Free Speech on Ottawa Transpo: Letter to Ottawa Transit Commission

Email message to the members of the Ottawa Transit Commission, 19 November 2013. This text has not previously been published.


To: Councillor Diane Deans, Councillor Shad Qadri, Councillor Stephen Blais, Councillor Rainer Bloess, Councillor Keith Egli, Councillor Katherine Hobbs, Councillor Tim Tierney, Councillor Marianne Wilkinson, Mr. Blair Crew, Mr. Justin Ferrabee, Mr. Mark Johnson, Ms. Emily Rahn, Mayor Jim Watson

Date: 19 Nov 2013, 19:56.


Dear Ottawa Transit Commission Members,

I am writing to convey to you my support for the ReThink911 advertising campaign, which I believe is performing an important service of public information. I would like also to ensure that you are aware of a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada which has a direct bearing on this matter.

I address you as an expert in the subject matter under consideration. I have published on the material evidence relating to the events of September 11, 2001, in essays that have appeared in a peer-reviewed book and in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, and also in papers delivered at scholarly conferences in Canada, Mexico, and Finland. I have lectured on matters relating to 9/11 at universities in Sweden and Germany, as well as at several Canadian universities, and have made media appearances on the subject, including on Steve Paikin's TVO program The Agenda.

Although I am not aware of the precise wording of the ReThink911 ads, I am familiar with other public information materials produced by this campaign and by the originating organization, Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. The material of theirs that I have seen and read has been unfailingly evidence-based, scientifically accurate, and sensitive to the suffering of victims of the crimes of 9/11 and the concerns of family members.

Any suggestion that the ReThink911 ads might violate “standards of community acceptability” would be mistaken, for the following reasons:

1) Materials-science analyses published by physicists, chemists, and engineers have demonstrated that the “official account” of the destruction of World Trade Center buildings 1, 2, and 7 contained in such texts as The 9/11 Commission Report and the reports published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is false. (It is now, for example, an unchallenged fact that for more than two seconds of its collapse, WTC 7 was in a condition of free-fall acceleration. The only hypothesis that can explain this fact is one of planned demolition.) Significantly, the materials-science analyses to which I refer have not been challenged in peer-reviewed studies.

2) A growing body of scholarly opinion in the United States (as evidenced by scholarly books and peer-reviewed essays published in journals of established reputation) is moving to the view that the appropriate analytical framework for contextual study of the events of 9/11 is one in which these events are understood to belong to the category of “state crimes against democracy.”

3) It may be possible to find journalists, demagogues, and even some academics who are willing to apply abusive terms like “conspiracy theory” to the scientific and scholarly work alluded to above. You will discover, in nearly every case, that such people are not acquainted with the scientific and scholarly work in question, and have no comparable publications in the field to their own credit. What weight should their opinions carry?

4) The fact that studies in some particular area are regarded by significant numbers of people as unsettling or controversial does not mean that they can be labelled as violating standards of community acceptability. Large numbers of people in the United States, possibly even a majority, reject the conclusions of evolutionary biologists and climate scientists. Would that put biology and climate science outside the standards of community acceptability?

Perhaps more importantly, I believe there have been suggestions that OC Transpo should change its advertising standards so as to make it more difficult for public education campaigns like ReThink911 to place public transit ads.

It is crucial for you to understand that such a change would be a direct violation of Canadian law. On July 10, 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in the case “B.C. Transit v. Canadian Federation of Students.” That decision applies directly and unambiguously to the present situation.

Grace Pastine, Litigation Director for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), which appeared as an intervener in the case, commented when the decision was announced that the Supreme Court “has squarely rejected the notion that Canadians need to be shielded from political debate in public spaces. It also sends a strong message to all government-related bodies that control speech in public spaces that they must not violate Charter rights, including the freedom of expression.”

Chris Sanderson, the lawyer who appeared for the BCCLA in the case, remarked that “This decision is significant in at least two respects. First, it clearly establishes that the government cannot shirk its Charter obligations by conferring powers on another entity. Second, the judgement contains a ringing endorsement of a long held BCCLA position that it is not the business of government to approve or disapprove of what Canadians say unless the government can demonstrate that to do so is justifiable in a free and democratic society, something the government was unable to show in this case.”

Given that such a clear precedent has been established by Canada's highest court, I urge you to do the obvious and straightforward thing, and to act according to the rule of Canadian law.

Yours sincerely and respectfully,

Michael Keefer
Professor Emeritus, School of English and Theatre Studies. University of Guelph


Defending Critical Research into 9/11

The primary content of this piece was first published among the comments to an article by Robyn Urback, “Research grant to fund conspiracy theories? University of Lethbridge student awarded $7,714 to investigate war on terror 'truth',” Maclean's (26 November 2010),


The short texts reproduced here were occasioned by a minor outbreak of McCarthyist journalism in the autumn of 2010. It was initiated by Jonathan Kay of the National Post, who had recently published Among the Truthers, an attempt to explain, in the inept vocabulary of pop psychology, the phenomenon of scepticism about the official narrative about the events of September 11, 2001 and the “global war on terror” which that narrative legitimized.

On November 25, 2010, Kay devoted his column to what might seem a bizarrely petty subject: the fact that the University of Lethbridge had awarded a quite modest graduate fellowship to Joshua Blakeney, a student who planned, under the supervision of Professor Anthony Hall, to write an MA thesis that would “evaluate the content, quality and veracity of the body of literature that both supports and criticizes the government version of history used to justify the invasions and domestic transformations that make up the GWOT [Global War On Terrorism].”1

My own assessment of such a research proposal would be that, barring rigorous selectiveness as to how much of the field it attempted to cover, the subject risked being much too large for an MA thesis.

Kay thought it deficient in other respects—first, because he knew that both Professor Hall and Joshua Blakeney had expressed vocal doubts about the veracity of that “government version of history,” and secondly because Blakeney's research proposal indicated that his and Professor Hall's interest in “debates and controversies concerning the originating events of the GWOT” had been stimulated “by the scholarship of a number of academics including professors David Ray Griffin, John McMurtry, Michel Chossudovsky, Graeme MacQueen, Michael Keefer, Peter Dale Scott, Stephen Jones, Niels Harrit, and Nafeez Ahmed.” These names, Kay remarked,

effectively constitute a who's-who of the most influential Canadian, American and British 9/11 Truth conspiracy theorists. [....]

In other words, the University of Lethbridge—and, through the province of Alberta's funding arrangements, the taxpayers of Alberta—are paying a British graduate student $7,714 to pursue his conspiracy theory that the 9/11 attacks were staged by Washington.

Does anyone else see a problem with that?2

I would have liked to post a comment on the National Post website, indicating that I saw two problems with Jonathan Kay's own column—the first being a transparent McCarthyism, and another more serious one being a matter of intellectual dishonesty.

That might seem a severe judgment, but Kay interviewed me at length in 2009 for his Truthers book. Knowing him to have had a scientific education, I gave him detailed guidance during that interview and in follow-up correspondence as to the scientific studies and the physical, chemical, and materials-science evidence that underlies my own rejection of the “government narrative” of the three World Trade Center skyscraper collapses on 9/11. One would not guess from Kay's book, or from anything else he's written on the subject, that such information as this existed.

It would be absurd to demand that others automatically assent to my own interpretations of such matters. But I do observe that Jonathan Kay knows very well that scepticism about the government narrative of 9/11 is supported by a substantial body of unchallenged peer-reviewed scientific evidence, some of it published by Stephen Jones and Niels Harrit. He should also know, if he has read any of the books on 9/11 by David Ray Griffin, Michel Chossudovsky, Peter Dale Scott, and Nafeez Ahmed, as well as essays by John McMurtry, Graeme MacQueen, and others, that a large amount of other evidence points in the same direction. For him to give no hint of this, while smearing as “conspiracy theorists” the scientists and scholars who have helped to assemble and to analyze this evidence, is dishonest.

I am not writing out of any animus over my own treatment in Jonathan Kay's book. Aside from his suppression of serious evidence with which I know him to have been acquainted, my only objection to the three pages he devoted to me in the first chapter of Among the Truthers would be that he gave readers an inflated impression of my academic reputation as a scholar of Renaissance literature and early modern philosophy.

I would have liked to raise a parallel objection to being included among a list of “influential” 9/11 sceptics in Kay's November 25th article: I am indeed a 9/11 sceptic, but the characterization “influential” is in my estimation untrue. (In this case, to be fair, the error was Joshua Blakeney's: Kay merely quoted and commented on his list.) However, I was unable to post a response to Kay's article on the National Post website. Since no comments of any kind appear under the article in question, I suppose that the comments function must have been deliberately disabled.

Kay's stirring of the pot was quickly taken up in Maclean's magazine by Robyn Urback, who on the next day, November 26, 2010, published a short article whose title ends with a question mark: “Research grant to fund conspiracy theories?”3 Perhaps she hoped the grant would be withdrawn.

Urback's trajectory in this piece is interesting. To her mind, the “lunacy” of using tax dollars “to fund conspiracy theories” was “readily apparent.” But unexpectedly, she deviated into what looked like a defense of academic freedom, writing that “the expectation of graduate research is that it challenges the status quo and seeks to break through conventional belief.” Though feeling “little faith” that Blakeney's MA thesis could amount to more than “9/11 jabber,” she proposed that “academic freedom would be compromised if taxpayers could suddenly decide which theses were worth their dollar.” But then another swerve took her to her real goal:

Indeed, I think the outrage is warranted [...], but if anything, this situation just reinforces the need to establish a fully private post-secondary education system.4

I took this as a starting point in commenting on Robyn Urback's article.


1. Comment on Robyn Urback “Research grant to fund conspiracy theories? University of Lethbridge student awarded $7,714 to investigate war on terror 'truth',” Maclean's (26 November 2010), posted on 27 November at 4:52 p.m.

Let's ask ourselves a simple question. Why do Canadians think it important to pay for publicly funded universities—including paying the salaries of real scholars who do actual research as well as teaching, and including the provision of research grants to support graduate students who will go on to become university researchers and teachers themselves?

One reason, I would suggest, is that Canadians still see some value in being able to distinguish between critically sifted historical actualities and the miasmal deceptions of propaganda. We still see some value in being assisted to an understanding of the forces at work in contemporary history by people who (as Shakespeare's Hamlet put it) can show “the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”

Professor Anthony Hall of Lethbridge University is a scholar of high distinction whose two books, The American Empire and the Fourth World (2004) and Earth Into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism (2010), both published by McGill-Queen's University Press, are major contributions to an understanding of North American history.

The sneering attacks by Jonathan Kay and now also by Robyn Urback on the quite modest research funding that the University of Lethbridge is offering to Professor Hall's graduate student Joshua Blakeney are easily identifiable as McCarthyist gutter journalism. But it may not be immediately obvious how much is at stake in this apparently quite minor controversy.

A significant number of young Canadians, serving in good faith and courageously in a war whose only justification is the official narrative of the events of 9/11, have been killed and maimed in Afghanistan. (Let us add that a much larger number of Afghans have been killed, maimed, or tortured as a result of our presence in their country.)

But that official narrative about 9/11—that official conspiracy theory—is, from top to bottom, untrue. The key evidence adduced by the 9/11 Commission Report was all based upon torture, and the pseudo-scientific explanations of the destruction of the Twin Towers and World Trade Center 7 that were offered by the US government's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have been refuted by independent scientific studies that show the buildings were brought down by explosive demolition.

I am a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada. In early October of this year, I stood on the College's parade square with several hundred other ex-cadets, including more than fifty from the class in which I graduated forty years ago, and watched as two currently serving officer cadets were presented with awards given to them by the bereaved families—parents, widows, and small children—of two RMC graduates recently killed in Afghanistan. I grieved then for the loss of those young lives, and I grieve now.

I do not want to see any more young Canadians killed or maimed in a war that is grounded in a pack of lies about the events of 9/11.

How then would I describe the behaviour of those, whether journalists or fellow citizens, who seek to obstruct, through mockery or through threats of de-funding, the honest research of scholars in Canadian universities into what happened on 9/11, and into the ways in which the events of that day have been so thoroughly obfuscated?

I have one word to describe that mockery, and those threats. They are contemptible.


2. An addendum, posted on 27 November 2010 at 6:18 p.m.

How interesting: the British newspaper The Independent has named Professor Hall's Earth Into Property as one of the best books of 2010. (See “The best books for Christmas: Our pick of 2010,” The Independent [26 November 2010].)


3. A response by David Leitch, Ph.D., 27 November 2010 at 9:07 p.m.

One of the first posts in response to Robyn Urback's article had been by David Leitch, who identified himself as “a recent graduate of a Ph.D. program here in Canada,” and professed himself “fairly appalled at the fact that government-dispensed grant money is going to fund such nonsense. [....] What I cannot fathom is that some granting agency actually gave credence to a verifiably false thesis: that the United States government somehow orchestrated the 9/11 attacks.” Expressing his faith in NIST's report on the collapse of the Twin Towers, Dr. Leitch marvelled that anyone could “honestly believe” that a government incapable of preventing the leaking of hundreds of thousands of documents relating to its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and including confidential diplomatic cables, “could possibly keep a MASSIVE conspiracy under wraps” for a week, let alone nearly a decade.

Dr. Leitch responded aggressively to my first post:

“You're accusing the NIST of pseudo-science? Do you have advanced degrees in Civil, Structural, Mechanical, and Materials Engineering? Architecture? Physics? Do you even know what the NIST is actually tasked with, or how many other agencies and groups contributed to that report? The NIST is NOT the US government—they are about as apolitical as you can get. Throw in for good measure the Structural Engineering Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Society of Fire Protection Engineers, National Fire Protection Association, American Institute of Steel Construction, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc., Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, and the Structural Engineers Association of New York. But I guess all these groups are in on the conspiracy too hey? Just how many tens of thousands of people are 'in the know' about 'the truth,' and why have none of these people come forward with any shred of evidence to support the controlled demolition theory? And where are these independent scientific studies that refute the NIST report? Are they published? Certainly the NIST report is not perfect, no scientific paper ever is, but making the leap to controlled demolition is ludicrous. Ever heard of Occam's Razor? Everyone in the entire world saw planes hit those buildings. Why is there a need to invoke an astronomically complex plan to blow the buildings up? And no, analyzing YouTube videos does not count as scientific. [....]”


