A Theologian Asks the Hard Questions About 9/11

by Douglas Todd
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, Dec 11, 2004
Link to Original

David Ray Griffin is one of the most respected philosophers of religion in North America. He is the author or editor of more than 24 academic books, including works co-written with the deans of world religions, Huston Smith and Martin Marty. He has lectured around the world, including at UBC.

Griffin is one of those profiled in the prestigious volume, A Handbook of Christian Theologians. He’s painstakingly probed countless philosophical challenges, from the question of why there is evil to the relationship between science and religion, for which he’s won numerous awards.

So why did this soft-spoken professor from the high-ranking Methodist-rooted School of Theology at Claremont, Calif., feel it necessary to risk his hard-earned reputation as a religion scholar to write one of the most incredible — in all senses of the word — political books of 2004?

Because no one else in mainstream America seemed prepared to do it…

The result? Griffin’s book, The New Pearl Harbour: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 (Interlink Publishing, $22.50) has already sold an astonishing 80,000 copies.

Griffin’s unflinching analysis of the unanswered questions surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington has made Amazon.com’s bestseller list despite receiving virtually no reviews in North America’s mainstream media. That’s unlike in Britain, where he’s had solid coverage, including a three-page spread in London’s mass-circulation Daily Mail.

Personally, when people ask how a group of Muslim extremists could have pulled off the devastating suicide attacks against the U.S., in spite of the country’s global intelligence network and massive defence arsenal, I tend to side with the German philosopher, Goethe, who once said: “Why look for conspiracy when stupidity can explain so much?”

But when Griffin, who’s known for his careful approach to philosophical problems, poses a series of questions suggesting the administration of George W. Bush had been warned about the terrorist attacks and did nothing, it’s enough to make you shudder. The implications would make the Watergate scandal look like a Sunday brunch.

In effect, The New Pearl Harbour fleshes out in 214 pages the question asked in the final moment of Michael Moore’s Academy-award-winning documentary, Fahrenheit 911. That’s when the filmmaker wonders aloud: What exactly was Bush thinking as he sat in front of a bunch of school children reading a book titled My Pet Goat, knowing two jetliners had been flown into the World Trade Center?

Griffin’s book is titled The New Pearl Harbor for two reasons. One, because that’s what Bush wrote in his diary on the evening of Sept. 11: “The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today.” But also because members of the Bush administration in 2000 helped author the document, Project for the New American Century, which opined it would be difficult to galvanize Americans to support military expansion in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere unless a “new Pearl Harbor” occurred.

Here are a few of the questions Griffin looks into:

  • Why did the Bush administration say it didn’t anticipate the Sept. 11 attacks when the CIA and FBI had repeatedly told it al-Qaida was planning to hijack planes and fly them into U.S. targets, including the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?
  • Why were standard procedures that could have prevented the tragedy not followed when the four hijacked planes went off course, including immediately sending up jet fighters to shoot down passenger planes that fail to obey orders?
  • Why has there been no physical evidence a jet plane crashed into the Pentagon? Independent onlookers say they saw a missile fly into the building. Video evidence shot by a nearby gas station’s security cameras was confiscated by government officials.
  • Why did Bush, despite knowing about first one, then two, World Trade Center crashes, delay his response to them for up to 30 minutes and instead continue to read a children’s book? Why was he not whisked away by his security agents, who are trained to believe he’s a logical target of terrorists?
  • Who made tens of millions of dollars by betting on the stock market in the weeks before Sept. 11 that shares in the two airlines that owned the hijacked planes were about to plummet?

The Bush administration has brushed off all such questions. For his part, Griffin doesn’t argue the Bush administration was actually complicit in the attacks. Some of the professor’s fans have regretted his cautiousness, because he won’t compile a grand theory about why the attacks may have been allowed to happen. He consistently avoids inflammatory rhetoric.

Griffin, however, has clearly shown the gross inadequacies of the 9/11 Commission, which the Bush administration demanded be restricted to looking only at how to stop another terrorist assault.

Griffin’s supporters, including top Christian theologians, say he achieved his key goal, which was to provide an overwhelming body of evidence to show it’s necessary to conduct a thorough probe into how the attacks happened in the first place.

In the past month, Harper’s Magazine and the New York Times have tentatively started to catch up with Griffin’s questions. Harper’s, for instance, published a cover feature titled, “Whitewash as public service: How the 9/11 Commission Report defrauds the nation,” by Benjamin DeMott, which also asks whether it was sheer incompetence or something else that made the attacks possible.

For his part, Griffin says he’s been overwhelmed by the positive responses he’s received to his book, which has sold 50,000 copies in the U.S. almost solely by word of mouth. In an e-mail interview, Griffin said he’s only received about a dozen denunciations. Many families of those who died in the World Trade Center attack are among his supporters. Two of his many high-placed admirers are Canadians; former Liberal defence minister Paul Hellyer and Michael Chossudovsky of the University of Ottawa.

Griffin continues to believe the religious and philosophical questions he’s devoted his career to answering are important, but, as a Christian, he feels a more urgent need to take on the geo-political developments that have elevated the planet onto high alert. Two weeks ago he released a follow-up book with the same publisher, titled The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions.