by David Ray Griffin
9/11 and the American Empire
Fri Nov 24, 2006 19:08

BCST C-SAPN2 11/24/06 9/11 INSIDE JOB!!!!

9/11 and the American Empire
by David Ray Griffin

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9/11 and the American Empire: How Should Religious People Respond? An Address by David Ray Griffin C

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[Note: This lecture was delivered at the University of Wisconsin at Madison on April 18, 2005, and first broadcast by C-Span2 (BookTV) on April 30. Although this text does not correspond exactly to the lecture as orally delivered, all the differences are trivial except that, of course, the oral presentation had to get along without footnotes. - David Ray Griffin]

I will begin by unpacking the key terms in the title of my talk: '9/11,' 'American empire,' and 'religious people,' beginning with the last one.

1. Religious People

Although I am a Christian theologian, I am in this talk addressing religious people in general. I am doing so because I believe that religious people should respond to 9/11 and the American empire in a particular way because of moral principles of their religious traditions that are common to all the historic religious traditions.[1] I have in mind principles such as: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors' oil. Thou shalt not murder thy neighbors in order to steal their oil.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbors, accusing them of illicitly harboring weapons of mass destruction, in order to justify killing them in order to steal their oil. This language is, of course, language that we associate with the Abrahamic religions�Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But the same basic ideas can be found in other religious traditions.

I turn now to 'American empire,' which has been a highly contentious term.

2. American Empire: Divergent Views

In his 2002 book American Empire, Andrew Bacevich points out that it was long a 'cherished American tradition [that] the United States is not and cannot be an empire.'[2] The words 'American empire,' he adds, were 'fighting words,' so that uttering them was an almost sure sign that one was a left-wing critic of America's foreign policy. But as Bacevich also points out, this has all recently changed, so that now even right-wing commentators freely acknowledge the existence of the American empire. As columnist Charles Krauthammer said in 2002: 'People are coming out of the closet on the word �empire.''[3] This new frankness often includes an element of pride, as exemplified by Krauthammer's statement that America is 'no mere international citizen' but 'the dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome.'[4]

Given this consensus about the reality of the American empire, the only remaining matter of debate concerns its nature. The new frankness about the empire by conservatives is generally accompanied by portrayals of it as benign. Robert Kagan has written of 'The Benevolent Empire.'[5] Dinesh D'Souza, after writing in 2002 that 'American has become an empire,' added that happily it is 'the most magnanimous imperial power ever.'[6] According to Krauthammer, the fact that America's claim to being a benign power 'is not mere self-congratuation' is shown by its 'track record.'[7]

Commentators from the left, however, have a radically different view. A recent book by Noam Chomsky is subtitled America's Quest for Global Dominance.[8] Richard Falk has written of the Bush administration's 'global domination project,' which poses the threat of 'global fascism.'[9] Chalmers Johnson was once a conservative who believed that American foreign policy aimed at promoting freedom and democracy. But he now describes the United States as 'a military juggernaut intent on world domination.'[10]

Andrew Bacevich is another conservative who has recently changed his mind. Unlike Johnson, he has not come to identify with the left, but he has come to agree with its assessment of the American empire.[11] He now ridicules the claim 'that the promotion of peace, democracy, and human rights and the punishment of evil-doers--not the pursuit of self-interest--[has] defined the essence of American diplomacy.'[12] Pointing out that the aim of the US military has been 'to achieve something approaching omnipotence,' Bacevich mocks the idea that such power in America's hands 'is by definition benign.'[13]

3. 9/11: Four Interpretations

If 'American empire' is understood in different ways, the same is all the more true of the term '9/11.'

For those Americans who accept the official interpretation, 9/11 was a surprise attack on the US government and its people by Islamic terrorists.

For some Americans, '9/11' has a more complex meaning. This second group, while accepting the official interpretation of the attacks, thinks of 9/11 primarily as an event that was used opportunistically by the Bush administration to extend the American empire. This interpretation is effectively presented by writers such as Noam Chomsky, Rahul Mahajan, and Chalmers Johnson.[14]

For a third group of Americans, the term '9/11' connotes an event with a more sinister dimension. These citizens believe that the Bush administration knew the attacks were coming and intentionally let them happen. Although no national poll has been taken to ascertain how many Americans hold this view, a Zogby poll surprisingly indicated that almost half of the residents of New York City do.[15]

According to a fourth view of 9/11, the attacks were not merely foreknown by the Bush administration; they were orchestrated by it. Although thus far no poll has tried to find out how many Americans hold this view, polls in Canada and Germany some time back indicated that this view was then held by 15 to 20 percent of their people.[16]

4. 9/11 and the American Empire

Religious people who take the moral principles of their religious tradition seriously will probably have very different attitudes toward the American empire, depending upon which of these four views of 9/11 they hold.

If they accept the official view, according to which America was the innocent victim of evil terrorists, then it is easy for them to think of America's so-called war on terror as a just war. This is the position taken by Jean Bethke Elshtain, a professor of ethics at the University of Chicago's Divinity School, in a book called Just War Against Terror.[17] From this perspective, the 'war on terror' has nothing to do with imperial designs. It is simply a war to save the world from evil terrorists.[18]

The second interpretation of 9/11, according to which the Bush administration cynically exploited the 9/11 attacks to further its imperial plans, has quite different implications. Although it thinks of the attacks as surprise attacks, planned entirely by external enemies of America, it usually regards these attacks as 'blowback' for injustices perpetrated by US imperialism. This second view also typically regards the American response to the attacks of 9/11, which has already led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, as far worse than the attacks themselves. This interpretation of 9/11 would lead people who take their religion's moral principles seriously to support a movement to change US foreign policy.