4. My response, posted on 30 November 2010 at 8:54 p.m.

A quick seminar for David Leitch, who doesn't like criticism of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology.

   i. “As apolitical as you can get?”

NIST, an agency of the US Department of Commerce, was under direct Bush administration control. A NIST whistleblower went public in 2007, claiming that NIST had been “fully hijacked from the scientific into the political realm,” and that their work on 9/11 evidence was done under direct surveillance by the National Security Agency, senior officials of the Department of Commerce, and President Bush's Office of Management and Budget. (See David Ray Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor Revisited, pp. 11-12.)

   ii. Some scientific studies:

(a) Steven Jones at al., “Extremely high temperatures during the World Trade Center destruction,” Journal of 9/11 Studies (January 2008); 
(b) Kevin Ryan et al., “Environmental anomalies at the World Trade Center: evidence for energetic materials,” The Environmentalist (August 2008); 
(c) Graeme MacQueen and Tony Szamboti, “The Missing Jolt: A Simple Refutation of the NIST-Bazant Collapse Hypothesis,” Journal of 9/11 Studies (January 2009); 
(d) Niels Harrit et al., “Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe,” The Open Chemical Physics Journal 2 (2009).

   iii. Plus two studies of witness evidence, both by Graeme MacQueen:

(a) “118 Witnesses: The Firefighters' Testimony to Explosions in the Twin Towers,” Journal of 9/11 Studies (August 2006); 
(b) “Waiting for Seven: WTC 7 Collapse Warnings in the FDNY Oral Histories,” Journal of 9/11 Studies (January 2008).

   iv. Occam's Razor

Yes, I've heard of it. If David Leitch cares to look up William of Occam's Reportatio II (Book 3 of his Super quatro libros sententiarum), q. 150, he'll learn that Occam himself thought the so-called “Razor”—his injunction against “multiplying entities” in causal explanations—doesn't apply to observations of physical events.

Of course two hijacked aircraft hit the Twin Towers. But NIST's account of the buildings' destruction has been refuted, and the clear scientific evidence that explosives were used is massively supported by the testimony of witnesses.

   v. Since we've strayed into medieval philosophy....

Let's hear what another English Franciscan, Roger Bacon, said in the opening section of his Opus Maius about the causes of error.

“The four chief obstacles to grasping truth,” he says, “are submission to incorrect and unworthy authority; the influence of custom; popular prejudice; and concealment of our ignorance, accompanied by an ostentatious display of our knowledge.”

Ouch. (That last phrase hurts.) Does the shoe pinch you as well, Dr. Leitch?


5. An objection by 'George', posted on 1 December 2010 at 3:42 a.m.

Dear Michael Keefer,

I hope you know your use of “scientific evidence” is terribly misguided, and that you are just pretending and are performing a study to see how people react to your statements... Sure the Journal of 9/11 Studies and The Open Chemical Physics Journal contained peer-reviewed “science”—to the ability of those peers. There's a reason who those “peers” are stuck submitting their articles into the open version of a real science journal, and the Journal of the 9/11 Conspiracy.

“...the clear scientific evidence that explosives were used...” What is this scientific evidence exactly? I fear you mean “the clear YouTube video analysis...”


6. Signing off, on 2 December 2010 at 11:04 p.m.


I'm sorry—I forgot to mention that the six studies I mentioned are all available online: Google will fetch them for you in an instant. Do please read them and form your own opinion of their significance.




1  Joshua Blakeney, MA research proposal quoted by Jonathan Kay, “University of Lethbridge pays student $7,714 to pursue 9/11 conspiracy theories,” National Post (25 November 2010),

2  Kay, “University of Lethbridge pays student $7,714.”

3  Robyn Urback, “Research grant to fund conspiracy theories? University of Lethbridge student awarded $7,714 [to] investigate war on terror 'truth',” Maclean's (26 November 2010),

4  Ibid.   

Smear Tactics of the National Post: Correspondence with Paul Russell and Jonathan Kay, February 17-21, 2010

On February 14, 2010 I gave an invited lecture on “Media Self-Censorship and the Threat of Government Censorship” at the Islamic Society of York Region's Crescent Centre in Richmond Hill, a suburb of Toronto. My talk received hostile coverage in the National Post in an article by Joseph Brean published on February 16—to which I responded in a letter to the editor, sent very early the next morning.

My ensuing correspondence with two National Post editors is of some interest for what it reveals about the ethics of this newspaper. Letters editor Paul Russell stated on February 17 that he would print my letter (though not until after the 18th), and Jonathan Kay agreed that I was owed a right of reply. In the interim, the National Post printed on February 17 a letter which attributed to me an opinion Brean's article had snidely insinuated must be part of my belief system—and on that basis made a direct accusation of antisemitism. On the afternoon of February 21, by which time it was obvious that my original letter had been flushed down the memory hole, I wrote again to Paul Russell and Jonathan Kay. The last text here is Paul Russell's two-sentence message of apology (if that's what it is).

Cyril Connolly wrote in The Unquiet Grave that “Imprisoned in every fat man a thin man is wildly signalling to be let out.” One might say, by analogy, that within each of these two editors of the National Post a person of some decency was making rather pallid efforts—not, alas, sustained—to make himself visible.


Smear Tactics of the National Post: Correspondence with Paul Russell and Jonathan Kay, February 17-21, 2010


1. Michael Keefer to Paul Russell (Letters editor), February 17, 2010

From: Michael Keefer
Sent: Wed 17/02/2010 1:42 a.m. 
To: Letters (National Post
Subject: Letter to the editor (responding to Joseph Brean's Feb. 16 comments on me)


Joseph Brean's report on my talk at the Islamic Society of York Region's Crescent Centre illustrates very neatly some of the points I made about systematic omission, distortion, and deception in the news.

Mr. Brean wished elsewhere in his article to insinuate that an Iranian video shown earlier in the evening had stupidly exposed warlike nuclear ambitions on Iran's part. Naturally, then, he avoided mentioning that one of my examples of media falsehood was the deployment against Iran of the same lies about WMDs that were used to legitimize the invasion of Iraq in 2003—this despite the 2006 US National Intelligence Estimates, which declared that Iran was at least a decade away from being able to produce key components of a nuclear weapon. (The IAEA's rigorous inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities have of course never found any sign of a weapons program.)

I referred also to scientific analyses, published in the online Journal of 9/11 Studies, which show unequivocally that the World Trade Center towers were brought down by planned demolition—and noted, as one of my examples of deception-by-omission, that the corporate media have avoided mentioning these very newsworthy studies. Mr. Brean also managed not to mention their existence.

As for the Toronto 18 group, its only two or three members who had dangerously fanatical ideas had been under close surveillance for years. The group as such was assembled by one police agent, given the idea of making bombs by a second, and provided with expertise, financial assistance, and materials by a third. Until Mr. Brean can propose a better name for this pattern of events, “police frame-up” will do just fine.

Michael Keefer


2. Paul Russell to Michael Keefer (and replies), February 17

Letters (National Post) wrote (Feb 17, 6:10 a.m.):

Thanks for your letter. It will be considered for upcoming editions
Paul Russell
Letters editor


Michael Keefer wrote (Feb 17, 12:04 p.m.):

Dear Paul,

Thanks for your quick reply. 

My text is perhaps longer than you normally print in the letters column. However, I do think the National Post owes me the right to respond to Mr. Brean's remarks about me.

Would that fall more under Jonathan Kay's editorial responsibilities than yours? I'll send him a copy of my letter.

Michael Keefer

p.s. I note that for some reason the apostrophes have dropped out of my text in the form you have it. I'm re-sending it to you as an attachment to this message.


Letters (National Post) wrote:

I'm planning to run your letter, so no concerns. 


Michael Keefer wrote (Feb 17, 2:32 p.m.):

Dear Paul, 
Many thanks. 


Letters (National Post) wrote:

Thanks, and FYI, there is no room tomorrow. 


3. Michael Keefer to Jonathan Kay (and replies)

Michael Keefer wrote (Feb 17, 12:22 p.m.):

Dear Jonathan,

I'm attaching a copy of a letter I wrote in response to Joseph Brean's February 16 column, in which I received his unflattering attentions at some length.

I sent the letter last night to the Post's letters page, and received a very prompt response from Paul Russell. I've replied to him saying that I would guess my text is longer than the Post usually publishes on its letters page—but that I do think the Post owes me a right of reply.

I also guessed that right-of-reply issues might be your editorial responsibility, and said I'd send my letter to you: I've attached it to this message. (For some reason, all the apostrophes dropped out of the version that Paul has.

Best wishes, 


Kay, Jonathan (National Post) wrote (Feb 17, 12:30 p.m.):

Let me talk to the letters editor
I think you should have the right to respond ...


4. Michael Keefer to Paul Russell and Jonathan Kay (and reply), February 21

From: Michael Keefer
Sent: Sun 21/02/2010 4:29 p.m. 
To: Letters (National Post); Kay, Jonathan (National Post
Subject: Re: Letter to the editor (responding to Joseph Brean's Feb. 16 comments on me)

Dear Paul and Jonathan,

Unless I've been more than usually unobservant, the National Post hasn't run my letter. I would guess now, since we'll soon be five days on from the time I sent it in, that it's not going to be published in the Post. So much, then, for the right to reply.

I don't reproach either of you, but I do reproach whoever countermanded the good intentions you expressed in your notes to me.

In my letter, dated on the 16th but actually sent very early on the morning of the 17th, I replied just to Joseph Brean's article.

But let me draw your attention to the little twist the Post gave to the story by publishing on the 17th a letter from a person in Thornhill who asserted that Brean “quotes Michael Keefer as saying 9/11 was a planned demolition run by Americans (which was obviously a product of the all-powerful Zionist lobby in Washington).”

Most if not all readers will understand that sentence to mean that everything after “as saying” was actually quoted by Joseph Brean from the talk I gave. Not so: Brean didn't quote the bracketed words from me, for the very good reason that I said nothing of the sort.

Of course, without the implication that I blamed 9/11 on “the all-powerful Zionist lobby in Washington,” the direct accusation of antisemitism in the person-from-Thornhill's last sentence wouldn't work quite as smoothly. (Unless one has something plausibly antisemitic to start with, it's a long jump to the blood libel.)

The profound indecency here isn't Joseph Brean's—he was just doing his job, which seems to consist of repeated exercises in what I've termed “subtractive politicizing.” Nor should it be laid at the door of the letter writer with the Passover-Seder-hymn name, who's probably no more than a clever schoolboy.

The real indecency is on the part of a newspaper that amuses itself by dancing in the waltz-time of Two Smears-No Reply.



Letters (National Post) wrote:


I'm sorry, but while Jonathan and I generally supported the idea of running your letter, other senior editors had concerns with it, and hence its lack of publication. But thanks for your note and your observations about the other letter.

Paul Russell
NP letters editor


The Waterloo March 19th, 2008 9/11 Event: A Response

On March 19, 2008, I participated in a well-attended event devoted to 9/11 evidence, organized by the University of Waterloo's student Debating Society. The principal speakers were Kee Dewdney, Professor Emeritus of mathematics and computer science at Waterloo, who outlined his refutation of official narratives about cellphone calls from the hijacked airliners; and Professor Graeme MacQueen, co-founder of McMaster University's Institute of Peace Studies, who presented his and mechanical engineer Tony Szamboti's refutation of the official analysis of the destruction of World Trade Center 1. Richard B. Lee, University Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, introduced the speakers; I was moderator for the question period. During the break before question period, I was confronted in a highly insulting manner by an audience member whom I later discovered to be Professor Jeffrey Shallit of Waterloo's Department of Mathematics.

Several days later, Professor Shallit sent the following message to the participants in the event:

Dear Colleagues:

I attend[ed] the “debate-that-was-not-a-debate” about 9/11 on Wednesday, March 19, at the University of Waterloo. I have written a series of critical blog posts about the event, which you can find at my blog I hope you will agree that I have been harsh in my criticism, but fair. If you feel that I have misrepresented what you said in any way, please let me know so that I can issue the appropriate correction. Of course, you are also welcome to comment directly on my blog. Or, if you prefer, feel free to send me e-mail and mention that you would like me to publish your response.

Regards, (Prof.) Jeffrey Shallit

I responded on March 25, 2008:

Dear Professor Shallit,

I am enclosing a response to you as an attachment to this message. You are welcome to post my text on your blog, provided you reproduce it in its entirety. I believe you owe me an apology for your grotesquely insulting behaviour to me on the evening of March 19th. Your language to me on that occasion had nothing to do with criticism, whether harsh or fair. Nor do repeated insinuations of Holocaust denial amount to an argument. Plato's Eleatic Stranger describes refutation as a blessing, “the chiefest and greatest of purifications” (Sophist 230d-e). I am perfectly willing to accept the blessing of refutation from those who think themselves wise or learned enough to bestow it—and I am no less willing to bestow the same benefit, perhaps more thoroughly, in return. However, I am not willing to accept abusive smears from you or anyone else.

Yours sincerely, Michael Keefer

Professor, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph

Professor Shallit promptly changed his mind about publishing my response on his blog. We did meet for lunch, and civil conversation, some months later. But since his blog posts about the 9/11 event and about what he calls “denialism” remain online, it seems appropriate to publish this response.



Professor Jeffrey Shallit,
University of Waterloo,
25 March 2008.


