This article by award winning author Professor David Ray Griffin was first published by Global research in June 2010
There are many questions to ask about the war in Afghanistan. One that has been widely asked is whether it will turn out to be “Obama’s Vietnam.”1 This question implies another: Is this war winnable, or is it destined to be a quagmire, like Vietnam? These questions are motivated in part by the widespread agreement that the Afghan government, under Hamid Karzai, is at least as corrupt and incompetent as the government the United States tried to prop up in South Vietnam for 20 years.
Although there are many similarities between these two wars, there is also a big difference: This time, there is no draft. If there were a draft, so that college students and their friends back home were being sent to Afghanistan, there would be huge demonstrations against this war on campuses all across this country. If the sons and daughters of wealthy and middle-class parents were coming home in boxes, or with permanent injuries or post-traumatic stress syndrome, this war would have surely been stopped long ago. People have often asked: Did we learn any of the “lessons of Vietnam”? The US government learned one: If you’re going to fight unpopular wars, don’t have a draft – hire mercenaries!
There are many other questions that have been, and should be, asked about this war, but in this essay, I focus on only one: Did the 9/11 attacks justify the war in Afghanistan?
This question has thus far been considered off-limits, not to be raised in polite company, and certainly not in the mainstream media. It has been permissible, to be sure, to ask whether the war during the past several years has been justified by those attacks so many years ago. But one has not been allowed to ask whether the original invasion was justified by the 9/11 attacks.
However, what can be designated the “McChrystal Moment” – the probably brief period during which the media are again focused on the war in Afghanistan in the wake of the Rolling Stone story about General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, which led to his resignation – provides the best opportunity for some time to raise fundamental questions about this war. Various commentators have already been asking some pretty basic questions: about the effectiveness and affordability of the present “counterinsurgency strategy” and even whether American fighting forces should remain in Afghanistan at all. But I am interested in an even more fundamental question: Whether this war was ever really justified by the publicly given reason: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
This question has two parts: First, did these attacks provide a legal justification for the invasion of Afghanistan? Second, if not, did they at least provide a moral justification?
I. Did 9/11 Provide Legal Justification for the War in Afghanistan?
Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, international law with regard to war has been defined by the UN Charter. Measured by this standard, the US-led war in Afghanistan has been illegal from the outset.
Marjorie Cohn, a well-known professor of international law, wrote in November 2001:
“[T]he bombings of Afghanistan by the United States and the United Kingdom are illegal.”2
In 2008, Cohn repeated this argument in an article entitled “Afghanistan: The Other Illegal War.” The point of the title was that, although it was by then widely accepted that the war in Iraq was illegal, the war in Afghanistan, in spite of the fact that many Americans did not realize it, was equally illegal.3 Her argument was based on the following facts:
First, according to international law as codified in the UN Charter, disputes are to be brought to the UN Security Council, which alone may authorize the use of force. Without this authorization, any military activity against another country is illegal.
Second, there are two exceptions: One is that, if your nation has been subjected to an armed attack by another nation, you may respond militarily in self-defense. This condition was not fulfilled by the 9/11 attacks, however, because they were not carried out by another nation: Afghanistan did not attack the United States. Indeed, the 19 men charged with the crime were not Afghans.
The other exception occurs when one nation has certain knowledge that an armed attack by another nation is imminent – too imminent to bring the matter to the Security Council. The need for self-defense must be, in the generally accepted phrase, “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” Although the US government claimed that its military operations in Afghanistan were justified by the need to prevent a second attack, this need, even if real, was clearly not urgent, as shown by the fact that the Pentagon did not launch its invasion until almost a month later.
