In the five years since the 9/11 Commission released its studious but timid report, Americans of all political stripes have advocated for a new investigation into the attacks of September 11, 2001. Since Obama seems intent upon putatively pardoning the Bush Administration for all of its crimes and misdemenors, there is virtually no hope of such an investigation taking place at the federal level.
An organization called the New York City Coalition for Accountability Now (NYC CAN), which describes itself as “a group comprising 9/11 family members, first responders, and survivors,” has been gathering signatures to place a referendum for a new 9/11 investigation on the November ballot in New York City. The effort passed one hurdle this week, as city lawyers conceded that the group had submitted the 30,000 valid signatures necessary for such a ballot measure. But New York City has a long history of blocking ballot initiatives on the grounds of legal technicalities. In addition, the measure demands that certain specific people be appointed commissioners, and these include a fair number of pretty far-out conspiracists, as well as some more mainstream members—a fact that will undoubtedly put off some would-be supporters.
But believing that such an investigation is necessary and vital doesn’t require a subscription to any particular conspiracy theory about the attacks. In my 2006 book The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11: What the 9/11 Commission Report Failed to Tell Us, I focused on straightforward, even obvious questions: Why was the airline industry, with its army of well-connected lobbyists, permitted to resist safety regulations that could have saved lives? How did our foreign policy, and “allies” like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, help pave the way for the attacks? Why did a politically driven, Iraq-obsessed administration ignore repeated warnings of the coming danger? Who was in charge as the attacks unfolded?
Some of these questions ought to practically answer themselves. Yet in its 664-page report, the 9/11 Commission managed not to answer them—in many cases, by the simple means of not asking them in the first place. The Commissioners themselves announced their limited intentions in the report’s opening pages, where they wrote: “Our aim has not been to assign individual blame. Our aim has been to provided the fullest possible accounting of the events surrounding 9/11 and to identify lessons learned.” The contradiction inherent in these stated aims is obvious: without “blame,” there can be no true accountability, and without accountability, there is nothing to ensure that the “lessons” of 9/11 will be “learned.”
In a just-released book called Ground Truth, John Farmer, senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission and now dean of Rutgers Law School, declares that at an early stage in its investigation, the Commission
discovered that what had occurred that morning — that is, what government and military officials had told Congress, the Commission, the media, and the public about who knew what when — was almost entirely, and inexplicably, untrue….At some level of the government, at some point in time … there was a decision not to tell the truth about what happened.
It should come as no surprise that the 9/11 Commission Report reflects these limitations. As I wrote in the conclusion to my own book, when it comes to the September 11 attacks and the lies and obfuscations that followed:
It is not necessary to search for hidden conspiracies, because the conspiracy is right in front of us and all around us, and the conspirators are running the country. Those in power in government and business share a tacit agreement that the system must be preserved at all costs, and institutions such as the 9/11 Commission, by their very existence, sign on to this agreement. Political power must be preserved. Economic and business interests must be protected. Allies who serve us by providing the United States with valuable resources like oil or with strategic positions in the world balance of power must be guarded. These things must be done at all costs, even if it means leaving unanswered questions about a catastrophic attack on the level 9/11, and even if it means leaving the American people vulnerable to another such attack in the future….
Yet, realistic as we are about the intractable power of the “system,” the idea remains that this time, things should have been different. Something as enormous as the 9/11 attacks should demand accountability from those who allowed it to happen. On the morning of September 11, thousands of Americans went to work in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, in police stations and firehouses. Hundreds more boarded planes and began their quotidian journeys. Surely even the most skeptical among them must on some level have assumed that their government would protect them from the kind of attack that took place that day. And surely even the most cynical among us must believe that a betrayal of such magnitude should carry consequences. Without consequences, there is no justice for the dead, and no safety for the living. Why has no one been held accountable? This is the last unanswered question about 9/11.