Spinning Down the 9/11 Memory Hole

Will the American People Ever Know the Truth About that Fateful Day?

I remember where I was on September 11, 2001. It was clear and beautiful in Santa Barbara that day, with a big blue sky overhead and not a cloud to be seen. My daughter was eight days old. I had just dropped my son off at kindergarten when my wife rang my cell phone to tell me that a jetliner had crashed into the World Trade Center. I went straight home and like many Americans spent the better part of the day glued to the television, watching the images over and over, and trying to understand what had happened on the other side of the country.

A few days after the United States made its long overdue formal exit from Afghanistan my daughter turned twenty. I opposed the invasion and occupation for the simple reason that it made no sense to me. I understood the outrage and fear in this country, the grief for the dead, wounded, and traumatized, but invading Afghanistan struck me as a misguided response that was certain to be a disaster. I knew some history. No foreign invader had ever fared well in Afghanistan. At the time mine was a decidedly minority opinion. The world’s only superpower had been attacked and had to respond, and if you disagreed you were written off as insufficiently patriotic. The few voices that called for the US to pause, wait, and understand more before it responded were drowned out by the more numerous and far louder voices demanding immediate retaliation. I had many questions (and frankly still do as the American people do not know the complete story of 9/11 and its aftermath) such as: What role did Saudi Arabia play, either directly or indirectly? Who provided the logistical support, training, and financing? How was it possible for several of the hijackers to enter and exit the US several times, despite being known operatives of terrorist organizations? Who vouched for these people, who greased the wheels and made doors swing open before them? But the most important question for me was this: why did our massive, costly, and global intelligence-gathering apparatus fail? CIA, NSA, FBI, DIA, Naval Intelligence, Army Intelligence, and all the rest. Why were we so vulnerable? The “system” failed in spectacular fashion as did the people who ran the system.

Our purported aim in Afghanistan was to destroy Al-Qaeda and capture Osama bin Laden. Instead we routed the Taliban in a matter of weeks, drove Al-Qaeda remnants into neighboring countries like Pakistan, and lost bin Laden in the Tora Bora caves. America could have left it at that, departed the country and continued to hunt bin Laden using all the other means at our disposal. We stayed. We dug in. The need for revenge overwhelmed all other possibilities, and the same intelligence agencies who had failed in their most basic mission now told us how the “war” in Afghanistan could be “won.” Hunker down, build fortifications, logistical depots, and a network of forward operating bases. Train the Afghan security forces. Spread money around, give it to actors on all sides. Constantly move the goal posts and redefine success, say it’s about promoting democracy (this has always been a laughable justification given the sorry state of our election system) or protecting Afghan women (to understand how absurd this claim is look at recent legislation passed in Texas).

Our invasion of Afghanistan spawned a host of human rights abuses, like torture during interrogations, extraordinary rendition of suspects, and the establishment of a horrific holding pen in Cuba called Guantanamo that the US placed beyond the reach of every standard mechanism of law. Twenty years later Guantanamo still holds prisoners, some of whom have never been charged with crimes. More significantly, twenty years on, no one has been brought to justice for the 9/11 attacks. Except for a few dogged family members of 9/11 victims, Americans don’t seem the least bothered by this astonishing situation.

The truth of 9/11 has been buried under layers of official obfuscations and evasions, murky reports, top secret classifications, and a thick wall of denial and silence. Year after year, multiple agencies of the US government remain determined to maintain a veil of secrecy, denying the American public information it is our right — as citizens of a democracy — to examine. If we had access to the truth perhaps we might understand why none of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks have been tried and sentenced. We might also have more insight into why none of the architects of the post-9/11 response, including the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the destruction of Syria and Libya, the creation of the hideous Patriot Act, and the crimes committed in our name at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, have been held accountable. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, David Petraeus, George Tenant, and many, many more. They lied and covered up their misdeeds and failures. It’s not hyperbole to assert that all of these people have blood on their hands.

The American governing elite hates to be reminded of its venality. The War on Terror is the greatest strategic blunder in American history, and no high level official has been or ever will be held accountable for all the death, destruction, suffering, and horrible consequences it has caused. It’s all down the memory hole and long gone.

Photo by Redd on Unsplash

Brian Tanguay writes about politics, culture, and books. Co-founder of the California Review of Books and the long running blog, Shouts from the Balcony.