US political leaders have claimed, to be sure, that the UN did authorize the US attack on Afghanistan. This claim, originally made by the Bush-Cheney administration, was repeated by President Obama in his West Point speech of December 1, 2009, in which he said: “The United Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all necessary steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks,” so US troops went to Afghanistan “[u]nder the banner of . . . international legitimacy.”4
However, the language of “all necessary steps” is from UN Security Council Resolution 1368, in which the Council, taking note of its own “responsibilities under the Charter,” expressed its own readiness “to take all necessary steps to respond to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.”5
Of course, the UN Security Council might have determined that one of these necessary steps was to authorize an attack on Afghanistan by the United States. But it did not. Resolution 1373, the only other Security Council resolution about this issue, laid out various responses, but these included matters such as freezing assets, criminalizing the support of terrorists, exchanging police information about terrorists, and prosecuting terrorists. The use of military force was not mentioned.6
The US war in Afghanistan was not authorized by the UN Security Council in 2001 or at anytime since, so this war began as an illegal war and remains an illegal war today. Our government’s claim to the contrary is false.
This war has been illegal, moreover, not only under international law, but also under US law. The UN Charter is a treaty, which was ratified by the United States, and, according to Article VI of the US Constitution, any treaty ratified by the United States is part of the “supreme law of the land.”7 The war in Afghanistan, therefore, has from the beginning been in violation of US as well as international law. It could not be more illegal.
II. Did 9/11 Provide Moral Justification for the War in Afghanistan?
The American public has for the most part probably been unaware of the illegality of this war, because this is not something our political leaders or our corporate media have been anxious to point out.8 So most people simply do not know.
If they were informed, however, many Americans would be inclined to argue that, even if technically illegal, the US military effort in Afghanistan has been morally justified, or at least it was in the beginning, by the attacks of 9/11. For a summary statement of this argument, we can turn again to the West Point speech of President Obama, who has taken over the Bush-Cheney account of 9/11. Answering the question of “why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place,” Obama said:
“We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women and children without regard to their faith or race or station. . . . As we know, these men belonged to al Qaeda – a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam. . . . [A]fter the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden – we sent our troops into Afghanistan.”9
This standard account can be summarized in terms of three points:
1. The attacks were carried out by 19 Muslim members of al-Qaeda.
2. The attacks had been authorized by the founder of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, who was in Afghanistan.
3. The US invasion of Afghanistan was necessary because the Taliban, which was in control of Afghanistan, refused to turn bin Laden over to US authorities.
On the basis of these three points, our political leaders have claimed that the United States had the moral right, arising from the universal right of self-defense, to attempt to capture or kill bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network to prevent them from launching another attack on our country.
The only problem with this argument is that all three points are false. I will show this by looking at these points in reverse order.
1. Did the United States Attack Afghanistan because the Taliban Refused to Turn Over Bin Laden?
The claim that the Taliban refused to turn over Bin Laden has been repeatedly made by political leaders and our mainstream media.10 Reports from the time, however, show the truth to be very different.
A. Who Refused Whom?
Ten days after the 9/11 attacks, CNN reported:
“The Taliban . . . refus[ed] to hand over bin Laden without proof or evidence that he was involved in last week’s attacks on the United States. . . . The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan . . . said Friday that deporting him without proof would amount to an ‘insult to Islam.’”
CNN also made clear that the Taliban’s demand for proof was not made without reason, saying:
“Bin Laden himself has already denied he had anything to do with the attacks, and Taliban officials repeatedly said he could not have been involved in the attacks.”
Bush, however, “said the demands were not open to negotiation or discussion.”11
With this refusal to provide any evidence of bin Laden’s responsibility, the Bush administration made it impossible for the Taliban to turn him over. As Afghan experts quoted by the Washington Post pointed out, the Taliban, in order to turn over a fellow Muslim to an “infidel” Western nation, needed a “face-saving formula.” Milton Bearden, who had been the CIA station chief in Afghanistan in the 1980s, put it this way: While the United States was demanding, “Give up bin Laden,” the Taliban were saying, “Do something to help us give him up.”12 But the Bush administration refused.
