PETRAS ESSAYS IN ENGLISH

November 4, 2001

September 11, beyond the human tragedy: The other World Trade Center/Pentagon

James Petras

ON September 11, the mass media presented the world with images of human tragedy individuals jumping out of windows, buildings collapsing, and heroic firemen and policemen dying in attempts to rescue victims. We were told that ten thousand US citizens were victimized by the terrorists' indiscriminant attack against the United States.

Recent investigating journalism provides a profoundly different picture of the events of September 11.

The total number of victims according to the US Red Cross is 2,563. According to the Associated Press there were 2,625 victims. Almost forty percent are foreign nationals working in the US. In other words, the total number of victims in New York may not exceed 1500 US citizens. The figure given by New York City officials claim almost twice as many victims (4,964) probably for political purposes, to extract more funding from the Federal Government to rebuild the financial district. The question that arises is whether the deaths of 1500 US citizens warrants a war which has already displaced 3 million Afghans and killed several thousand civilians from the bombing, malnutrition and disease.

Secondly, the World Trade Center (WTC) was not simply a "symbol" of economic power it was a center for the CIA and the Secret Services, according to the British newspaper the Guardian ( November 2, 2001 ). The basement, seventy feet below the ground contained hundreds of weapons, including assault rifles, bricks of cocaine and fake taxi cabs used for covert operations in the US. In other words, the CIA used the civilian cover of the WTC as an operational and logistical center in the basement thus irresponsibly putting in jeopardy civilians who were working in the above-ground offices.

Thirdly, the WTC basement was one of the world's largest gold depositaries, valued at $350 million dollars. The tenants of the WTC included the biggest financial groups in the US directly responsible for many of the biggest foreign take-overs and debts in the Third World. They included J.P. Morgan, Merril Lynch and many of the most important financial houses that exercise control over the world economy.

In other words, this was not an indiscriminant attack against "America" but a political attack against a major military financial target which is central to US global empire.

In the case of the attack in Washington, the political target, the Pentagon, is directly involved in the planning and implementation of US military strategy to overthrow nationalist and socialist regimes , to strengthen Washington's global hegemony and to protect US financial and investment networks.

This raises a fundamental question of whether Washington's declaration of war was based on the reduced number of US citizens killed ( possibly 1,500 ) or on the political-economic content of the WTC and the Pentagon.

Housing the CIA and the Secret Service in a nominally civilian building ( WTC ) provided a " protective cover " for its activities in New York City, but placed WTC occupants directly in the line of fire of the numerous adversaries of the CIA.

Some of the victims in the WTC are known swindlers. Shortly after September 11, the directors of First Equity Enterprises, which had offices in the WTC, used the terrorist attacks to abscond with $100 million dollars in fraudulant funds.

Numerous other cases of fraud and commercial exploitation have surfaced, including exaggerated insurance claims, the sale of memorabilia by street vendors, disappearance of millions of dollars in financial aid directed at the victims families ( the President of the American Red Cross receives a salary of $350,000 dollars ). This is not surprising given the cut-throat competition between financial institutions and the investment advisers housed at the WTC. While there is no doubt that typists and janitors were also killed in the attack, there was a disproportionate number of highly paid financiers and foreign exchange speculators. The theoretical point is that the explosion of Washington's war sentiment, probably had more to do with the "quality" and not the "quantity" of the victims and their real influence over global financial markets. The subsequent shocks to the US economy the fears of investors and bankers, the decline in the stock market had little to do with secretaries and janitors and more to do with the economic importance of the financial institutions affected.

Moreover, the timing of the attack coincided with the deepening recession and served to accelerate the economic crisis. In October, over 450,000 workers lost their jobs the highest monthly figure in recent history. Clearly the terrorists decision was not an act of vengence based on religious criteria, but based on strategic economic understanding of the spatial and economic location of their target and the timing in the economic cycle. Both timing and location were selected to maximize the strategic effects on the US economy and not to inflict the greatest amount of human casualties.

In summary, there are two faces to September 11: the human tragedy and personal heroism presented by CNN and the political and economic power conflict between US empire and its Third World adversaries.

The mass media and Washington manipulate the human tragedy to deflect attention from the economic and military dimensions of the conflict. This manipulation has become evident even to sectors of the US public. Less than 2 months after Sept 11, the same New York City firemen, praised by mayor for their heroism, rioted at the WTC ruins in protest against budgetary cut backs in personnel searching the ruins. Mayor Guiliani denounced the firemen as law-breaking rioters and praised the police for their repression of the protest. The Mayor has cut the firemen's budget to finance the rebuilding of the financial center. Yesterday's heroes are today's outlaws.

Likewise the beneficiaries of federal subsidies are not the tragic "ex-employees" who have lost their jobs but their billionaire employers. The employees who suffered the tragedy of September 11 have become the victims again, this time at the hands of the city government, their employers and Washington.

Once the tragic victims were no longer useful as political propaganda in favor of the war, they were discarded and reduced to lining the streets outside the unemployment offices.

What I am suggesting is that September 11 was a complex act in which human tragedy and strategic political issues were intertwined. The exploitation, distortions and cover-up by the government and the mass media does not lessen the human tragedy. But it also suggests that, given the strategic nature of the target, that the terrorists acted with rational forethought: if the intention was to challenge the empire, they chose a significant target although the 'collateral damage' to civilians is excruciating.