Dear Jeffrey Shallit,

I am responding to your invitation to engage in discussion with you. I am doing so in part because of some passing remarks about me in your Recursivity blog. After doing me the small favour of giving readers of your blog links to two of my articles touching on 9/11 evidence, you have commented there on my very minor role in the 9/11 event organized by the University of Waterloo Debating Society on March 19th—and on your own role as well—in a manner that calls for some correction.

1. Civility and slander

Your behaviour to me prior to the question period on March 19th, in what you are pleased in your blog to describe as an argument, surpassed in coarse and slanderous insinuation, and perhaps also in sheer noise, anything that I have experienced in nearly four decades of life as an academic. I did not imagine, when you addressed me with such evident rage, interrupting me repeatedly in a voice that rose almost to a shout, and insinuating to my face that I was a Holocaust denier, that the ludicrously insolent person in front of me could himself be an academic—much less a senior professor in the university to which I had come as an invited guest.

I have since learned, with some surprise, that you are a distinguished mathematician. I have learned as well that you have done work as a public intellectual—in debates over evolutionary biology, in refutations of the inanities of creationist pseudo-science, and in criticism of the toxic antisemitism and neo-fascism of the supposed historian David Irving—that I both respect and heartily approve of.

There is all the more reason to let you know how grotesque an insult your insinuation of Holocaust denial is. I have, as it happens, traveled quite widely in Poland. During those travels, I have walked on what I regard as sacred ground. I have stood within the first of the Nazi gas-chambers in the death camp at Majdanek, and in the vacant spaces that are all that remain of synagogues in Lublin and elsewhere. I have meditated in the Old Synagogue in Kazimierz, next to Crakow. I have stood outside the cinema—once also a synagogue—in Kazimierz Dolny, and in the midst of the hillside monument of shattered gravestones, a kilometer outside that town, which is its only memorial to the 50 percent of its population who were murdered in the Shoah.

In mentioning these facts, I am not laying claim to any kind of spurious virtue-by-association-with-suffering. But I should like you to recognize—perhaps with some tincture of shame—the profound indecency of your insult, directed as it was to someone you had never met, and of whose work I suspect you knew nothing.

2. Logic

I note that in your blog you agree with an anonymous poster who suggests an analogy between “9/11 deniers and creationists.” You see “very strong parallels” between these two kinds of idiocy, but add that “the parallels are even stronger between 9/11 denialism and Holocaust denialism, and that’ll be the subject of a future post.”

Let us hope not. The logic involved in such a smear would disgrace a freshman. How would it go? “X and Y, who believe that highly placed people in the US government were responsible for the atrocities of 9/11, are also antisemites and Holocaust deniers. David Ray Griffin, John McMurtry and Michel Chossudovsky also believe that highly placed people in the US government were responsible for the atrocities of 9/11. Therefore, they too, and all other 9/11 sceptics as well, are antisemites and Holocaust deniers.” Golly! With logic like that, I could prove that Socrates had four legs and barked like a dog.

3. Civility again

I’d like to say something about a lesser issue of civility, and, in conclusion, about some matters of scholarship.

I wonder, first, what business it is of yours as a faculty member to contest so obstreperously the manner in which a student organization chooses to set up events that it holds on campus. Is there something in the constitution of the Debating Society that requires it to structure every event it sponsors as a contest of eristic rhetoric between two opposing sides? I don’t know, and I don’t think it’s any business of yours or mine to tell the members of the Society how to organize themselves. Academic freedom, as I understand it, is not merely a possession of tenured faculty, but a necessary condition for the proper functioning of a university, and hence something that students can also lay claim to, both inside the classroom and beyond it. That means, I believe, that people with the power and authority of faculty members should not be meddling in the affairs of student organizations.

Nor should faculty members take for granted the right to be among what, on March 19th, time constraints ensured could only be a very limited number of questioners at the end of the event. As moderator, I had in any case no inkling that you were a faculty member rather than, as I assumed, merely a very unpleasant member of the general public.

Yet despite your prior behaviour, had you been the first to raise your hand during the brief period of questions from the floor that I moderated, I would have recognized you as the first to ask a question. It so happens that half a dozen people, out of an audience of several hundred, were ahead of you. Nonetheless, when one of the speakers, your former colleague Professor Kee Dewdney, graciously intervened to ask that you be heard, I acquiesced—even though it meant that others lost their chance to speak.

4. Scholarship

Finally, some matters of scholarship. I find it amusing that a mathematician who has devoted some proportion of his recent energies to debates—very interesting debates, from what I’ve read—in evolutionary biology should so strenuously object to other scholars straying from the fields of their primary expertise. I tried to tell you on March 19th—but failed, due to loud and hectoring repetitions of your question about engineering expertise—that Professor Graeme MacQueen’s current work is not just interdisciplinary but collaborative: the study from which he read is being co-authored (as I believe he said in introducing it) with the mechanical engineer Tony Szamboti. I also tried, but failed, to let you know that large numbers of engineers and architects have gone on record as challenging the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission Report.

Should you be interested, you can find more than three hundred of them listed at

I am surprised that you believe David Dunbar’s and Brad Reagan’s Debunking 9/11 Myths (2006) to be an adequate rejoinder to the writings of 9/11 sceptics. When you recommended it to the audience during the question period on March 19th, I was tempted for a moment to respond by holding up a copy of David Ray Griffin’s Debunking 9/11 Debunking (2007) which I had with me. But of course getting you, or the rest of the audience, up to date in your scholarship was not my role: it would have required me to mention, as well, Ryan Mackey’s monograph-length response to Griffin in the Journal of Debunking 911 Conspiracy Theories, 1.4, together with articles in the Journal of 9/11 Studies, responses to Mackey that have appeared elsewhere, and perhaps also the materials published at WTC Demolition Analysis ( Hardly a moderator’s job, you might agree.

But I am led to wonder whether there is an adequate correspondence between the strength of your opinions on 9/11—in particular, the strength of your opinions about 9/11 sceptics—and the extent and thoroughness of your reading and research on the subject. I am drawn to this question by your apparent conviction that what you absurdly call “9/11 denialism” (wouldn’t “denialists” have to be people who claim that most or all of 9/11 never happened?) is a quasi-religious cult whose adherents share a common body of dogma. One doesn’t actually have to read very far to discover sharp differences of opinion among 9/11 researchers, as well as a willingness—at least among those whom I respect—to modify hypotheses in the face of new evidence and convincing counter-analysis.

I am myself more than happy to point out those errors that I am aware of in the two articles of mine that you linked to. The CounterPunch polemic, first published in November 2006, mentions a video in whose title Jeff King is incorrectly described as an MIT professor, and cites two people I would not now care to mention: Judy Wood, a professor of mechanical engineering whose 9/11 work I now regard as wholly groundless, and Eric Hufschmidt, who, as I was unaware at the time, is indeed the antisemite you imagine all 9/11 sceptics to be.1

The other essay, dating from August 2006, says things about philosopher of science Professor Jim Fetzer that I would not now repeat: my opinion that he had a “polite but formidable command of the facts” and also of “appropriate protocols of interpretation” has been at least partially refuted by Fetzer himself through his flirtation with no-plane and directed-energy-weapon hypotheses.2 Whether this weakens my argument about the bias and disinformation of the CBC program I criticized in that essay is for others to judge.

On some aspects of the 9/11 evidence, such as the Pentagon attack and the crash of Flight 93, I don’t feel that I have sufficient grounds for any firm opinion, beyond the obvious one that the US government has either withheld or lied about much of the material evidence. I don’t mind saying that I have found nothing on your Recursivity blog that would induce me to alter my views on these or other aspects of the 9/11 evidence.

Should you wish to publish this response on your blog, you are welcome to do so, provided that you reproduce it in its entirety. I will myself be circulating it to the organizers and the other participants in the March 19th event.

Yours sincerely, 
Michael Keefer
Professor, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph




1  The reference is to my essay “Into the Ring with CounterPunch on 9/11: How Alexander Cockburn, Otherwise So Bright, Blanks Out on 9/11 Evidence,” first published on November 4, 2006, and available at, and also (with corrections to two footnotes, at my website).

2  See “Anatomy of a Hatchet Job: CBC Radio's 'The Current' and Scholars for 9/11 Truth,” Centre for Research on Globalization (29 August 2006),   

‘9/11 conspiracy questions’: a response to Dr. Dave Baxter

On 14 September 2006 I delivered a public lecture at the University of Guelph, entitled “Manufacturing Terror: 9/11 and the Toronto 17.” A sneering and dismissive assessment of the lecture, or at least of that part of it relating to the events of September 11, 2001, promptly appeared in the campus student newspaper, The Ontarion. Although the letter's author purported to be a member of the university community, no person of that name seems to have been attached to any academic or administrative unit of the University of Guelph; 'Dr. Dave Baxter' may then have been a pseudonym. My response appeared in the Letters column of the next issue of The Ontarion.

An ill-tempered diatribe by Dr. Dave Baxter which appeared among last week’s Letters to the Editor leaves one wondering whether its author is trying harder to expose himself as rude, as ignorant, or as just plain silly.

Dr. Baxter tells us that philosophers and historians, unlike the practitioners of such apparently despised fields “as computer science, engineering and […] English literature,” are “specifically trained to analyze the logical and rational basis of evidentiary events,” and are thus uniquely qualified to make sense of the events of September 11, 2001.

Baxter must have received his own intellectual formation in some other discipline—telepathy perhaps, or judicial astrology—since although he declares himself “sorry to have missed” my public lecture of September 14th, he is nonetheless able to describe its contents as “wildly irresponsible,” as “intellectual hogwash,” and as “anemic posturing.”

Baxter is confident that “no recognized philosopher or historian” can be found among 9/11 skeptics. I’m not going to descend with him into a contest of making idiotic lists of names: if he possessed any serious understanding of either of the disciplines he professes to admire, he would know that arguments from authority haven’t swung much weight among philosophers since the early seventeenth century at least, and that reputable historians have always settled their disputes not by citing big names, or for that matter by pasting cheap polemical labels on one another’s work, but rather through scrupulous critical analyses of the available evidence.

Dr. Baxter wonders what “actual substantive evidence” I might have to support my opinion that 9/11 was an inside job. I’m afraid his rudeness rather takes the edge off any desire I might otherwise have had to educate the man. If he really wants to know, he’ll have to keep an eye out for my next public lecture or essay on the subject. In the mean time, he’ll get much fuller satisfaction from the writings of Michel Chossudovsky, Paul Thompson, David Ray Griffin, Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, Michael Ruppert, and Steven Jones which I recommended to my audience on September 14th.

Dr. Baxter might also want to cure himself of what could otherwise become a habit of making misleading appeals to authority. It really won’t do to shut people up by quoting (wholly out of context) the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” Those of us who have read more than just the concluding sentence of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus might think his words in proposition 6.5 of that text more relevant: “If a question can be framed at all, it is also possible to answer it.”

The question of whether 9/11 was an instance of US government-organized false-flag terrorism has indeed been framed, and it has been answered as well. As I made abundantly clear to my audience on September 14th, I would like my own answer—and all of the others as well—to be treated not with uncritical credulity but with cautious skepticism. Many of the relevant facts—those relating, for example, to military exercises that disabled the US air defenses on 9/11, to the stated geopolitical motives of the governing elite, and to government cover-ups, disinformation, and destruction of evidence—are securely established and uncontroversial. Other issues, such as the causes of the collapses of three steel-frame skyscrapers in the World Trade Center, are still disputed—and although to my mind the testimonial, photographic, and materials-science evidence of planned demolition is unambiguous, a range of interpretations remains possible.

As Dr. Dave Baxter ought to know, these are issues that scholars and scientists who make any claim to intellectual integrity will seek to resolve through critical inquiry, scientific analysis and scrupulous debate, rather than through vacuous rhetoric, name-calling, and bullying.

Michael Keefer
Professor, School of English and Theatre Studies

The So-Called War on Terror is a Criminal Fraud: Interview with Kourosh Ziabari, Fars News Agency

The so-called War on Terror is a criminal fraud, designed to frighten Americans and the citizens of its allies into supporting systematic violations of international law. It was from the outset Islamophobic both in intention and in the wars of aggression it has been used to justify,” said Prof. Michael Keefer in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency.

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9/11, Torture, and Law

First published in Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies 1 (2011), Arguing that a primary motive for the public emergence of torture practices in the American empire after 9/11 was the state's desire to legitimize its account of the events of that day, I propose that the declaration of a permanent state of exception was an intended consequence of the events of 9/11, and suggest that the writings of the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt are relevant to the effective demolition of U.S. constitutional law and governance since 9/11. Analysis of his displaced theology leads to the suggestion that resistance to lawless state sovereignty should incorporate Winstanley's project of a “law of freedom.”


Critique will be the art of voluntary insubordination, of thoughtful intractability, aimed at ensuring the desubjugation of the subject in the context of what we could call, in a word, the politics of truth.

Michael Foucault, “What is Critique?”1



The most widely disseminated narrative about 9/11 represents the relationship between the traumatic events of September 11, 2001 and the still unfolding scandal of torture in a worldwide gulag of prisons and ‘black sites’ run by the United States and by co-operating powers worldwide as a sequential one. By this account, when a shadowy network of Islamist fanatics, outwitting the American intelligence, security and air defense apparatuses, managed to strike at the heart of the U.S. financial system and the headquarters of the U.S. military, the American state responded with all the means at its disposal to identify and hunt down the people who had organized the attacks, and to prevent any repetition of them. Extreme measures were resorted to in the handling of people in any way suspected of being enemies—the illegality of which was implicitly acknowledged when Vice-President Dick Cheney spoke of working through “the dark side,”2 or when former CIA counter-terrorism director Cofer Black said that “After 9/11 the gloves came off.”3 Through what may have been excessive or injudicious concern for public safety, the story goes, the Bush administration set aside the niceties of constitutional and international law, producing astonishment among American scholar-ideologues who, until taught otherwise by photographs from Abu Graib, professed to have believed that only other states, “reprehensible regimes,” engaged in torture.4

In every significant detail, this narrative is either false or misleading. The available evidence points to elements within the American state as having at the very least permitted and enabled the events of 9/11. (That evidence includes scholarly exposures of the 9/11 Commission’s novelistic reconstructions;5 as well as refutations of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s analyses of the Twin Towers and WTC 7 collapses by studies which expose disabling methodological errors,6 reveal processes of building collapse compatible only with a hypothesis of controlled demolition,7 demonstrate the falsity of NIST’s explanation of the debris-bursts emanating from many floors below the collapse fronts in the Twin Towers,8 and provide direct proof from the WTC dust that the collapses involved high-temperature exothermic reactions9 and the use of nano-thermate explosives.)10 There are, as well, suggestive indications that the legal transformations and imperial wars for which 9/11 furnished a pretext were planned long in advance.11

But my concern here is not with evidence of this kind. I want rather to engage with the alternative understanding of 9/11 toward which this evidence presses us—which involves relationships between torture, legality, and the events of that day quite unlike those suggested by the ‘official’ narrative.