After the bombing began in October, moreover, the Taliban tried again, offering to turn bin Laden over to a third country if the United States would stop the bombing and provide evidence of his guilt. But Bush replied: “There’s no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he’s guilty.” An article in London’s Guardian, which reported this development, was entitled: “Bush Rejects Taliban Offer to Hand Bin Laden Over.”13 So it was the Bush administration, not the Taliban, that was responsible for the fact that bin Laden was not turned over.
In August of 2009, President Obama, who had criticized the US invasion of Iraq as a war of choice, said of the US involvement in Afghanistan: “This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity.”14 But the evidence shows, as we have seen, that it, like the one in Iraq, is a war of choice.
B. What Was the Motive for the Invasion?
This conclusion is reinforced by reports indicating that the United States had made the decision to invade Afghanistan two months before the 9/11 attacks. At least part of the background to this decision was the United States’ long-time support for UNOCAL’s proposed pipeline, which would transport oil and natural gas from the Caspian Sea region to the Indian Ocean through Afghanistan and Pakistan.15 This project had been stymied through the 1990s because of the civil war that had been going on in Afghanistan since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
In the mid-1990s, the US government had supported the Taliban with the hope that its military strength would enable it to unify the country and provide a stable government, which could protect the pipeline. By the late 1990s, however, the Clinton administration had given up on the Taliban.16
When the Bush administration came to power, it decided to give the Taliban one last chance. During a four-day meeting in Berlin in July 2001, representatives of the Bush administration insisted that the Taliban must create a government of “national unity” by sharing power with factions friendly to the United States. The US representatives reportedly said: “Either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs.”17
After the Taliban refused this offer, US officials told a former Pakistani foreign secretary that “military action against Afghanistan would go ahead . . . before the snows started falling in Afghanistan, by the middle of October at the latest.”18 And, indeed, given the fact that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon occurred when they did, the US military was able to mobilize to begin its attack on Afghanistan by October 7.
It appears, therefore, that the United States invaded Afghanistan for reasons far different from the official rationale, according to which we were there to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
2. Has Good Evidence of Bin Laden’s Responsibility Been Provided?
I turn now to the second point: the claim that Osama bin Laden had authorized the attacks. Even if it refused to give the Taliban evidence for this claim, the Bush administration surely – most Americans probably assume – had such evidence and provided it to those who needed it. Again, however, reports from the time indicate otherwise.
A. The Bush Administration
Two weeks after 9/11, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that he expected “in the near future . . . to put out . . . a document that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking [bin Laden] to this attack.”19 But at a joint press conference with President Bush the next morning, Powell withdrew this pledge, saying that “most of [the evidence] is classified.”20 Seymour Hersh, citing officials from both the CIA and the Department of Justice, said the real reason why Powell withdrew the pledge was a “lack of solid information.”21
B. The British Government
The following week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a document to show that “Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the terrorist network which he heads, planned and carried out the atrocities on 11 September 2001.” Blair’s report, however, began by saying: “This document does not purport to provide a prosecutable case against Osama Bin Laden in a court of law.”22 So, the case was good enough to go to war, but not good enough to take to court. The next day, the BBC emphasized this weakness, saying: “There is no direct evidence in the public domain linking Osama Bin Laden to the 11 September attacks.”23
C. The FBI
What about our own FBI? Its “Most Wanted Terrorist” webpage on “Usama bin Laden” does not list 9/11 as one of the terrorist acts for which he is wanted.24 When asked why not, the FBI’s chief of investigative publicity replied: “because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11.”25
D. The 9/11 Commission
What about the 9/11 Commission? Its entire report is based on the assumption that bin Laden was behind the attacks. However, the report’s evidence to support this premise has been disowned by the Commission’s own co-chairs, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton.
