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The Guardian and 9/11

John Simkin

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Seumas Milne, Monday 5 September 2011


By the time the second plane hit the World Trade Centre, the battle to define the 9/11 attacks had already begun, on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US President Bush made the fateful call for a war on terror, as the media rallied to the flag. In Britain Tony Blair and his cheerleaders enthusiastically fell into line. Inevitably, they faced a bit more opposition to the absurd claim that the atrocities had come out of a clear blue sky, and the country must follow wherever the wounded hyperpower led.

But not a lot. Political and media reaction to anyone who linked what had happened in New York and Washington to US and western intervention in the Muslim world, or challenged the drive to war, was savage.

From September 11 2001 onwards, the Guardian (almost uniquely in the British press) nevertheless ensured that those voices would be unmistakably heard in a full-spectrum debate about why the attacks had taken place and how the US and wider western world should respond.

The backlash verged on the deranged. Bizarre as it seems a decade on, the fact that the Guardian allowed writers to connect the attacks with US policy in the rest of the world was treated as treasonous in its supposed "anti-Americanism".

Michael Gove, now a Conservative cabinet minister, wrote in the Times that the Guardian had become a "Prada-Meinhof gang" of "fifth columnists". The novelist Robert Harris, then still a Blair intimate, denounced us for hosting a "babble of idiots" unable to grasp that the world was now in a reprise of the war against Hitler.

The Telegraph ran a regular "useful idiots" column targeted at the Guardian, while Andrew Neil declared the newspaper should be renamed the "Daily Terrorist" and the Sun's Richard Littlejohn lambasted us as the "anti-American propagandists of the fascist left press".

Not that the Guardian published only articles joining the dots to US imperial policy or opposing the US-British onslaught on Afghanistan. Far from it: in first few days we ran pieces from James Rubin, a Clinton administration assistant secretary; the ex-Nato commander Wesley Clark; William Shawcross ("We are all Americans now"); and the Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland, calling for vengeance – among others backing military retaliation.

The problem for the Guardian's critics was that we also gave space to those who were against it and realised the war on terror would fail, bringing horror and bloodshed to millions in the process. Its comment pages hosted the full range of views the bulk of the media blanked; in other words, the paper gave rein to the pluralism that most media gatekeepers claim to favour in principle, but struggle to put into practice. And we commissioned Arabs and Muslims, Afghans and Iraqis, routinely shut out of the western media.

So on the day after 9/11, the Guardian published the then Labour MP George Galloway on "reaping the whirlwind" of the US's global role. Then the Arab writer Rana Kabbani warned that only a change of policy towards the rest of the world would bring Americans security (for which she was grotesquely denounced as a "terror tart" by the US journalist Greg Palast). The following day Jonathan Steele predicted (against the received wisdom of the time) that the US and its allies would fail to subdue Afghanistan.

Who would argue with that today, as the US death toll in Afghanistan reached a new peak in August? Or with those who warned of the dangers of ripping up civil rights, now we know about Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and "extraordinary rendition"? Or that the war on terror would fuel and spread terrorism, including in Pakistan, or that an invasion of Iraq would be a blood-drenched disaster – as a string of Guardian writers did in the tense weeks after 9/11?

As the Guardian's comment editor at the time, my column in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was a particular target of hostility, especially among those who insisted the attacks had nothing to do with US intervention, or its support for occupation and dictatorship, in the Arab and Muslim world. Others felt it was too early to speak about such things when Americans had suffered horrific losses.

But it was precisely in those first days, when the US administration was setting a course for catastrophe, that it was most urgent to rebut Bush and Blair's mendacious spin that this was an attack on "freedom" and our "way of life" – and nothing to do with what the US (and Britain) had imposed on the Middle East and elsewhere. And most of the 5,000 emails I received in response, including from US readers, agreed with that argument.

Three months later Kabul had fallen, and Downing Street issued a triumphant condemnation of those in the media who had opposed the invasion of Afghanistan (including myself and other Guardian writers) and had supposedly "proved to be wrong" about the war on terror. Rupert Murdoch's Sun duly denounced us as "war weasels".

Among these "weasels" was the Guardian's Madeleine Bunting, who had raised the prospect that Afghanistan could become another Vietnam and the focus of "protracted guerrilla warfare" – when the former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown (like the government) was insisting that the idea of a "long drawn-out guerrilla campaign" in Afghanistan was "fanciful". A decade on, we know who "proved to be wrong".

The most heartening response to the breadth of Guardian commentary after 9/11 came from the US itself, where debate about what had happened, and why, was as good as shut down in the mainstream media in the wake of the attacks. One byproduct of that official public silence was a dramatic increase in US readership of the Guardian's website, as millions of Americans looked for a perspective and range of views they weren't getting at home.

Traffic on the Guardian's website doubled in the months after 9/11, driven from the US. Articles from the Guardian were taped in bookshop windows from Brooklyn to San Francisco. As Emily Bell, then editor of Guardian Unlimited and now digital director at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, puts it, the post-9/11 debate was "totally transformative" for the Guardian, turning it into one of the two fastest growing news sites in the US – and creating the springboard for a US readership now larger by some measures than in Britain.

Which only goes to show how those who accused us of "anti-Americanism" in 2001 so utterly misjudged the society they claimed to champion.

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Guest Tom Scully

Tuesday, Sep 6, 2011 07:07 ET

Endless War and the culture of unrestrained power

By Glenn Greenwald

The Washington Post woke up a few days ago and realized that despite everything that has happened since 9/11 -- no successful Terrorist attacks on the Homeland in 10 years, a country mired in debt and imposing "austerity" on ordinary Americans, and the election of a wonderfully sophisticated, urbane, progressive multinationalist from the storied anti-war Democratic Party -- we are still smack in the middle of "the American era of endless war" with no end in sight. Citing the Pentagon's most recent assessment of global threats, the Post notes that in contrast to prior decades -- when "the military and the American public viewed war as an aberration and peace as the norm" (a dubious perception) -- it is now clear, pursuant to official doctrine, that "America's wars are unending and any talk of peace is quixotic or naive," all as part of "America’s embrace of endless war in the 10 years since Sept. 11, 2001."

We are now enduring a parade of wistful, contemplative, self-regarding pundit-meditations on The Meaning of 9/11 Ten Years Later or, far worse, self-righteous moralizing screeds about the nature of "evil" from war zealots with oceans of blood on their unrepentant hands (if I could impose one media rule, it would be that following every column or TV segment featuring American political commentators dramatically unloading their Where-I-Was-on-9/11-and-how-I-felt tales, there would be similar recollections offered from parents in the Muslim world talking about how their children died from the pre-9/11 acts of the U.S. and its client states or from post-9/11 American bombs, drones, checkpoint shootings and night raids: just for the sake of "balance," which media outlets claim to crave). Notwithstanding this somber, collective 9/11 anniversary ritual descending upon us, the reality is that the nation's political and media elite learned no lessons from that attack. .....

.....Those who wield true political authority as part of an empire are vested with immense power over other people, but those who exercise that authority as part of wars are more powerful still. That kind of power not only attracts warped authoritarians and sociopaths like moths to light, but it also converts -- degrades -- otherwise normal people who come to possess it. That's not a new development, but rather as old as political power itself. Those bolded quotes are a pure expression of a demented, amoral God complex. That's the mentality that produces Endless War, and Endless War, in turn, breeds that mentality.

This is why there is nothing more dangerous -- nothing -- than allowing this type of power to be exercised without accountability: no oversight, no transparency, no consequences for serious wrongdoing: exactly the state of affairs that prevails in the United States. It's also why there are few things more deeply irresponsible, vapid and destructive than demanding that citizens, activists, and journalists retreat into Permanent Election Mode: transform themselves into partisan cheerleaders who refrain from aggressively criticizing the party that is slightly less awful out of fear that the other party might win an election 14 months away, even when their own party is the one in power. Renouncing the duty of holding accountable political leaders who exercise vast power makes one directly responsible for the abuses they commit. To see the results of that mindset, re-read that paragraph from Davidson about what the U.S. is doing not in 2004, but now more than ever, in the name of Endless War......


opinion Editorial: Is NYPD keeping too close an eye?

The New York Police Department's relationship with the CIA since 9/11 highlights the tension between security and privacy.

By The Denver Post

Posted: 09/06/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT

Updated: 09/06/2011 06:45:09 AM MDT

.....However, the lengths to which this unit has gone in the name of security are disturbing.

The Associated Press recently published a story revealing how the New York Police Department has fashioned an effort that uncomfortably pushes the boundary between a domestic police operation and practices more typically used in international spying efforts.

The NYPD has gone too far on several fronts, and in doing so has exposed the historic tension between privacy and national security.

The agency's close relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency, which is prohibited from domestic policing, offers a cautionary tale as the nation approaches this milestone anniversary of the attacks that changed American life in so many ways....

....It's understandable that New York authorities, shaken to their core by the attacks, would take steps to prevent another tragedy, but there comes a point when the sacrifice of civil liberties is too great a price to pay for security.

Edited by Tom Scully
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  • 2 weeks later...

From the linked article:

...The new edition fails, however, to mention that a number of the book's original claims have long since been refuted. One rather significant detail was the claim that seven of the 19 attackers were still "very much alive," a theory SPIEGEL disproved in 2003.


In Bülow's version of events, though, the intelligence services, particularly the CIA, display an almost inhuman degree of precision and competence. Not only did they allegedly control the terrorist planes remotely using special technology, but they also supposedly placed explosives on multiple floors of the World Trade Center towers in advance, to facilitate the buildings' peculiar controlled, vertical collapse. In the case of the Pentagon, they possibly directed a cruise missile into the building, while at the same time making the crew and passengers of Flight AA77, the plane officially believed to have hit the Pentagon, disappear without a trace. Along the way, they invented the story about the 19 terrorists, substantiating it with false witness testimony and strategically placed documents and evidence.

In Bülow's world view, the CIA is an organization of nearly limitless power and fearsome efficiency, an organization capable of forcing an enormous number of people -- the many accomplices and participants such an operation would have required -- to keep quiet for 10 years and more, all for the sake of national interests.

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