My discussion of these relationships will take what may seem a circuitous path. After noting that torture in the post-9/11 American gulag has served less as a response to the 9/11 attacks than as a means of constituting the American state’s fictions about 9/11—and that since torture is the basis of the state’s account of what took place, it is, in epistemic terms, a primary and formative element in the orthodox understanding of that day’s events—I will analyze the implications of the state of emergency proclaimed by George W. Bush on 9/11. Legal scholars including Scott Horton and David J. Luban have remarked on haunting parallels between the theories of the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt and the effective demolition of constitutional law in the United States since 9/11.12 In my own comments on Schmitt’s view of political sovereignty and systems of law as resting upon a prior, constitutive capacity to decide on states of emergency or exception, I take seriously his identification of political discourse as displaced theology. My use in the fourth and fifth parts of this essay of parallels from Milton’s Paradise Lost and Calvin’s Institutes as measures of Schmitt’s extremism may suggest affinities with Christian anarchism. But in drawing such parallels, I am not participating in Alexandre Christoyannopoulos’s project of recognizing an anarchist orientation within the canonical Christian gospels.13 I am prompted rather by the fact, noted by Giorgio Agamben, that Schmitt’s understanding of a secularizing displacement of theology into political discourse implies, not the “process of growing dis-enchantment and de-theologizing of the modern world” that one finds in the thought of Max Weber, but rather “a continuing presence and significant agency of theology within the modern.”14

Schmitt is of interest here not just as a theorist of an originary presence of arbitrary power and lawless violence within purportedly constitutional bourgeois-democratic states, but also as a jurist credited with having originated tactics that during the past decade have acquired the name of “lawfare”—which means the use of law (through, for example, “legal judgments authorizing torture as an executive privilege,” or “legal advice endorsing immunity for torturers”) to enable executive power to violate constitutional and international law with impunity, as well as the use of law as a weapon of war against those who attempt to constrain state violence by appealing to codes of civil liberties or of international law which the state has supposedly bound itself to respect.15

Evidence of an unmistakable pattern not just of the violation of domestic laws upholding citizens’ rights and international law protecting civilians from unrestrained exercises of military power, but of their systematic dismantling, will lead to my concluding reflections on the role of law in radical democratic resistance to post-9/11 practices of state-terroristic rule by the “sovereign exception.”



I would propose that the relationship between the 9/11 attacks and what ensued was not as advertised. The proclamation on the day itself of a state of emergency, and shortly thereafter of a Global War on Terror, the effective cancellation of the U.S. Bill of Rights through the PATRIOT Act and other measures, and the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq were not contingent sequelae of an unforeseen event. On the contrary: the event was a planned pretext for what followed it.16

As to torture, the practices that became so widespread after 9/11 were hardly unprecedented—for although most American political scientists and journalists have averted their eyes from the fact, the U.S. has for over half a century been the principal international disseminator of torture. During the 1950s and early 1960s the CIA developed a new model of torture—adding, as Alfred W. McCoy writes, “sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain” to the existing repertoire “for an effect that, for the first time in the two millennia of this cruel science, was more psychological than physical”;17 the new torture methods were then propagated to American satrapies throughout Latin America and Asia.18

A “ticking time bomb” scenario in which, against all plausibility, the forces of order somehow know everything about an impending mass-casualty bomb attack except where the person in their custody (whom they also know with certainty to be the bomber) has planted his explosives, is regularly used by contemporary apologists for torture to justify “preventive interrogational torture.”19 But the primary purpose of torture in the post-9/11 American gulag has not been to wrest information from enemies, whether about past events or current and future actions. It has served more distinctly to terrorize foreign victims of US aggression, and to help deceive Americans. Henry Shue has argued that “The extraction of information from the victim, which perhaps—whatever the deepest motivation of torturers may have been—has historically been a dominant explicit purpose of torture is now, in world practice, overshadowed by the goal of the intimidation of people other than the victim.”20 There is copious evidence that the dominant form of post-9/11 torture has been “terroristic” in this sense, rather than “interrogational.”21

And yet it is also well documented that a more immediate aim of post-9/11 torture was to provide support for fictions being propagated by the Bush administration. Jonathan Schell has remarked that in late 2001 and 2002,

The Bush administration, hellbent on justifying its forthcoming invasion of Iraq, was ransacking the intelligence bureaucracy to find or produce two things that, it turns out, did not exist: weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq and cooperation between Al Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. [….] Soon, prisoners were being tortured to provide evidence of the Al Qaeda-Saddam link. As Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s chief of staff, has stated, the “harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 … was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and Al Qaeda.” And according to the recent Senate Armed Services report on the treatment of detainees, a former Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, has confirmed the charge. “A large part of the time,” he told Army investigators, “we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq […].”22

The WMD and Saddam-al Qaeda fictions may be remembered as notorious failures, but they served their short-term purpose of stirring up war fever, and the U.S. corporate media dutifully withheld the evidence of their falsity from the American public until it could make no difference. Despite early and continuing refutations, another torture-based fiction, the 9/11 Commission Report, appears to be enjoying some degree of continuing success, at least among propagandists for the official story: in the first chapter of his recent polemic against 9/11 skeptics, Jonathan Kay recommends it to readers “who wish to devote more time to the issue.”23 But in early 2008 an analysis of this text conducted for NBC News by Robert Windrem and Victor Limjoco revealed that “more than one-quarter of all footnotes in the 9/11 Report refer to CIA interrogations of al Qaeda operatives subjected to the now-controversial interrogation techniques”24—or, in Windrem’s words, “enhanced interrogation techniques, or torture.”25 Moreover, “Most of the information in Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Report came from the interrogations. Those chapters cover the initial planning for the attack, the assembling of terrorist cells, and the arrival of the hijackers in the U.S.”26

The fact that the 9/11 Commission Report’s “most critical chapters, those on the planning and execution of the attacks,”27 are based on torture raises a problem that goes beyond any questions of legality: statements arising out of torture have no evidential value, because the intentionality they express is that of the torturers. Admissions elicited from “9/11 mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for example, might well be confirmed by those of Abu Zubaydah, another “high-value” prisoner—but when one knows that the former was waterboarded a hallucinatory one hundred and eighty-three times by the CIA, and the latter eighty-three times,28 both the admissions and their confirmation are meaningless.

As Elaine Scarry wrote in a classic study, “torture consists of acts that magnify the way in which pain destroys a person’s world, self, and voice”; and torturers “mime” the effects of pain by “breaking off the voice, making it their own, making it speak their words….”29 Torture, in short, is a form of ventriloquism—and the 9/11 Commission Report’s statements about the agencies responsible for the attacks that launched the War on Terror therefore have the epistemic status of pure fiction.30

The 9/11 Commission’s own members appear to have been troubled by the information they were receiving from the CIA, but their requests to interview the “high-value” prisoners, or, failing that, their interrogators, were denied—and led only to a further round of torture interrogations.31 In 2005, the CIA destroyed its videotapes of interrogations, in defiance of court orders requiring their preservation.32 Not merely is the torture ‘evidence’ effectively fictional, then, but the primary documents which might have allowed a judgment of the meaning—and the accuracy—of the transcripts supplied to the Commission no longer exist.



According to the interpretation advanced by George W. Bush and his government, the attacks of 9/11 were an expression by Muslim fanatics of irrational hatred for the freedoms enjoyed by Americans. If the crime in this view had a religious dimension, so also did Bush’s public response to it. Speaking on September 14, 2001 from the pulpit of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, he declared that

our responsibility to history is already clear: To answer these attacks and rid the world of evil. War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder. This Nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger. [….] In every generation, the world has produced enemies of human freedom. They have attacked America, because we are freedom’s home and defender. And the commitment of our fathers is now the calling of our time. On this National Day of Prayer and Remembrance we ask Almighty God to watch over our Nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come.33

The most immediate message of 9/11 was that Americans are not safe in their own cities: Bush claimed they could be made safe once more by an answering violence, eye-for-an-eye, that would destroy the shadowy Islamist network blamed for the attacks, together with all of its adherents and supporters, whether governments, gangs, or individuals.

When might the world at last be purged of evil? In his National Cathedral address, Bush declared that “This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing.” (That hour, it gradually emerged, might be long-deferred: retired General Wesley Clark has revealed that in October 2001, by which time the bombing of Afghanistan had begun, the Pentagon received a memo from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld laying out plans for the military to “take out” a further seven Middle Eastern and North African countries over the next five years;34 and in January 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney announced that the global war on terror might last for generations.)35

Bush—an unlikely diarist—was said by CBS News to have written in his diary on the evening of September 11 that “The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today.”36 The National Cathedral address was, in response, both a declaration of war and also a sermon, situating the 9/11 attacks within a discourse of divine providence: “God’s signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that his purposes are not always our own.” Nonetheless, “This world He created is of moral design.”37 Acts of sacrifice, generosity, courage, and resourcefulness in the responses of ordinary Americans on 9/11 were taken in this sermon as evidence of the nation’s essential goodness—and therefore, by implication, of its fitness for the leading role in an apocalyptic Manichaean drama of good versus evil.

By means of this unprecedented declaration of war in a cathedral, the French 9/11 skeptic Thierry Meyssan remarked in 2002, “the American government consecrated […] its version of events. From then on, any questioning of the official truth would be seen as sacrilege.”38 We had entered the domain of what the Nazi jurist and political theorist Carl Schmitt called “political theology.”



Carl Schmitt’s book Politische Theologie (1922) famously defined sovereign power in terms of its capacity to suspend, through a state of exception or of emergency, the structure of legality and rights over which it ostensibly presides. By the same act or decision, the sovereign power also exempts itself from whatever system of law it applies to others; this sovereign exception or self-exemption is therefore one of its defining features.39 Intimately linked to this view of sovereign power is Schmitt’s view that all significant modern theorizing of the state rests upon a secularizing displacement of theological concepts. Not surprisingly, his analysis of the structure of the exception is overtly displaced from the domain of theology.

Schmitt reproduces the traditional distinction between divine transcendence and immanence when he writes that the sovereign is “at the same time outside and inside the juridical order”: “the sovereign stands outside the juridical order and, nevertheless, belongs to it, since it is up to him to decide if the constitution is to be suspended in toto.”40 Theological in the same sense is Schmitt’s claim that the exception, while defying general codification, “simultaneously reveals a specifically juridical formal element: the decision in absolute purity.” This claim rests upon the fiction that what precedes a juridical order must be chaos, and that only a sovereign power possessing an absolute and unshared power of decision-making can “creat[e] a situation in which juridical rules can be valid.” Schmitt outlines this position in a sequence of aphoristic assertions:

There is no rule that is applicable to chaos. Order must be established for juridical order to make sense. A regular situation must be created, and sovereign is he who decides if this situation is actually effective. All law is ‘situational law.’ The sovereign creates and guarantees the situation as a whole in its totality. He has the monopoly over the final decision. Therein consists the essence of State sovereignty, which must therefore be properly juridically defined not as the monopoly to sanction or to rule but as the monopoly to decide […].41

George W. Bush’s declaration at a 2006 press conference that “I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best” was interpreted at the time as a childish tantrum provoked by journalists’ questions about his refusal to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.42 One might just as plausibly hear it as a vernacular echo of Schmittian decisionism, which someone in Bush’s entourage (possibly from the Justice Department, whose constitutional experts had been advancing since September 2001 a similar view of executive power and privilege)43 may have attempted to expound to him.

