For those readers who find it difficult to believe that Bush administration insiders could have engineered the 9/11 attacks -- and more important, for those who don't -- this ambitious book would have you consider what its authors believe is a more plausible and politically charged set of 9/11 conspiracies.
With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 almost upon us, The Eleventh Day forges a coherent narrative out of this horrific, momentous yet poorly understood tragedy, and emerges as a cogent portrait of governmental incompetence, intransigence and deception.
British investigative journalists Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan are the husband and wife co-authors of previous books on Frank Sinatra and J. Edgar Hoover, while Summers previously wrote on the conspiracy to assassinate JFK, the murder of the Romanovs and the arrogant will to power of Richard Nixon.
Here they offer what they claim is the "full" account of 9/11, from the origins of Osama bin Laden's radicalism right up to his assassination by the Obama administration this past spring.
In what must have been a painstaking effort over five years, the authors sifted through conflicting testimonies and competing versions of events (including tens of thousands of documents released by the 9/11 Commission) to piece together the catastrophe and the history that preceded it. The result is meticulous, gripping journalism, told with moral conviction.
The book begins with a harrowing retelling of the attack, followed by the authors' assessment of efforts to understand it through popular speculation and official investigations. In the second half, Summers and Swan reconstruct their own thorough account of the plot led by bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the misbegotten efforts to track bin Laden through the '90s and beyond.
They demonstrate convincingly that, even as preparations for the attack escalated and warnings grew more frantic from both foreign intelligence agencies and George W. Bush's own counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke, the U.S. president's administration assiduously ignored the threat and, indeed, became impatient with any attempt to raise it.
According to Summers and Swan, Bush and his administration not only covered up their own blinkered inattention to al-Qaida prior to the attacks -- and incompetence and dysfunction on the day itself -- but stonewalled investigations into the attack to downplay the hijackers' real motivations and protect the foreign government that funded them.
In this effort Bush was aided in no small way by the phenomenally widespread but often science-fictional claims of the so-called "9/11 Truth Movement," which, in the authors' view, drew attention away from actual official omissions, distortions and malfeasance. Where Summers' earlier work on JFK articulated the case for conspiracy, here he and Swan find no merit in the arguments of the Truthers, which the authors methodically demolish.
In contrast with most mainstream efforts to debunk 9/11 skepticism (such as Toronto journalist Jonathan Kay's recent Among the Truthers, which lumped 9/11 truthers in with all manner of paranoid beliefs) Summers and Swan do not rely on ad hominem characterizations to debunk these ideas.
Instead they consider each major theory in light of the available evidence. They find that the unconventional collapses of the Twin Towers have been convincingly explained as the result of the laws of physics rather than of planted demolition charges, and the notion that no plane hit the Pentagon is simply offensive, given the personal and emotionally wrenching testimony they provide of those who had to sift through the wreckage there.
The real cover-up, they argue, concerned not just the actions of the government, the FBI and the CIA in advance of the attacks, but more significantly the financial and material support provided by the Saudi royal family for the 19 hijackers.
Steeped in fundamentalist Wahhabism -- a severely austere, rigid and conservative branch of Islam -- elite Saudi society including the royal family sympathized with bin Laden's ideology, particularly with regards to his desire to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation and punish the U.S. for its support of the Jewish state.
Very little of this information would be revealed by the 9/11 Commission. Between misleading the commission, redacting key documents implicating Saudi Arabia and selling the American public on the completely fabricated role of Iraq in the attacks, the Bush administration managed to divert public attention away from the political realities that underlay 9/11.
Ultimately, argue Summers and Swan, it was America's untenable position in the Middle East -- dependence on Saudi oil while incurring Saudi hostility over its unwavering support for Israel - that doomed nearly 2,800 people on that day, as well as more than 100,000 Afghans and Iraqis killed in wars cynically justified by 9/11.
Committed Truthers and partisans of the former president alike will probably object to a great deal of the authors' analysis, but open-minded readers will find The Eleventh Day a thoughtful and sobering reassessment of the most pivotal event of our times.
Michael Dudley is a research associate and library co-ordinator in the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg.
The Eleventh Day
- The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden
- By Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan
- Ballantine, 624 pages, $34