An even stronger reaction would normally be evoked by the third interpretation, for it entails that the Bush administration allowed thousands of its own citizens to be killed on 9/11, deliberately and cold-bloodedly, for the sake of advancing its imperial designs, and then used this event as an excuse to kill hundreds of thousands of people in other countries, all the while hypocritically portraying itself as promoting a 'culture of life.' Of course, those who accept the previous interpretation know that hypocrisy with regard to the 'sanctity of life' has long been a feature of official rhetoric. And yet most Americans, if they learned that their government had deliberately let their own citizens be killed, would surely consider this betrayal qualitatively different. For this would be treason, a betrayal of the oath taken by American political leaders to protect their own citizens.

If this third view implies that the Bush administration is guilty of a heinous and even treasonous act, this is all the more the case with the fourth view. For many Americans, the idea that we are living in a country whose own leaders planned and carried out the attacks of 9/11 is simply too horrible to entertain. Unfortunately, however, there is strong evidence in support of this view. And if we find this evidence convincing, the implications for resistance to US empire-building are radical.

As Bacevich has emphasized, the only remaining debate about the American empire is whether it is benign. The interpretation of 9/11 is relevant to this debate, because it would be difficult to accept either the third or the fourth interpretation and still consider American imperialism benign.

I turn now to some of the evidence that supports these views. I will look first at evidence that supports (at least) the third view, according to which US officials had foreknowledge of the attacks.

5. Evidence for Foreknowledge by US Officials

A central aspect of the official story about 9/11 is that the attacks were planned entirely by al Qaeda, with no one else knowing the plans. A year after the attacks, FBI Director Robert Mueller said: "To this day we have found no one in the United States except the actual hijackers who knew of the plot."[19] Since that time, federal officials have had to admit that they had received far more warnings prior to 9/11 than they had previously acknowledged. But these admissions, while raising the question of why further safety measures were not put in place, do not necessarily show that federal officials had specific foreknowledge of the attacks. One could still, as did the 9/11 Commission, accept the conclusion published at the end of 2002 by the Congressional Joint Inquiry, according to which 'none of [the intelligence gathered by the US intelligence community] identified the time, place, and specific nature of the attacks that were planned for September 11, 2001.'[20]

Unfortunately for the official account, however, there are reports indicating that federal officials did have that very specific type of information. I will give two examples.

David Schippers and the FBI Agents: The first example involves attorney David Schippers, who had been the chief prosecutor for the impeachment of President Clinton. Two days after 9/11, Schippers declared that he had received warnings from FBI agents about the attacks six weeks earlier--warnings that included both the dates and the targets. These agents had come to him, Schippers said, because FBI headquarters had blocked their investigations and threatened them with prosecution if they went public with their information. They asked Schippers to use his influence to get the government to take action to prevent the attacks. Schippers was highly respected in Republican circles, especially because of his role in the impeachment of Clinton. And yet, he reported, Attorney General Ashcroft repeatedly failed to return his calls.[21]

Schippers' allegations about the FBI agents were corroborated in a story by William Norman Grigg called 'Did We Know What Was Coming?', which was published in The New American, a very conservative magazine. According to Grigg, the three FBI agents he interviewed told him 'that the information provided to Schippers was widely known within the Bureau before September 11th.'[22]

If Schippers, Grigg, and these agents are telling the truth, it would seem that when FBI Director Mueller claimed that the FBI had found no one in this country with advance knowledge of the plot, he was not telling the truth.

The Put Options: The government also would have had foreknowledge of the attacks because of an extraordinarily high volume of 'put options' purchased in the three days before 9/11. To buy put options for a particular company is to bet that its stock price will go down. These purchases were for two, and only two, airlines--United and American--the two airlines used in the attacks, and for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, which occupied 22 stories of the World Trade Center. The price of these shares did, of course, plummet after 9/11. As the San Francisco Chronicle said, these unusual purchases, which resulted in profits of tens of millions of dollars, raise 'suspicions that the investors . . . had advance knowledge of the strikes.'[23]

For our purposes, the most important implication of this story follows from the fact that US intelligence agencies monitor the market, looking for signs of imminent untoward events.[24] These extraordinary purchases, therefore, would have suggested to intelligence agencies that in the next few days, United and American airliners were going to be used in attacks on the World Trade Center. This is fairly specific information.

These two examples imply the falsity of the Joint Inquiry's statement that 'none of [the intelligence gathered by the US intelligence community] identified the time, place, and specific nature of the attacks.' Indeed, one of the FBI agents interviewed by William Grigg reportedly said: 'Obviously, people had to know. . . . It's terrible to think this, but this must have been allowed to happen as part of some other agenda.'[25]

He was right. This would be terrible. There is considerable evidence, however, that the full truth is even more terrible---that the reason some US officials had foreknowledge of the attacks is because they had planned them.

6. Evidence that US Officials Planned and Executed the Attacks






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