Nor was this the first or only statement by Bush that resonates with Schmittian doctrines. “I’m the commander,” he told one journalist in mid-2002: “See, I don’t need to explain […]. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.” To another journalist who asked in mid-December of the same year about the decision to invade Iraq, he replied: “There’s only one person who is responsible for making that decision, and that’s me.” And to a third, on the same subject, a fortnight later: “I’m the person who gets to decide, not you.”44

Schmitt’s statement about the imposition of order on chaos implies a kind of creation-myth, which we may recognize as sharing the voluntaristic resonances of a classic meditation on the Christian creation story—the one in which Goethe’s Faust, revising Luther’s translation of the opening words of the Gospel of St. John (“Im Anfang war das Wort”), arrives finally at “Im Anfang war die Tat!”—“In the beginning was the Deed!”45

But Schmitt’s implied myth is not the standard one of creation ex nihilo (for prior to the establishment of judicial and social order by a Schmittian sovereign power there must exist a disordered aggregate of people). It resembles, rather, Milton’s version in Paradise Lost: a story of creation through the imposition of order upon chaotic matter that is not-yet nature, a “wild abyss” of warring “embryon atoms,” the domain of a personified Chaos—out of whose “dark materials” the “Almighty Maker” fashions a cosmos46 which includes hell, the place of “torture without end” into which he casts Satan and the other rebel angels.47 For Milton, this primal matter is not passive, but effectively resistant to the imposition of order: once Satan has found his way out of hell, Chaos, the “Anarch”48 or non-ruler of the abyss of disorder that lies outside hell’s gate, gives him directions to the new world, hoping he will ruin it and return it to its prior condition.49 And the sequence of creation indicated by Chaos to Satan appears significant: the sovereign power made “First Hell, / Your dungeon, stretching far and wide beneath; / Now lately Heav’n and earth, another world / Hung o’er my realm….”50

Schmitt, analogously, sees sovereign power as creating order out of a resistant social chaos, and doing so precisely through the sovereign’s primal capacity to resort to unregulated force by deciding on a state of exception or emergency—which Giorgio Agamben has suggestively described as the creation of “a space devoid of law [….] the creation of a zone of anomy in which all legal determinations find themselves inactivated.”51

Spatialized accounts of Schmitt’s state of exception, or of the theologians’ hell (which becomes a condition of perpetual separation from and punishment by the sovereign power), are of course metaphorical. As the devil Mephastophilis informed one transgressive inquirer, Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, hell, “Where we are tortur’d and remain forever [….] hath no limits, nor is circumscrib’d / In one self place, for where we are is hell….”52 It remains the case that in Schmitt’s creation, as in Milton’s, an ordered cosmos is complemented by an antecedent “space devoid of law” that exists, potentially or in actuality, at the will of the sovereign power—and that can be recognized, once we move beyond Schmitt’s abstractions into thinking about the experiential realities of the exercise of power beyond law, as a space or condition of horror and suffering, within which sovereign power is perceived, as by Milton’s fallen angels, in terms of “wrath or might.”53



Much of Schmitt’s displaced theologizing could be linked, depending on one’s taste or whim, to sources ranging from Søren Kierkegaard (whom he goes on to quote, without naming him, in the first of the passages quoted above from Politische Theologie) to Blaise Pascal (whose Pensées include meditations on justice and force, among them the radical acknowledgment that “being unable to make what is just strong, we have made what is strong just”).54 But his closest affinities are with the harshest of the magisterial Reformers, Jean Calvin.

Even prior to any secularizing displacement, Calvin’s theology has strong political overtones. Regulating the faithful and society at large were for him aspects of the same issue; and the final chapter of his Institutes of the Christian Religion is a substantial treatise on civil government—one of whose first principles is that governance of all kinds must be strict, because in the fallen state of humankind “the insolence of evil men is so great, their wickedness so stubborn, that it can scarcely be restrained by extremely severe laws….”55 (Schmitt, similarly, argued in “The Concept of the Political” [1927] that any adequate political theory must acknowledge human wickedness and corruption as so deeply ingrained that a strong state is needed to impose order, sternly distinguishing between friend and enemy, both internal and external.)56

Calvin, for whom the absolute and unconditioned nature of God’s sovereign power is axiomatic, anticipates Schmitt’s Dezisionismus in his claim that “providence is lodged in the act”57—by which he means that will is the primary aspect of this sovereignty: God’s omniscience rests upon the fact that everything that occurs has always already been determined, down to the least particle of its futurity, by his will.58 This sovereign power exempts itself from any constraint by its own laws, and also—since its hidden determinations are said to be incomprehensible to human minds—from any possible criticism of deviations from those laws.

Calvin, though a theocrat, is in some respects less willing than Schmitt to theologize politics. He regards “Christ’s spiritual Kingdom and the civil jurisdiction” as “things completely distinct.”59 And while preaching obedience to the civil power, as divinely ordained—and even extending God’s sovereign exception to human rulers60—he provides an opening for resistance to tyranny by noting constitutions in which the magistracy includes officials (the Spartan ephors, Athenian demarchs, Roman tribunes, or parliaments of his own time) appointed by the people “to restrain the willfulness” of their rulers.61

But the important parallel between Calvin’s theology and Schmitt’s politische Theologie resides in the fact that both are antithetical to any coherent notion of justice. Although the title of his major work (Institutio Christianae religionis in the original Latin) repeats that of the Institutiones, the first part of the four-part codification of Roman law attributed to the sixth-century emperor Justinian,62 Calvin’s thought is foundationally equivocal: its primary term, subsuming all other categories and agencies, is a sovereign divine will whose attributes—among them mercy or justice—are incommensurable with any merely human understandings of these words. That same sovereign will frustrates any recognition of laws and orders of causality operating within nature, for Calvin ascribes even such regularities as the sun’s daily rising and the fact that our food becomes nourishment to singular and repeated acts of divine will.63 As for the Law of Moses, or for “natural law” (understood by many theologians as a system of ethical injunctions implanted within nature by a beneficent creator): their function, in Calvin’s view, is simply condemnatory—to render us “inexcusable.”64

The result is what the nineteenth-century historian W. E. H. Lecky called “religious terrorism.”65 Calvin understood the Pauline doctrine of election to salvation as necessarily implying a parallel reprobation of the non-elect—who are thus chosen from all eternity for damnation.66 Complaints against the injustice of a sentence of endless torture passed upon the unborn receive an answer at once proleptic and ad hominem. By the end of their lives, the reprobate will have deserved damnation, because they will have failed to obey the commandments to love and have faith in God (acts possible only for those who have received the arbitrary gift of divine grace.)67 And questioning divine justice shows unregenerate hostility to God—a sign that the questioner may have been chosen by God’s hidden will for everlasting torment.68 Calvin indeed belongs among those who, as Lecky wrote, in the period culminating in the sixteenth century “diffused throughout Christendom a religious terror which gradually overcast the horizon of thought.”69

If Calvin puts himself at odds with justice through his claim that “God’s will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever he wills, by the very fact that he wills it, must be considered righteous,”70 Schmitt does likewise through his contributions to the Nazi doctrine that the Führer’s words have the force of law.71 One might therefore ask why Schmitt’s ideology of the sovereign exception should be understood, any more than Calvin’s, as providing leverage for a generalized critique of law.

Like Franz Kafka’s haunting parable “Vor dem Gesetz” (“Before the Law”), and the nightmarish novel, The Trial, in which that parable recurs, they may indeed provide matter for critical reflection on the systems of law that we actually have.72 But one defining feature of any genuinely democratic system of law and any genuinely democratic jurisprudence must be that they do not grant exceptions to the powerful.

It is easy enough to see why systems of purported justice and equity which in fact defend invidious disparities of property, class, gender, and race should incorporate notions of legality in which, either mythically or in secularized terms, a foundational space is reserved for the exercise of state power unfettered by legality. But while actual historical polities may undergo clearly demarcated processes of change, some of them convulsive, they do not move in the manner imagined by Schmitt from a prior state of chaos to one of forcibly established juridical order. All human societies have structures of customary law (nomos), and while the ethnocentricity and racism of literate people may lead them to scorn oral codifications of law such as the Kaianereh’ko:wa (Great Law) of the Haudenosaunee or Six Nations, which work through various combinations of formal recitation, mythic narration, and customary practices, those structures have complexities adequate, in most cases, to the situations for which they were developed.73 While they may encode patterns of inequity and violence, they also typically organize the sharing out, protection, and preservation of common land and resources.74 There can in any event be no justification for dismissing them as anomic or chaotic.

Why, then, accept a violently obscurantist origin myth, or confine oneself to a juristic rhetoric that effaces both historical realities and the possibility of emancipatory transformations—unless (as one may suspect is the case with Schmitt) that is the unacknowledged aim of the exercise?



‘After 9/11, everything changed’: a tedious cliché. There has in fact been a remarkable degree of continuity in many aspects of the behaviour of the American empire, ranging from torture to what neoconservative journalist Jonah Goldberg approvingly called the “Ledeen Doctrine”: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”75 The rhythm of this state-terroristic violence may have accelerated since the early 1990s when Michael Ledeen entertained an audience at the American Enterprise Institute with these or similar words,76 but the coups against democratically elected but insufficiently subservient governments in Venezuela (2002), Haiti (2004), and Honduras (2009)—not to mention military interventions in Panama, Somalia, Colombia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya—have followed long-established patterns.

And yet there have been very significant changes. None of George W. Bush’s predecessors publicly echoed Schmittian decisionism in the same manner. And beyond the mere rhetoric lies a dismaying reality: Bush declared a state of emergency on 9/11, which was formally proclaimed three days later, and has remained in effect ever since;77 and at the same time his administration took the overlapping step of implementing “continuity of government measures,”78 which have likewise apparently not been rescinded.

“Continuity of government,” as Peter Dale Scott has noted, is an innocent-sounding but misleading term. Planning carried out under this name since the early 1980s, which was initially intended to ensure that the executive powers of the U.S. government would be able to survive a nuclear attack, morphed quickly into organizing for a state of exception in which constitutional government would be suspended. Not merely was its planning carried forward under conditions of dubious legality—Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, who were central figures in this planning during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, continued to be involved in it during the Clinton years, despite being out of public office—but continuity of government has come to mean the supplanting of representative democracy and constitutional law by what is in effect a military dictatorship.79

Under continuity of government, the institutions of the American republic remain in place (as was the case in Rome two millennia ago, when the Roman republic declined into an imperial autocracy). But power has shifted decisively into the hands of an executive-military-security apparatus complex, some at least of whose domestic decisions are implemented by the “shadow government” brought into being after 9/11.80

Even without knowing of or recognizing the implications of continuity of government protocols, commentators on post-9/11 American domestic and foreign policies have accurately summed up what has occurred. Gore Vidal, for example, remarked in 2002 that “it does seem fairly plain to many civil libertarians that 9/11 put paid not only to our fragile Bill of Rights, but also to our once-envied republican system of government….”81 In 2007, Barbara Olshansky wrote that

post September 11 America is a country governed by politicians who seek unchecked power to pursue their ‘global war on terror’ and who express a chilling disregard for human rights and the rule of law in that pursuit. [….] In the name of subduing [fear of outside forces], we have given the executive branch free rein to adopt secret policies that disregard the separation-of-powers principle and weaken our system of checks and balances. In its pursuit of unfettered executive power, the Bush administration runs roughshod over the constitutional foundations of our democracy.82

Many aspects of the implanting of authoritarian governance do indeed appear to have been carried out in secret by the Bush regime. Steven Aftergood, writing on behalf of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, noted in February 2008 that

Of the 54 National Security Presidential Directives issued by the [George W.] Bush administration to date, the titles of only about half have been publicly identified. There is descriptive material or actual text in the public domain for only about a third. In other words, there are dozens of undisclosed Presidential directives that define U.S. national security policy and task government agencies, but whose substance is unknown either to the public or, as a rule, to Congress.83

However, the supplanting of constitutional government by an unconstrained sovereign power ruling in a state of exception has not been entirely secretive or lawless: it has also been a matter of Congressionally-approved bad law driving out good. As John W. Whitehead writes, the USA PATRIOT Act

has driven a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, violating at least six of the ten original amendments—the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments—and possibly the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well. The Patriot Act has also redefined terrorism so broadly that many non-terrorist political activities such as protest marches, demonstrations and civil disobedience are considered potential terrorist acts […].84

There appears to have been an ongoing implementation of continuity of government measures,85 whose effects seem unmistakable. Barbara Olshansky quotes from the U.S. Supreme Court’s judgment in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004):

We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens. Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with other nations or with enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake.

But “Despite the Supreme Court’s rulings,” Olshansky comments, “the administration has stubbornly and purposefully refused to deviate from its itinerary of operating outside the rule of law.”86 (There is some irony to the Supreme Court being treated with contempt by the regime it installed through the stunningly lawless Bush v. Gore decision.)

Glenn Greenwald sums up the implications of a lawlessness that appears to have engulfed the American judiciary as well as the executive power:

Not a single War on Terror detainee has been accorded any redress in American courts for the severe abuses to which they were subjected (including innocent people being detained for years, rendered and even tortured), and worse, no detainee has been allowed by courts even to have their claims heard. After the U.S. Government implemented a worldwide regime of torture, lawless detention, and other abuses, the doors of the American justice system have been slammed shut in the face of any and all victims seeking to have their rights vindicated or even their claims heard. If an American citizen can’t even sue political officials who lawlessly imprison and torture him in his own country—if political leaders are vested with immunity from a claim of this type—what rational person can argue that the rule of law or the Constitution binds our government officials?87



In an essay written in 2006 to justify torture, neoconservative journalist Charles Krauthammer moves from the standard ticking time bomb argument to the “far from hypothetical” case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

He not only was the architect of the 9/11 attack that killed nearly three thousand people in one day, most of them dying a terrible, agonizing, indeed tortured death. But as the top al Qaeda planner and logistical expert he also knows a lot about terror attacks to come. He knows plans, identities, contacts, materials, cell locations, safe houses, cased targets, etc. What would you do with him?

Krauthammer proposes that it would be “a gross dereliction of duty” if any government that held this man a prisoner failed to torture him,88 using measures of a “level of inhumanity […] proportional to the need and value of the information.”89

One rhetorical peculiarity of these maneuvers may escape the casual reader. Krauthammer has put the question of what to do with this prisoner into the present conditional tense—and yet everything he knows about him stems from the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had already been subjected to grueling tortures, the ‘intelligence’ from which had been uncritically incorporated into the 9/11 Commission Report—a text that, two years later, Krauthammer has evidently read. His present tense elides this epistemic loop, and with it the fact that he is using ‘intelligence’ derived from torturing KSM to justify torturing KSM—in search, presumably, of something like the implausible confessions to terrorist ventures of all kinds, real and imaginary (including a planned operation against a Washington state bank that wasn’t built until long after KSM’s arrest), that would be entered into evidence in the 2006 trial of the putative ‘twentieth hijacker,’ Zacharias Moussaoui,90 and would reappear in 2007 in a judicial review of KSM’s “combatant status” by a Guantánamo military tribunal.91

Even were we to discard the evidence, alluded to at the outset, which suggests that the real architects of 9/11 were people highly placed within the American state, the fact remains that Krauthammer’s rhetoric mirrors the tactics used by 16th century apologists of witch-persecutions—who knew that suspected witches must be tortured to reveal evidence of their wicked conspiracies with Satan, because witch-hunters already had copious evidence, derived from the torture of suspected witches, of the horrifying reality and destructive power of that Satanic alliance.92

We encounter in this example a structure that has already recurred throughout this essay—in which a violence exercised by sovereign power that exempts itself from the constraints of legality (in this case, the constraints of existing U.S. and international law) is represented, whether discursively or mythically, as the enabling condition of public order and safety.

