. Free UK P&P on orders over £20
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