Another View on 9/11

As a former staff member of the 9/11 Commission and a Quaker, I was interested in the article in the August Friends Journal, "Sifting Through the Rubble: The 9/11 Controversies," by Steve Chase. In it he states: "Perhaps one of the tests of our faithfulness to the truth today will be whether or not Friends slaviously accept the Bush administration’s explanations for 9/11 at face value, or engage instead in fearless research and reflection on all the 9/11 theories, including those that Bush warns us against exploring. Will not seeking the truth set us free?"

The article was more political spin against the Bush administration than a factual review. I know very few Friends who "slaviously" accept anything said by President Bush or any other President. I engaged in "fearless" research together with many other dedicated experts working on the 9/11 Commission. As a Friend, the truth is a tenet of my religious belief. It guided me at the 9/11 Commission and as a law enforcement officer for 32 years. Steve Chase quotes part of the preface to the 9/11 Commission Report: "Our aim has not been to assign individual blame," as indicative of not conducting a serious investigation. It is true that no one "individual" was found responsible for the tragedy that took place on September 11. However, any review of the report will reveal the multitude of individuals, agencies, policies, and practices that contributed to an inadequate defense against this terrorist act. Facts are more important than blame. I was a career law enforcement officer and I never began a criminal investigation by trying to "blame" someone.

It is also interesting that no mention is made that the 9/11 Commission consisted of ten commissioners; five Democrats and five Republicans. They were picked by their own parties, not by President Bush. They knew the political process and were intelligent people. They and the staff of the Commission worked incredibly long hours. They held public hearings, interviewed witnesses, obtained documents, pursued many tangents, and consulted experts in many fields. They debated amongst themselves. As the investigation proceeded, they questioned every new finding and required primary sources for information, not speculation. Yet in a manner similar to the practice of Friends, they worked to come to a consensus, and, indeed, the 9/11 Commission Report (unlike almost any other bipartisan investigation) was a consensus report of all the commissioners.

The events of 9/11 were incredibly complex. They covered years of time, spanned the world, involved tens of thousands of people, and presented new challenges for scientific investigators. People will always see and interpret things differently. The dedicated members of the 9/11 Commission and staff represented all political views and backgrounds. The report they produced is the most exhaustive and authoritative work available on the subject.

One is led to believe in Mr. Chase’s article that President Bush was able to control and influence the findings of the 9/11 Commission. The record shows quite the opposite. The Commission asked for and eventually received copies of the President’s Daily Brief, which had never been made public before. The President and his staff were interviewed and some testified or were questioned at the televised public hearings.

Some of the competing theories on 9/11 require you to believe that the government was behind and in total control of all the events surrounding the disaster. However, one of the most important findings of the 9/11 Commission was that it found a lack of effective communication between the many government agencies. This certainly does not represent the workings of a monolithic government that is tightly controlled by a single political power. However, in the United States you can write and believe whatever you want. It doesn’t need to be factual or true.

There are many unanswered questions regarding the events of 9/11. Some of these answers will never be found because the relevant information is known only to the dead. Other questions will have multiple answers as they are the thoughts and recollections of those involved. Friends should consider the expertise, background, and motivation behind the proponents of alternative 9/11 theories.

Walter Hempel

Walter Hempel was a professional staff member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (9/11 Commission) and a co-author of the book 9/11 and Terrorist Travel. Prior to working for the 9/11 Commission he was a career law enforcement officer. He is a member of the Crosswicks (N.J.) Meeting.