In Milton’s Paradise Lost, the creation of hell precedes that of heaven and earth; in Calvin’s theology, the judgment by a sovereign will that all of humanity (thanks to the divinely willed fall of our first parents) deserves the torments of hell is conceptually prior to the arbitrary grace which partially reverses that judgment by creating an ordered community of faith; and in Schmitt’s political theology the primary attribute of the order-imposing sovereign power is its capacity, at its own whim, to suspend the workings of law in order to exercise unconstrained violence.

9/11 complicates this structure. According to the orthodox political theology of 9/11, a nation that already approached perfection in its devotion to liberty was attacked, because of its very goodness, by forces of evil; a gloves-off or “dark side” suspension of legality in a global war on terror has been required to fend off those forces and defend liberty. Yet as we have seen, a primary motive of the resort to the “dark side” was to generate fraudulent torture-based ‘intelligence’ that would support this orthodox fiction.

In the very different story to which other—untainted—evidence points, the “dark side” is not just incidental, a matter of evil tactics used against the powers of evil: it is, rather, the arche and the telos of 9/11, the event’s starting point and its goal. The hijacking attacks were facilitated and enabled by a multi-faceted suspension of many of the normal functions of military, intelligence, and civilian officials—which, since the functions of these servants of the state are legally mandated, was also an effective suspension of legality. The goal appears to have been a lasting “state of exception” in which the militarized state, while continuing to project a mythology in which it defines itself as the guarantor and protector of an increasingly abstract “freedom,” in fact suppresses the limited freedoms announced within the state’s own foundational legal documents, its Constitution and Bill of Rights.



In the concluding chapter of his book Black Bloc, White Riot, A. K. Thompson brings together several thinkers whom I would also like to consider (if to somewhat different effect).93

Thompson quotes Jean Baudrillard’s claim, in The Spirit of Terrorism, that the attacks of 9/11 radicalized both “the world situation” and “the relation of the image to reality”: “Whereas we were dealing before with an uninterrupted profusion of banal images and a seamless flow of sham events, the terrorist act in New York has resuscitated both images and events.”94 Observing that “Two accounts of epistemic and political resolution seem to be at work” in this claim—one in which “the disjuncture between signifier and signified is resolved in catastrophe,” so that “things and their names once again become inseparable,” and another in which the image “consumes the event entirely”—Thompson argues that these are in reality “only two phases of a single process by which the image is reenergized as a modality of representational politics.” For, following a momentary “short circuit in the representational sequence,” the meaning of the terrorist act becomes evident: “It’s an action in excess of the law that serves in the end to reaffirm the law itself,” and to revitalize “constituted power.”95

A more cautious return to the images and events of 9/11 might suggest that the crucial “short circuit”—one that is by no means merely momentary—is to be found, not in the representational sequence as such, but rather in its implicit causality. The unforgettable central images of 9/11—the impacts of the two hijacked aircraft, followed by immense deflagrations of jet fuel, and the violent disintegration of the twin towers into pyroclastic dust clouds that enveloped most of lower Manhattan—appeared to viewers of that appalling spectacle to constitute a causal sequence: from impact, to building fires, to collapse. But that impression of causality (together with NIST’s shabby attempts to give it scientific credibility) is refuted by the evidence I cited in the first part of this essay, which reveals both the insufficiency of impact damage and the ensuing fires to produce the observed effects, and also the presence of other intervening causes.

Thompson notes in passing Guy Debord’s view, expressed in his Commentaires sur la société du spectacle (1988), “that the state itself invented terrorism as its representational negation, the enemy that confirms it.”96 In rejecting the false causality of the spectacle of 9/11, we can permit ourselves to cite Debord at greater length. “Such a perfect democracy,” he wrote with acid irony,

constructs its own inconceivable foe, terrorism. Its wish is to be judged by its enemies rather than by its results. The story of terrorism is written by the state and it is therefore highly instructive. The spectators must certainly never know everything about terrorism, but they must always know enough to convince them that, compared with terrorism, everything else must be acceptable, or in any case more rational and democratic.97

Thompson refers as well to the great German critic, Walter Benjamin—but to an early and unsatisfactory essay, the “Critique of Violence.”98 More relevant to my subject are remarks from one of Benjamin’s last texts, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” written shortly before his death in 1940:

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism.99

But what would it mean, in a post-9/11 world where lawlessness and torture are being institutionalized, to speak of bringing about “a real state of emergency”? One would like to hope that the fatuous Baudrillardian game of pretending to resist capitalism by acceding to its demands to spend oneself silly has been abandoned; the folly of playing to the strength of those who have long since possessed an effective monopoly on violence, whether legal or extra-legal, should be no less apparent. Is Benjamin here participating in a tendency to idealize and aestheticize violence that Luigi Fabbri had analyzed and stringently criticized in his 1917 essay, “Bourgeois Influences on Anarchism”? Violence, Fabbri acknowledges, may be unavoidable, but he objects on ethical grounds to any glamorizing by bourgeois writers of its intrinsic ugliness, and on political and philosophical grounds to the resulting displacement of attention from goals to actions.100

Or can we perhaps give Benjamin credit for an irony analogous to that of Debord’s “perfect democracy”? Might it not be a “real emergency” for the advocates of a state of exception to find themselves confronted by a growing non-violent and egalitarian movement for radical democracy, calling not just for a full restoration of prior rights and freedoms, but for the implementation of an ongoing project to which, more than three and a half centuries ago, the Digger activist Gerrard Winstanley gave the resonant name of “the law of freedom”?101




1  Michel Foucault, The Politics of Truth, ed. Sylvère Lotringer, intro. John Rajchman, trans. Lysa Hochroth and Catherine Porter (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007), p. 47; translation modified.

2  Cheney used the phrase in an NBC interview with Tim Russert on 16 September 2001; for his full statement, see Dan Froomkin, “Cheney’s ‘Dark Side’ Is Showing,” Washington Post (7 November 2005),

3  John Barry, Michael Hirsh, and Michael Isikoff, “The Roots of Terror,” Newsweek (24 May 2004); quoted by Reed Brophy, “The Road to Abu Graib: Torture and Impunity in U.S. Detention,” in Kenneth Roth et al., eds., Torture: Does It Make Us Safer? Is It Ever OK? A Human Rights Perspective (New York: The New Press, 2005), p. 146. This “gloves off” cliché, which appears in Black’s Congressional testimony in 2003, was used in October 2001 by a senior officer in Afghanistan to tell an interrogator of ‘American Taliban’ John Walker Lindh that he had authorization from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s office to treat the prisoner brutally (see Brophy, pp. 147-48; and Frank Lindh, “America’s ‘detainee 001’—the persecution of John Walker Lindh,” The Observer [10 July 2011],

4  See Jean Bethke Elshtain, “Reflection on the Problem of ‘Dirty Hands’,” in Sandford Levinson, ed., Torture: A Collection (2nd ed., Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 77.

5  See Michel Chossudovsky, America’s “War on Terrorism” (Pincourt, Québec: Global Research, 2005); Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008); and David Ray Griffin, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2005).

6  James Gourley et al., “Appeal Filed with NIST, Pursuant to Earlier Request for Correction,” Journal of 9/11 Studies 17 (November 2007),; and David Ray Griffin, The Mysterious Collapse of World Trade Center 7: Why the Final Official Report about 9/11 is Unscientific and False (Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2010).

7  Graeme MacQueen and Tony Szamboti, “The Missing Jolt: A Simple Refutation of the NIST-Bazant Collapse Hypothesis,” Journal of 9/11 Studies 24 (January 2009),; David Chandler, “WTC7 in Freefall: No Longer Controversial,” Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth (2010), .com/watch?v=rVCDpL4Ax7l.

8  Kevin Ryan, “High Velocity Bursts of Debris From Point-Like Sources in the WTC Towers,” Journal of 9/11 Studies 13 (July 2007),

9  Steven E. Jones et al., “Extremely high temperatures during the World Trade Center destruction,” Journal of 9/11 Studies 19 (January 2008),; see also “Forensic Metallurgy: Metallurgical Examination of WTC Steel Suggests Explosives,” 9-11 Research,

10  Niels H. Harrit at al., “Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe,” Bentham Open Chemistry & Physics Journal 2 (2009): 7-31, One objection to studies that support a hypothesis of controlled demolition has been that they do not explain how preparations for it could have escaped public observation. But as a matter of methodology, questions of human contingency cannot displace observed physical occurrences in the order of explanation.

11  The voluminous PATRIOT Act, rushed through Congress on the wings of the anthrax attacks, was clearly prepared in advance of 9/11. It appears also that in July 2001 American diplomats threatened an attack on the Afghan Taliban regime, scheduled for October; the evidence, from reports in the Guardian and BBC, was summarized by Gore Vidal, Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press / Nation Books, 2002), pp. 15-17.

12  See Scott Horton, “The Return of Carl Schmitt,” Balkinization (7 November 2005),; Horton, “State of Exception: Bush’s War on the Rule of Law,” Harper’s Magazine (July 2007),; and David J. Luban, “Carl Schmitt and the Critique of Lawfare,” forthcoming in the Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law; available at (I owe to Luban the references to Horton’s articles at the Balkinization blog here and in note 15 below.) It is not unfair to label Schmitt a Nazi: some of his most influential publications were published before the rise of Nazism, but he became a prominent Nazi jurist and legal theorist from 1933 onward, and in decades of active life after World War II never expressed regret for that commitment.

13  See Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2010). Although Christoyannopoulos’s primary aim is to construct a genealogy of Christian anarchism, I would question his decision to confine himself to the canonical gospels (which postdate the Pauline appropriation of a movement of the ebionim, or destitute, and the sack of Jerusalem in C.E. 70), and to ignore current historical and textual-critical studies (which draw on non-canonical texts including the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library) of the movement’s radically egalitarian insurgent matrix. These studies include John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1998); Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus (New York: Viking Penguin, 1997); and Eisenman, The New Testament Code (London: Watkins Publishing, 2006). The textual naivety of Christoyannopoulos’s decision to take the canonical gospels at “face value” as “valid accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus” (p. 15) will be evident to any reader of Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (2005; rpt. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007).

14  Giorgio Agamben, Il Regno e la Gloria: Per una genealogia teologica dell’economia e del governo. Homo sacer II, 2 (2nd ed., Turin: Universale Bollati Boringhieri, 2009), p. 15; my translation.

15  I have quoted here from Philip Giraldi, “All’s ‘Fare’ in War,” (7 July 2011), See also Scott Horton, “Carl Schmitt and the Military Commissions Act of 2006,” Balkinization (16 October 2006),; Horton, “Carl Schmitt, the Dolchstoßlegende, and the Law of Armed Conflict,” Balkinization (21 October 2006),; Horton, “A Kinder, Gentler Lawfare,” Harper’s Magazine (30 November 2007),; and Luban, “Carl Schmitt and the Critique of Lawfare,” 5-10.

16  This may seem a bold claim: I am proposing simply that patterns of intentionality evident within state action (or abstention from action) on 9/11 are linked to the intentionality of later state responses to the events of that day. Two essays in Paul Zarembka, ed., The Hidden History of 9/11 (2nd ed., New York: Seven Stories Press, 2008), are relevant to these patterns of intentionality: David McGregor, “September 11 as ‘Machiavellian State Terror’,” pp. 183-214; and Diana Ralph, “Islamophobia and the ‘War on Terror’: The Continuing Pretext for U.S. Imperial Conquest,” pp. 253-90. The evidence relating to the material facts of the destruction of WTC 1, 2 and 7 cited in notes 6 to 10 above points to extensive advance planning of demolitions, whose timing was linked to attacks with hijacked aircraft which succeeded due to multiple lapses within the U.S. air defense system. (The suspect nature of these lapses has been widely studied: see, for example, Scott, The Road to 9/11, pp. 194-235; and Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation, and the Anatomy of Terrorism [Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2005], pp. 267-316.)

17  Alfred W. McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror (New York: Metropolitan/Owl, 2006), pp. 26-53. The words quoted, from p. 50, describe the CIA’s Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation handbook (1963).

18  See, for example, Lesley Gill, The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004); and McCoy, A Question of Torture, where details are given on the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, which between 1966 and 1972 involved the murder of 82,000 suspected enemies and of 26,000 prisoners (pp. 62-71), similar operations in Uruguay, Colombia and Central America from the late 1960s to the 1980s (pp. 71-74), the exporting of torture to Iran in the 1960s and 70s (pp. 74-75), and to the Philippines from 1972 to the early 90s (pp. 75-86), and continuities in torture training and the effective legalization by 1997 of CIA torture techniques (pp. 86-107). See also Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty (New York: Norton, 1994), pp. 253-79 (on Guatemala and El Salvador). The American military denied any involvement in Central American atrocities, but in 2004, after the outbreak of resistance to occupation in Iraq, senior officers spoke openly of moving to a “Salvadoran option.”

19  Oren Gross, “The Prohibition on Torture and the Limits of the Law,” in Levinson, ed., Torture, p. 237.

20  Henry Shue, “Torture,” in Levinson, ed., Torture, p. 53.

21  These are Shue’s terms. See the Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the Treatment by the Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War and Other Persons Protected by the Geneva Conventions in Iraq During Arrest, Internment and Interrogation (February 2004), in Karen J. Greenberg and Joshua L. Dratel, eds., The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Graib (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 383-404, for evidence of terroristic treatment (including routine torture) of detainees in Iraq. It seems to have been widely understood that most detainees had no connection to the Iraqi resistance: intelligence officers are quoted as estimating that 70% to 90% of them had been “arrested by mistake” (p. 388).

22  Jonathan Schell, “Torture and Truth,” CBS News (7 June 2010), It should be noted that evidence of Iraqi WMDs and links with al Qaeda did not just “turn out” not to exist. Senior American officials knew in 1995 from the interrogation of Saddam’s defector son-in-law that Iraqi WMD programs had been cancelled after the 1991 Gulf War and existing stocks of biological and chemical weapons destroyed. And U.S. claims about al Qaeda links—based upon a meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi diplomats that never occurred, supposed treatment in Iraqi hospitals of the largely fictional terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi, and the existence, in a part of northern Iraq bordering on Iran that had been removed from Saddam Hussein’s control, of a training camp run by a CIA-supported fringe group—were wholly implausible.

23  Jonathan Kay, Among the Truthers (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2011), p. 20.

24  Robert Windrem and Victor Limjoco, “9/11 Commission Controversy,” MSNBC (30 January 2008); though deleted from the MSNBC website, this article is available at

25  Robert Windrem, “Blogs & Stories: Cheney’s Role Deepens,” The Daily Beast (13 May 2009),

26  Windrem and Limjoco, “9/11 Commission Controversy.”

27  Windrem, “Cheney’s Role Deepens.”

28  “September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed ‘waterboarded 183 times’,” The Sunday Times (20 April 2009),

29  Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (1985; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 50, 54.

30  This does not invalidate other non-torture-based statements made within the Report. But the fact that nearly every claim in the Report’s “most critical chapters” is based on torture does wholly invalidate the narrative of those chapters.

31  See “The 9/11 Commission & Torture: How Information Gained Through Waterboarding & Harsh Interrogations Form Major Part of 9/11 Commission Report,” Democracy Now! (7 February 2008),

32  “Complete 911 Timeline: Destruction of CIA Interrogation Tapes,” History Commons, See also Marisa Taylor, “No charges over destroyed CIA tapes,” Miami Herald (10 November 2010),

33  George W. Bush, “Remarks at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance Service, September 14, 2001,” The American Presidency Project,

34  See Amy Goodman, “Gen. Wesley Clark Weighs Presidential Bid: ‘I Think About It Everyday’,” Democracy Now! (2 March 2007), The countries in question were Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.

35  “Cheney: War Could Last Generations,” Wires (17 January 2004), http://archive.newsmax.xom/archives/articles/2004/1/16/232041.shtml.

36  Quoted from The Washington Post (27 January 2002) by David Ray Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 (2nd ed.; Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2004), p. xi.

37  George W. Bush, “Remarks.”

38  Thierry Meyssan, 9/11: The Big Lie (London: Carnot, 2002), p. 79; quoted by Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor, p. xv. Two years later Griffin—a prominent theologian and philosopher of religion as well as a 9/11 sceptic—was himself accused of something like sacrilege: Tucker Carlson, interviewing him on MSNBC TV, said that it was “wrong, blasphemous, and sinful” to have published books concluding that the evidence pointed to government complicity in the attacks of 9/11. See “‘Tucker’ for August 9,” The Ed Show, MSNBC TV (updated 10 August 2006),

39  Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie. Vier Kapitel zur Lehre von der Souveränität (Munich: Dunckler & Humblot, 1922); Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. George D. Schwab (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985; rpt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

40  Politische Theologie, p. 13. Here and below I am quoting passages from this text as translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen in Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998)—in this instance, in Agamben, p. 15.

41  Politische Theologie, pp. 19-21; trans. by Heller-Roazan in Agamben, Homo Sacer, p. 16.

42  Dick Meyer, “Bush: The Decider-In-Chief. Dick Meyer On the Biggest Kid of All,” CBS (20 April 2006),

43  See for example Jay S. Bybee, “To: Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, Re: Standards of Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S.C.§§2340-2340A” (August 1, 2002), in Greenberg and Dratel, eds., The Torture Papers, p. 204: “both courts and prosecutors should reject prosecutions that apply federal criminal laws to activity that is authorized pursuant to one of the President’s constitutional powers.” These powers make “the security of the nation” the president’s foremost objective; Bybee quotes Alexander Hamilton’s argument that since “the circumstances which may affect the public safety” are not “reducible within certain determinate limits,” it follows “that there can be no limitation of that authority […] in any matter essential for its efficacy” (p. 205). The passage from Hamilton had previously been used by John C. Yoo, “Memorandum Opinion for Timothy Flanigan […] The President’s Constitutional Authority to Conduct Military Operations Against Terrorists and Nations Supporting Them” (September 25, 2001), in The Torture Papers, p. 4.

44  Mark Crispin Miller, Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney’s New World Order (New York: Norton, 2004), p. xxi.

45  Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Faust, ed. Hanns W. Eppelsheimer (1962; rpt. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1973), line 1237.

46  John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II, lines 910 (“wild abyss”), 900 (“embryon atoms”), 895, 907, 960 (“Chaos”), 915-16 (“Almighty Maker,” “dark materials”), in The Annotated Milton: Complete English Poems, ed. Burton Raffel (New York: Bantam Classics, 1999), pp. 199-202.

47  Paradise Lost, Book I, line 67, p. 137.

48  Book II, line 988, p. 202.

49  Book II, lines 1007-09, p. 203.

50  Book II, lines 1002-05, p. 203.

51  Giorgio Agamben, “The State of Emergency,” lecture at the Centre Roland-Barthes (Université de Paris VII, Denis-Diderot), c. 2005, available online at The lecture condenses arguments made at greater length by Agamben in State of Exception (Stato di eccezione, 2003), trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); and followed up in Il Regno e la Gloria (2007) and in The Sacrament of Language: An Archaeology of the Oath (Homo Sacer, II, 3) (Il sacramento del linguaggio. Archeologia del giuramento, 2008), trans. Adam Kotsko (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011).

52  Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus: A critical edition of the 1604 version, with a full critical edition of the censored and revised 1616 text, ed. Michael Keefer (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2008), II. i. 120-23, p. 209. Milton develops this concept in Paradise Lost, Book IV, lines 18-23.

53  Paradise Lost, Book I, line 110, p. 138.

54  Blaise Pascal, Pensées, no. 294, in Pensées et opuscules, ed. Léon Brunschvicg (Paris: Hachette, 1961), p. 467: “Et ainsi ne pouvant faire que ce qui est juste fût fort, on a fait que ce qui est fort fût juste.” Jacques Derrida comments on this and related passages in “Force of Law: The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority’,” Acts of Religion, ed. Gil Anidjar (New York and London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 238-39.

55  Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (2 vols.; Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), IV.xx.2, p. 1487. (The pagination in the two volumes of this edition is continuous; vol. 2 begins at III.xx.1.)

56  Schmitt, “Der Begriff des Politischen,” Archiv für Sozialwissenschaften und Sozialpolitik 58 (1927); The Concept of the Political, trans. George D. Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp. 60-68.

57  Calvin, Institutes, I.xvi.4, p. 202.

58  See Institutes, III.xxiii.6, p. 954: “he foresees future events only by reason of the fact that he decreed that they take place”; and also III.xxiii.7, p. 955, where Calvin, who has elsewhere repeatedly blamed humankind’s wickedness and natural tendency to hate God upon the primal act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden, asks: “whence does it happen that Adam’s fall irremediably involved so many peoples, together with their infant offspring, in eternal death unless because it so pleased God? [….] The decree is dreadful indeed, I confess. Yet no man can deny that God foreknew what end man was to have before he created him, and consequently foreknew because he so ordained by his decree.”

59  Institutes, IV.xx.1, p. 1486.

60  In Institutes, IV.xx.10, p. 1497, Calvin claims that since no restraint is laid on God’s justice in punishing misdeeds, magistrates are entitled to violate the divine law against killing: “if it is not right to impose any law on him, why should we try to reproach his ministers?”

61  Institutes, IV.xx.31, p. 1519.

62  The Latin word institutio has a range of meanings relating to disposition, arrangement, instruction, education, and established custom; Justinian’s Institutiones is a manual designed to introduce students to the full body of the law, the Corpus Juris.

63  Institutes, I.xvi.2, p. 199; I.xvi.7, p. 206.

64  Institutes,, pp. 68-69; II.vii.3, p. 351; II.vii.7, pp. 355-56; II.viii.12, p. 377.

65  W. E. H. Lecky, History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe (2 vols.; 1865, rpt. New York: Appleton, 1888), vol. 1, pp. 37-38, 78-82.

66  Institutes, III.xxi.5, p. 926; III.xxi.7, p. 931; III.xxii.2, p. 934; III.xxiii.1, pp. 947-48.

67  Institutes, III.xxiii.11, p. 959; III.xxiv.14, p. 981.

68  Institutes, III.xxiii.2, pp. 949-50.

69  Ibid., vol. 1, p. 81.

70  Institutes, III.xxiii.2, p. 949.

71  Agamben, Homo Sacer, p. 184.

72  See, for example, Jacques Derrida, “Before the Law,” in Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge (New York and London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 181-220.

73  For a brief discussion of collisions between oral law and the legal-coercive apparatus of the Canadian state, see the last section of my essay “The Harper Government and ‘War-on-Terror’ Immigration Policy,” in Hartmut Lutz, ed., What Is Your Place: Indigeneity and Immigration in Canada (Augsburg: Wißner-Verlag, 2007), pp. 169-90.

74  I have touched on this issue in the concluding pages of my essay “Resisting the Post-National: Canadian Critiques of the Geo/Cultural Politics of Globalization,” in Gunilla Florby, Mark Shackleton, and Katri Suhonen, eds., Canada: Images of a Post/National Society (Frankfurt and New York: Peter Lang, 2009), pp. 39-54.

75  Jonah Goldberg, “Baghdad Delenda Est, Part Two,” National Review Online (23 April 2002),

76  Goldberg remembered Ledeen, an influential right-wing ideologue, outlining this doctrine in “more or less” these words in a speech at the AEI in the early 1990s.

77  For the most recent extension of the state of emergency, see “Letter from the President on the Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Certain Terrorist Attacks,” The White House / President Barack Obama (10 September 2010),

78  The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (New York: Norton, 2004), p. 38; see also p. 326: “Contingency plans for the continuity of government and the evacuation of leaders had been implemented.”

79  See Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11, pp. 183-245, for a detailed account of the evolution of continuity of government planning, and its implementation after 9/11.

80  Barton Gellman and Susan Schmidt, “Shadow Government Is at Work in Secret,” The Washington Post (1 March 2002),, quote one participant as saying that “the shadow government has evolved into an indefinite precaution,” and note that “Only the executive branch is represented in the full-time shadow administration.” See also Francie Grace, “‘Shadow Government’ News to Congress,” CBS News (1 March 2002),

81  Gore Vidal, Dreaming War, p. 11. Vidal adds that the republican system of government had “taken a mortal blow the previous year, when the Supreme Court did a little dance in 5-4 time and replaced an elected president with the oil-and-gas Cheney-Bush junta” (p. 12).

82  Barbara Olshansky, Democracy Detained: Secret Unconstitutional Practices in the U.S. War on Terror (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007), pp. 1-2.

83  Steven Aftergood, “The next president should open up the Bush administration’s record,” Nieman Watchdog (7 February 2008), (I am indebted for this reference to “Investigation into Whether America is Still a Constitutional Government,”

84  John W. Whitehead, “A week in the life of a police state,” ColdType 57 (June-July 2011), p. 50, It should be remembered that the Patriot Act was passed under the duress of anthrax attacks on the offices of the Democratic Party’s congressional leadership—attacks which, given the implausibility of the FBI’s lone-mad-scientist scenario, invite classification as instances of state terrorism or state crimes against democracy.

85  For evidence that the process is indeed ongoing, see Peter Dale Scott, “‘Continuity of Government’ Planning: War, Terror and the Supplanting of the U.S. Constitution,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 21-2-10 (24 May 2010),; and “Is the State of Emergency Superseding the US Constitution? Continuity of Government Planning, War and American Society,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 48-1-10 (29 November 2010),

86  Olshansky, Democracy Detained, pp. 4-5, quoting from Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 535 (2004).

87  Glenn Greenwald, “U.S. justice v. the world,” (18 February 2011), For evidence that these facts should be understood within the context of an ongoing dismantling of international law, see Philippe Sands, Lawless World: Making and Breaking Global Rules (2nd ed., London: Penguin, 2006); and Afua Hirsch, “Ministers move to change universal jurisdiction law,” The Guardian (30 May 2010),

88  Charles Krauthammer, “The Truth about Torture,” in Levinson, ed., Torture, pp. 309-10. Krauthammer tries to fudge the issue, speaking first of keeping the prisoner “isolated, disoriented, alone, despairing, cold and sleepless, in some godforsaken hidden location,” and then substituting the term “coercive interrogation” (p. 310). He means “torture.”

89  Ibid., p. 313. The information in this case would be “high value” and urgently needed, which would presumably justify extreme inhumanity.

90  See David Ray Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Cover-Up, and the Exposé (Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2008), pp. 216-17.

91  “Verbatim Transcript of Combatant Status Review Tribunal Hearing for ISN 10024” (10 March 2007), available online at This 26-page document provides an interesting glimpse of the normalizing of torture in U.S. military ‘justice’. The text gives no indication of the contents of a written statement supplied to the tribunal by KSM “regarding alleged abuse” (p. 7). Asked by the presiding officer whether statements he made to his interrogators between 2003 and 2006 were “made as the result of any of the treatment you received during that time frame,” KSM replies: “CIA peoples. Yes.” Rewording the question about torture, the presiding officer receives a second response (partially censored) that is suggestive of mental confusion, and drops the issue (pp. 14-15). The document then incorporates a confession statement (pp. 17-19) in which KSM admits direct responsibility for every actual, projected, or merely rumored operation ever associated with al Qaeda—including a planned attack on the Plaza Bank in Washington state, built three years after KSM’s capture, and others that seem wholly imaginary, such as “the operation to destroy Heathrow Airport, the Canary Wharf Building, and Big Ben on British soil” (p. 18).

