by Paul Weinberg
(IPS) TORONTO -- Washington's official version: that suicidal Islamic terrorists steered hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 to the complete surprise of the U.S. military, whose members could not even have imagined the event, has come under considerable scrutiny from a variety of sources.
Former White House anti-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke has attacked the Bush administration for jeopardising the safety of Americans by ignoring the dangers posed by the al-Qaeda terrorist group -- widely considered the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks.
Bush "ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know," Clarke told a U.S. television audience in March.
From the time they entered office, the president and his officials were obsessed with overthrowing the regime of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and ignored dangers of a terrorist attack at home, Clarke told a Washington commission of inquiry into the intelligence failures surrounding 9/11.
But small groups of self-styled "9/11 skeptics" have taken their misgivings down a more controversial road.
Questions such as why U.S. military planes did not scramble fast enough to counter the hijackers in the air before they hit New York's World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in Washington have not been fully explained by U.S. officials, said speakers who met in Toronto, May 25-30, at an international "citizen conceived, citizen-run and citizen-funded" inquiry.
One speaker, John McMurtry, said reluctance, even among people who would be considered part of the progressive left-wing in the United States, to consider the possibility of their government's complicity in 9/11 represents a "ruling group-mind" that "locks out all thought and evidence that doesn't fit the baseline presupposition."
"No mass media in the U.S. or Canada, or any democratic opposition politician, including presidential candidate John Kerry, are raising the most basic of all issues. What is self-evident is unthinkable," added McMurtry, a philosophy professor at the University of Guelph, west of Toronto.
Former president of Science for Peace and high-profile Canadian economist Mel Watkins had urged fellow peace activists not to attend the 9/11 inquiry, noting that very few dissident thinkers, including Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Edward Said, Naomi Klein, Robert Fisk, John Pilger, Tariq Ali and Eduardo Galeano, take seriously any suggestion that the U.S. government was complicit in the attacks.
Watkins called the Toronto inquiry "a rigged event," where only "conspiracy" theorists were given a chance to present their conclusions. "There was no procedure for independent cross-examination."
Furthermore, Watkins told IPS, conspiracy theories perpetuate simple explanations of good and evil in the world, which "plays into the hands of George Bush."
On the other hand, according to 911inquiry.org, which organized the Toronto event, in a commissioned poll 63 percent of Canadians agreed with the statement that "individuals within the U.S. government including the White House had prior knowledge of the plans for the events of Sept. 11, and failed to take appropriate action to stop them."
The conference featured videos and presentations of what organizers described as the "obscuring" and "obstructing" of the truth behind the attacks. Among the speakers was Ellen Mariani, whose husband was a passenger in the hijacked plane that hit the World Trade Center. She is currently suing the Bush administration for failing to prevent or warn of the disaster to come on Sept. 11.
But an investigative journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), which months ago aired a show on 9/11 and the connection between the Bush administration and the leaders of Saudi Arabia -- birthplace of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- says he finds nothing in the research by 9/11 skeptics to prove the U.S. government either engineered the attacks or at least was warned that they would occur.
"Often, there are a lot of unanswered questions or circumstantial evidence, or apparent circumstantial evidence, that pops up that suggests there is more going on than the official story. When that occurs it snowballs into conspiracy," says Bruce Livesey, an associate producer for the television program, 'The Fifth Estate'.
The Canadian journalist is not surprised by citizens' own "healthy skepticism of the U.S. government."
But some of the 9/11 conspiracy theories coming out of the Middle East and Europe alleging falsely, for instance, that all Jews were forewarned and left the World Trade Center before the planes hit, "have an anti-Semitic aspect," said Livesey in an interview.
The U.S. government did have "extraordinary information" on the identity and activity of the 9/11 hijackers before their attacks, but officials did not appear interested "in really pursuing the war on terrorism legitimately because it led back to allies, [Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan]," he added.
Much of the skepticism surrounding 9/11 stems from the U.S. government's own secrecy about the security failures or the actual mechanics of the collisions of the planes against buildings, says Chris Trendall, a spokesperson for Science for Peace, one of the sponsors of the Toronto inquiry.
All of the rubble from the two 9/11 sites, for instance, was shipped to other countries, rather than stored for a future investigation. "There is usually an investigation after a big engineering failure but that didn't happen," he added in an interview.
Trendall also criticised organizers of the conference for primarily featuring commentators or "second-order experts," while leaving out any scientists or structural engineers who might have more solid information.
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