This evidence consisted of testimony that had reportedly been elicited by the CIA from al-Qaeda operatives. The most important of these operatives was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – generally known simply as “KSM” – who has been called the “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks. If you read the 9/11 Commission’s account of how bin Laden planned the attacks, and then check the notes, you will find that almost every note says that the information came from KSM.26
In 2006, Kean and Hamilton wrote a book giving “the inside story of the 9/11 Commission,” in which they called this information untrustworthy. They had no success, they reported, in “obtaining access to star witnesses in custody . . . , most notably Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.”27 Besides not being allowed by the CIA to interview KSM, they were not permitted to observe his interrogation through one-way glass. They were not even allowed to talk to the interrogators.28 Therefore, Kean and Hamilton complained:
“We . . . had no way of evaluating the credibility of detainee information. How could we tell if someone such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed . . . was telling us the truth?”29
They could not.
Accordingly, neither the Bush administration, the British government, the FBI, nor the 9/11 Commission ever provided good evidence of bin Laden’s responsibility for the attacks.
E. Did Bin Laden Confess?
Some people argue, to be sure, that such evidence soon became unnecessary because bin Laden admitted his responsibility in a videotape that was discovered by the US military in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in November 2001. But besides the fact that bin Laden had previously denied his involvement many times,30 bin Laden experts have called this later video a fake,31 and for good reasons. Many of the physical features of the man in this video are different from those of Osama bin Laden (as seen in undoubtedly authentic videos), and he said many things that bin Laden himself would not have said.32
The FBI, in any case, evidently does not believe that this video provides hard evidence of bin Laden’s responsibility for 9/11, or it would have revised its “Most Wanted Terrorist” page on him after this video surfaced.
So, to review the first two points: The Taliban said it would turn over bin Laden if our government would give it good evidence of his responsibility for 9/11, but our government refused. And good evidence of this responsibility has never been given to the public.
I turn now to the third claim: that, even if there is no proof that Osama bin Laden authorized the attacks, we have abundant evidence that the attacks were carried out by Muslims belonging to his al-Qaeda organization. I will divide the discussion of this third claim into two sections: Section 3a looks at the main support for this claim: evidence that Muslim hijackers were on the airliners. Section 3b looks at the strongest evidence against this claim: the collapse of World Trade Center 7.
3a. Evidence Al-Qaeda Muslims Were on the Airliners
It is still widely thought to have been established beyond question that the attacks were carried out by members of al-Qaeda. The truth, however, is that the evidence entirely falls apart upon examination, and this fact suggests that 9/11 was instead a false-flag attack – an attack that people within our own government orchestrated while planting evidence to implicate Muslims.
A. Devout Muslims?
Let us begin with the 9/11 Commission’s claim that the men who (allegedly) took over the planes were devout Muslims, ready to sacrifice their lives for their cause.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Atta and other hijackers had made “at least six trips” to Las Vegas, where they had “engaged in some decidedly un-Islamic sampling of prohibited pleasures.” The Chronicle then quoted the head of the Islamic Foundation of Nevada as saying: “True Muslims don’t drink, don’t gamble, don’t go to strip clubs.”33
The contradiction is especially strong with regard to Mohamed Atta. On the one hand, according to the 9/11 Commission, he was very religious, even “fanatically so.”34 This characterization was supported by Professor Dittmar Machule, who was Atta’s thesis supervisor at a technical university in Hamburg in the 1990s. Professor Machule says he knew his student only as Mohamed Al-Emir – although his full name was the same as his father’s: Mohamed Al-Emir Atta. In any case, Machule says that this young man was “very religious,” prayed regularly, and never touched alcohol.35
According to the American press, on the other hand, Mohamed Atta drank heavily and, one night after downing five glasses of Vodka, shouted an Arabic word that, Newsweek said, “roughly translates as ‘F–k God.’”36 Investigative reporter Daniel Hopsicker, who wrote a book about Atta, stated that Atta regularly went to strip clubs, hired prostitutes, drank heavily, and took cocaine. Atta even lived with a stripper for several months and then, after she kicked him out, she reported, he came back and disemboweled her cat and dismembered its kittens.37
Could this be the same individual as Professor Machule’s student Mohamed Al-Emir, who would not even shake hands with a woman upon being introduced, and who never touched alcohol? “I would put my hand in the fire,” said the professor, “that this Mohamed El-Amir I know will never taste or touch alcohol.” Could the Atta described by Hopsicker and the American press be the young man whom this professor described as not a “bodyguard type” but “more a girl looking type”?38 Could the man who disemboweled a cat and dismembered its kittens be the young man known to his father as a “gentle and tender boy,” who was nicknamed “nightingale”?39
We are clearly talking about two different men. This is confirmed by the differences in their appearance. The American Atta was often described as having a hard, cruel face, and the standard FBI photo of him bears this out. The face of the Hamburg student was quite different, as photos available on the Internet show.40 Also, his professor described him as “very small,” being “one meter sixty-two” in height41 – which means slightly under 5’4” – whereas the American Atta has been described as 5’8” and even 5’10” tall.42
One final reason to believe that these different descriptions apply to different men: The father of Mohamed al-Emir Atta reported that on September 12, before either of them had learned of the attacks, his son called him and they “spoke for two minutes about this and that.”43
There are also problems in relation to many of the other alleged hijackers. For example, the BBC reported that Waleed al-Shehri, who supposedly died along with Atta on American Flight 11, spoke to journalists and American authorities in Casablanca the following week.44 Moreover, there were clearly two men going by the name Ziad Jarrah – the name of the alleged hijacker pilot of United Flight 93.45
Accordingly, besides the fact the men labeled “the hijackers” were not devout Muslims, they may not have even been Muslims of any type.
And if that were not bad enough for the official story, there is no good evidence that these men were even on the planes – all the evidence for this claim falls apart upon examination. I will illustrate this point with a few examples.46
B. Passports at the Crash Sites
One of the purported proofs that the 19 men identified as the hijackers were on the planes was the reported discovery of some of their passports at crash sites. But the reports of these discoveries are not believable.
For example, the FBI claimed that, while searching the streets after the destruction of the World Trade Center, they discovered the passport of Satam al-Suqami, one of the hijackers on American Flight 11, which had crashed into the North Tower.47 But for this to be true, the passport would have had to survive the collapse of the North Tower, which evidently pulverized almost everything in the building into fine particles of dust – except the steel and al-Suqami’s passport.
But this claim was too absurd to pass the giggle test: “[T]he idea that [this] passport had escaped from that inferno unsinged,” remarked a British commentator, “would [test] the credulity of the staunchest supporter of the FBI’s crackdown on terrorism.”48 By 2004, the claim had been modified to say that “a passer-by picked it up and gave it to a NYPD detective shortly before the World Trade Center towers collapsed.”49 So, rather than needing to survive the collapse of the North Tower, the passport merely needed to escape from al-Suqami’s pocket or luggage, then from the plane’s cabin, and then from the North Tower without being destroyed or even singed by the giant fireball.
This version was no less ridiculous than the first one, and the other stories about passports at crash sites are equally absurd.
C. Reported Phone Calls from the Airliners
It is widely believed, of course, that we know that there were hijackers on the airliners, thanks to numerous phone calls from passengers and crew members, in which they reported the hijackings. But we have good reasons to believe that these calls never occurred.
Reported Calls from Cell Phones: About 15 of the reported calls from the airliners were said to have been made on cell phones, with about 10 of those being from United Flight 93 – the one that reportedly crashed in Pennsylvania. Three or four of those calls were received by Deena Burnett, who knew that her husband, Tom Burnett, had used his cell phone, she told the FBI, because she recognized his cell phone number on her Caller ID.
However, given the cell phone technology available in 2001, high-altitude cell phone calls from airliners were not possible. They were generally not possible much above 1,000 feet, and were certainly impossible above 35,000 or even 40,000 feet, which was the altitude of the planes when most of the cell phone calls were supposedly made. Articles describing the impossibility of the calls were published in 2003 and 2004 by two well-known Canadians: A. K. Dewdney, formerly a columnist for Scientific American, and economist Michel Chossudovsky.50
Perhaps in response, the FBI changed the story. In 2006, it presented a report on the phone calls from the planes for the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker. In its report on United Flight 93, it said that cell phones were used for only two of the calls, both of which were made the plane, shortly before it crashed, had descended to a low altitude.51 These two calls were, in fact, the only two cell phone calls made from any of the airliners, the FBI report said.52 The FBI thereby avoided claiming that any high-altitude cell phone calls had been made.
But if the FBI’s new account is true, how do we explain that so many people reported receiving cell phone calls? Most of these people said that they had been told by the caller that he or she was using a cell phone, so we might suppose that their reports were based on bad hearing or faulty memory. But what about Deena Burnett, whose statement that she recognized her husband’s cell phone number on her Caller ID was made to the FBI that very day?53 If Tom Burnett used a seat-back phone, as the FBI’s 2006 report says, why did his cell phone number show up on his wife’s Caller ID? The FBI has not answered this question.
The only possible explanation seems to be that these calls were faked. Perhaps someone used voice morphing technology, which already existed at that time,54 in combination with a device for providing a fake Caller ID, which can be ordered on the Internet. Or perhaps someone used Tom’s cell phone to place fake calls from the ground. In either case, Tom Burnett did not actually call his wife from aboard United Flight 93. And if calls to Deena Burnett were faked, we must assume that all of the calls were – because if there had really been surprise hijackings, no one would have been prepared to make fake phone calls to her.
The Reported Calls from Barbara Olson: This conclusion is reinforced by the FBI’s report on phone calls from American Flight 77 – the one that supposedly struck the Pentagon. Ted Olson, the US Solicitor General, reported that his wife, Barbara Olson (a well-known commentator on CNN), had called him twice from this flight, with the first call lasting “about one (1) minute,”55 and the second call lasting “two or three or four minutes.”56 In these calls, he said, she reported that the plane had been taken over by hijackers armed with knives and box-cutters.
But how could she have made these calls? The plane was far too high for a cell phone to work. And American Flight 77 was a Boeing 757, and the 757s made for American Airlines – the 9/11 Truth Movement learned in 2005 – did not have onboard phones.57 Whether or not for this reason, the FBI’s report to the Moussaoui trial did not endorse Ted Olson’s story. Its report on telephone calls from American Flight 77 did mention Barbara Olson, but it attributed only one call to her, not two, and it said that this call was “unconnected,” so that it lasted “0 seconds.”58
This FBI report allows only two possibilities: Either Ted Olson engaged in deception, or he, like Deena Burnett, was duped by faked calls. In either case, the story about Barbara Olson’s calls, with their reports of hijackers taking over Flight 77, was based on deception.
The alleged phone calls, therefore, do not provide trustworthy evidence that there were hijackers on the planes.
D. Autopsy Reports and Flight Manifests
The public has widely assumed, due to misleading claims,59 that the names of the alleged hijackers were on the flight manifests for the four flights, and also that the autopsy report from the Pentagon contained the names of the hijackers said to have been on American Flight 77. However, the passenger manifests for the four airliners did not contain the names of any of the alleged hijackers and, moreover, they contained no Arab names whatsoever.60 Also, as a psychiatrist who was able to obtain a copy of the Pentagon autopsy report through a FOIA request discovered, it contained none of the names of the hijackers for American Flight 77 and, in fact, no Arab names whatsoever.61
E. Failure to Squawk the Hijack Code
Finally, the public has been led to believe that all the evidence about what happened on board the four airliners supported the claim that they were taken over by hijackers. This claim, however, was contradicted by something that did not happen. If pilots have any reason to believe that a hijacking may be in process, they are trained to enter the standard hijack code (7500) into their transponders to alert controllers on the ground. This is called “squawking” the hijack code. None of the eight pilots did this on 9/11, even though there would have been plenty of time: This act takes only two or three seconds and it would have taken longer than this for hijackers to break into the pilots’ cabins: According to official account of United Flight 93, for example, it took over 30 seconds for the hijackers to break into the cockpit.62
F. False-Flag Attack