AfterMath: Unanswered Questions From 9/11 (2002)

Those keeping score in the recent flap over Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” probably know that 10 Downing Street used a student paper to help make the case for war, apparently passing off the decade-old essay as up-to-the-minute military intelligence. Now imagine what would have happened if the author of that essay hadn’t been able to prove it was his. The press would have reported the story, if at all, as a vicious rumor, a conspiracy theory. And though the story is true, it would have “become” theory, wondered about on independent web sites, the stuff of pure speculation.

Which is all to say, as Donald Rumsfeld once did so poetically, that the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. That the student paper checks out makes one wonder what other seemingly unlikely rumors might turn out to be true, and are thus far merely unrevealed.

This issue is posed in AfterMath: Unanswered Questions From 9/11, only one of a recent spate of movies with the guts to wonder aloud whether there might be more to September 11 than the Bush Administration is letting on. AfterMath does this by posing 11 frequently asked questions about the attack to a panel of nine people, all of whom have researched or advocated on some aspect of September 11.

Those familiar with the more puzzling aspects of the official story about the attacks — the Air Force’s strangely lethargic response to them, for instance, or the Administration’s preposterous claim that there was no way to foresee the use of civilian airplanes as weapons — will find little new here. But for those unfamiliar with the subject, AfterMath provides a hypnotic introduction, complete with split-screen graphics, dance beats, and voice-over narration by hip-hop artist Paris (whose new album Sonic Jihad, by the way, features a cover image of jumbo jet bearing down on the White House).

More to the point, anyone who still thinks he knows all there is to know about the attacks on America after seeing AfterMath will probably never question the conventional wisdom about that day. Filmed during the interregnum between the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, AfterMath begins with a series of questions about September 11 proper and then asks after the government’s possible motives for invading Central Asia, before summing up with an outline of the war against terror’s impact on Americans’ civil liberties.

Mary Schiavo, an attorney representing September 11 families against American and United Airlines, reminds us that simultaneous multiple-airplane hijackings were nothing new on September 11, even though the administration would have us believe otherwise: a similar hijacking involving four planes had taken place 30 years earlier.

From independent journalist Michael Ruppert, we learn that the Pentagon conducted exercises in 2000 simulating a deliberate airliner crash into the building, and that security for Bush’s trip to Genoa, Italy, in 2001 included measures designed to thwart a kamikaze attack on the summit he was attending.

The strange Air Force response on September 11 morning is summarized by Nafeez Ahmed, author of 9/11 expose The War on Freedom, who focuses mainly on FAA procedures. Typically, these call for any plane deviating from its flight plan to be intercepted within 10 minutes. And, though Ahmed doesn’t make this point specifically, these procedures call for the intercepting jets merely to make contact with the stray plane and try to coax it into landing; for reasons that still aren’t clear, as early as September 16, Vice President Dick Cheney was claiming that during the attack, George W. Bush struggled with the decision whether to shoot down the hijacked planes. This, as Ahmed and other writers have explained, would have been secondary to the question of whether to scramble jets at all.

AfterMath continues along this vein for its 35-minute running time, summarizing the work of researchers on what is becoming a canonical understanding of September 11 attacks. The film touches on all the points one most commonly encounters in alternative research about the attacks: from Zbigniew Brzezinski’s The Grand Chessboard to the Reichstag fire, the usual suspects are all here.

This is fine for persuading the otherwise unskeptical to entertain questions about the Bush Administration’s version of events. All the same, it’s easy to worry what might happen if the research of September 11 becomes too bogged down in its own habitual thinking. Comprehending what has happened to America in the past 22 months is going to take all the creative thinking we can muster.