92  For a key example of this tactic, see Jean Bodin, De la démonomanie des sorciers (Paris: Jacques du Puys, 1580). Bodin was a political philosopher of major stature as well as a fanatical witch-hunter.

93  A. K. Thompson, Black Bloc, White Riot: Anti-Globalization and the Genealogy of Dissent (Oakland and Edinburgh: AK Press, 2010), pp. 157-69.

94  Jean Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism (London: Verso, 2002), p. 27; quoted by Thompson, p. 164.

95  Ibid., pp. 164-65.

96  Ibid., p. 65.

97  Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, trans. Malcolm Imrie (London: Verso, 1998), p. 24. (In the preceding pages, Debord remarks on the scandalous freedom from scandal, in contemporary democracies, of the tyrannical ventures of such groups as the Italian “parallel government, P2, Potere Due”—on which, see p. 22 and also p. 53.)

98  Dating from the early 1920s, this essay is disabled by two facts: it was composed in silent dialogue with early texts of Carl Schmitt, some of whose preconceptions it accepts; and it confuses the central issue by defining strike action as incorporating “extortion” and the use of “force in attaining certain ends,” and hence as a form of violence. See Walter Benjamin, Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, ed. Peter Demetz, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), p. 282.

99  Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History, VIII,” in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (1970; rpt. London: Fontana, 1973), pp. 248-49. This text is also available as “On the Concept of History,” in Benjamin, Selected Writings, ed. Michael W. Jennings et al. (4 vols.; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996-2003), vol. 4. One might prefer, in the present context, to speak of a struggle against “proto-fascism,” which is diagnosed by Henry Giroux in Against the New Authoritarianism (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2005), pp. 30-82.

100  Fabbri writes that “literary poseurs […] offend fallen anarchists” even in praising them, “because their eulogies draw their force and motive precisely from that which, according to anarchist principles, is painful and deplorable though perhaps a historical necessity.” While rejecting Tolstoyan pacifism, Fabbri insists that violence “is always an ugly thing, be it individual or collective,” asserting at the same time that the subject distracts us from something more important: “But we’re not dealing with this, but with the tendency, derived from bourgeois influences, of ignoring goals and making actions the primordial preoccupation.” Fabbri, “Bourgeois Influences on Anarchism,” trans. Chaz Bufe, (25 September 2009),

101  Gerrard Winstanley, The Law of Freedom in a Platform or, True Magistracy Restored [1652], ed. Robert W. Kenny (New York: Schocken Books, 1973).  

Canada in Afghanistan

The first item in this sequence was published in the letters column of the Guelph Mercury (19 November 2008), and re-published in eVeritas, the online journal of the Royal Military College of Canada Club.


This sequence of letters began with one I sent to the Guelph Mercury on November 17, 2008, which that newspaper published two days later. Re-published in eVeritas, the online journal of the Royal Military College of Canada Club (see, the letter attracted some commentary there. It also received a much fuller response in the form of public correspondence from Peter Ludorf, one of my RMC classmates (we studied and trained there from 1966 to 1970). I reproduce here my original letter, the responses to it in eVeritas, and my exchanges with Peter Ludorf, and finally, some comments on the last of the responses published in eVeritas

My comments include a reference to the College's motto: “Truth, Duty, Valour.” Peter Ludorf and I signed our letters with our college numbers, as did the RMC graduates who sent responses to eVeritas. (These numbers began with the first class that entered the college in 1876: my great-grand-uncle Harold was number 17 in that Old Eighteen; my father Thomas, whose class entered in 1932, had the number 2330.) The footnote I have added to my second letter to Peter Ludorf corrects an error of fact.


1. We mustn't participate in 'criminal follies'

Guelph Mercury, 19 November 2008

Thanks to Rob O'Flanagan for his thoughtful and eloquent column (“Too many things make me sick of war,” November 15, 2008).

I've been thinking about war myself lately, in part because November 10 is the anniversary of my father's death—and in his last days nearly twenty years ago, my father's thoughts often went back to his service in World War II, and to the deaths of his three closest friends at Dieppe and in the Normandy campaign.

My father was in uniform for ten years—six during the war, and before that four years at the Royal Military College of Canada. His only brother served in the Royal Navy as an MTB captain in the English Channel and the Mediterranean; a decade after the war, still suffering from what we'd now call post-traumatic stress disorder, he committed suicide. A much-loved honorary uncle on my mother's side also served in the Royal Navy from shortly before the outbreak of World War II until its end.

My two grandfathers each spent more than ten years of their lives in uniform. One served in the British army before World War I, and in the Canadian Corps during that war. The other, who was an important presence in my childhood, narrowly escaped the fate of his best friends, all of whom died in the Gallipoli campaign or on the Western front; he re-enlisted in World War II and directed the Royal Army Medical Corps hospital system on the Burma front.

My two older brothers and I also graduated from RMC; two of us were reserve entry officer cadets, and therefore free on graduation to pursue careers in government and academe; my eldest brother's time in the Canadian army included service with the UN peacekeeping force on the Gaza strip.

What does this enumeration of the men closest to me by blood and affection add up to? Among other things, it means that eight men in my generation and the two preceding ones—none of whom thought of the military as a career—spent a total of more than sixty years in uniform during the early and middle years of the last century.

Some of that service—I'm thinking of the First World War—was no doubt deluded. But none of it involved the flagrant illegality of the present war in Afghanistan, or the very particular horrors of a war that pits civilian insurgents against a foreign army of occupation.

The American invasion of Afghanistan was a direct violation of international law; the ensuing occupation is likewise illegal. The deaths of a hundred young Canadians in such a cause, and the grievous injuries suffered by many hundreds more, should horrify us all. These losses, together with the still more appalling losses being inflicted upon Afghan civilians by the occupying forces, are the legacy of the Bush regime's now wholly discredited policies.

Canadians must refuse any further participation in these criminal follies.

Michael Keefer
Professor, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph


2. Responses in eVeritas

3584 Archie Beare (November 25, 2008):  It is regrettable that some, perhaps few, feel as Michael Keefer and the Guelph Mercury writer he quotes. The UN sanctioned, NATO endorsed operations in Afghanistan are a long way short of being “illegal” and to state that it is, is an insult to all of our troops who have [served] and will serve in Afghanistan. [….] To besmirch those outstanding Canadians is an injustice that should result in an apology by Keefer.

4155 George Kinloch (November 26, 2008):  International law is reasonably clear on what constitutes an illegal war, and it is difficult to find a reading of the law which would make the invasion legal, no matter which organization of nations might sanction it. It is because Keefer values the lives of our soldiers that he finds the squandering of their lives an insult. There is no hint, in his letter, of denigration of the lives of our soldiers, quite the opposite. He owes no apology. But an apology is owed to the tens of thousands who, like so many members of Keefer's family, lost their lives in fighting for a world in which we had the rule of law. World War II, after all, touted itself as being the “War that would Really End All Wars.” [….]

4270 Sean Henry (November 26, 2008):  Mr. Keefer displays the ignorance and misplaced sentiments of many of his fellow Canadians. They are not to blame in their own right. From the beginning the government has not made it clear that Canada's national interests are at stake in the war on terrorism being waged in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The mission is to defeat the Taliban and other Islamic radicals to prevent the re-establishment of a haven and training ground for terrorists. To achieve this end it is also necessary to rebuild Afghanistan into a functioning state. In this respect those Canadians who have died in Afghanistan have been defending Canada and their fellow citizens in equal measure to their forefathers in previous wars. [….] Finally, the military operations in Afghanistan were approved by the UN and NATO and the allied forces are there at the invitation of the Afghan government. It is not an illegal war and the troops are not occupiers. These definitions are spread as disinformation by misguided members of pacifist organizations.

4135 George W. Hosang (November 29, 2008):  Rob O'Flanagan, in his Guelph Mercury Nov. 15, 2008 article certainly reflects the opinion of many who despise war and who wish it would go away, even just disappear instantaneously from the human consciousness. He seems to display, however, a total ignorance of history. For example, if the British and all those who came to their aid had not mounted an effective opposition to Hitler and Nazi Germany, we probably all would be speaking German today because he was getting pretty close to having intercontinental military capabilities. [….]


3. Letters from an RMC Classmate

Reply to Mike Keefer's Anti-Afghanistan Article (Circulated to the RMC Class of 1970, 25 November 2008)


Despite having known each other almost 50 years, from public and high school in Toronto to RMC, I don't think we know each other at all. Your comments on our Canadian Forces' participation in the NATO ISAF mission in Afghanistan not only shocked and depressed me, it also showed me how wrong you are. You were always the artsy left of centre guy that we aspiring Generals at the College could goad into a good argument, but this article of yours is really beyond the pale. Let me remind you that the UN sanctioned the US attacks on the Taliban post 9-11. In Oct 2001, the UN authorized creation of a NATO force, the International Stability Assistance Force (ISAF) which, incidentally, has a large number of non-NATO nations who volunteered to join. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this is not Bush's war. It is the international community responding to the continued attacks on the west and on the more progressive Muslim states by the radical Taliban Islamists killing thousands and wanting to kill ALL “infidels,” the inhumane treatment of Afghani women and the well publicized goal of forced fundamental Islamisation of the ENTIRE WORLD.

What is it about the Taliban that we should be allowing to continue? Is it the burning of Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Teams-built schools? Is it the poisoning of our Canadian drilled wells? Is it the keeping of all girls from any schooling? Is it the forced burkas, forced marriages, forced rapes, forced childbirth? Is it the explosives training to attack western countries? Is it the throwing of acid into the faces of schoolgirls? Would you have us simply pull out of our commitment and write off the deaths and injuries of our people as being in a lost and misguided cause?

Mike, it is a horrible and nasty business in Afghanistan. It must, however, be done lest we surrender to radical Islam. The statement “better to fight them there than to fight them on our main streets” might be seen by you as being trite but it is seen by many of us as being the truth. The Taliban and Al Qaeda must be pacified or eradicated. Simple as that. The ISAF mission is not illegal. It is there at the invitation of the democratically elected Afghan government. It is sanctioned by the UN. Simple as that. Afghani military and police forces are being trained to carry on this fight themselves. Your calling this crusade a “criminal folly” is not only an insult to those who have fallen but also to those who continue the fight.

I doubt I have convinced you to change your mind but I simply could not allow your anti-Bush and anti-Canadian Forces rant to go unchallenged. I am asking our Class Secretary to send your comments as well as this reply to our entire class. They can decide whether your comments reflect honour on your family's honourable military tradition.

8542 Peter Ludorf, Former Class of 70 Class Secretary


A First Reply (26 November 2008)

Dear Pete,

Thanks for your note about my letter that appeared in the Guelph Mercury (and was re-published in eVeritas). Do by all means circulate your comments to our classmates.

I'll have a response for you shortly, in which I'll hope to show you and anyone else who's interested that much of what you take to be fact is no more than propaganda and misinformation; that what you believe to be simple is really quite complex; and that a military occupation you understand as legal is actually in flagrant violation of international law.

For the moment, two quick points.

The first word of the RMC motto directs us, I believe, to a shared commitment to Truth: let's see whether that helps to move us beyond overheated rhetoric about being “anti-Bush and anti-Canadian Forces,” and toward a lucid consideration of what's at stake here.

Secondly, you conclude your message with a reference to honour. I do not think there is anything honourable about sending young Canadian men and women off to war on false pretences. 

The real insult to their courage, their sacrifices, and their suffering comes from the politicians and propagandists who have lied to them.



8430 Michael Keefer, D.Phil.,

Professor, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph


And a Riposte (26 November 2008)


If I were corresponding with Taliban Jack Layton (as he is widely called by our troops) or Elizabeth May, I could understand and simply dismiss the left wing nut element, but with a classmate who invokes Truth, Duty, Valour, I am compelled to continue the debate. I assume you are one who insists that 9/11 was a US (read, George Bush) inside job. You must be shattered by the fact that Obama intends to increase the US contingent in Afghanistan [by] anywhere from 7,000 to 70,000 troops. This left wing politician is likely also lying to everyone and is covering up the illegal invasion and repression of the poor misunderstood Taliban who are, after all, simply defending their country (which it is not) from the infidel invader (which we are not). Mike, what are you smokin'? You did not reply to my points about the inhumane treatment of women and the fact that Al Qaeda continues to use Afghanistan as a training ground for renewed attacks on those not exactly like them, attacks just like New York, London, Bali, Amman, Islamabad and Madrid, or do you consider these attacks to be lies and propaganda as well?

I maintain that our Forces are doing an honourable job in fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They are responding to the very real attacks and inhumane treatment of others. That would be Truth. They are doing what our government demands of them. That covers Duty. They are truly fighting for our freedom since a withdrawal like you advocate would see increased radical Islamicization throughout the civilized world. That would be the Valour. Mike, God bless our democracy and our ability to think as each one wants. It is our Forces in concert with our allies that allow that to happen.



4. Canada's Afghan 'Crusade' and its Deceptions: Letter to an RMC Classmate

Chris Ford, Class of 70 Class Secretary December 13, 2008

Dear Chris,

Here’s the full reply to Peter Ludorf that I promised. I’d be grateful if you could kindly circulate it to our classmates.

For the sake of anyone who’s only now taking notice of our conversation, here’s the back-story. On November 19th, the Guelph Mercury published a letter I had sent them remembering the military service of members of my family, and condemning Canada’s involvement in the occupation of Afghanistan. My letter was noticed by Bill Oliver, editor of the RMC Club’s online newsletter, who republished it in eVeritas on November 24th. Peter Ludorf read it there, was “shocked and depressed” by it, and wrote to me in rather harsh terms. He wrote as well as to Chris, asking him to circulate my Guelph Mercury letter and his reply to the Class of 70. I replied briefly to Peter’s first message, promising a fuller response later. I’m still very much tied up with end-of-the-academic-term work, but don’t want to keep him waiting any longer.

Best wishes, 
Michael Keefer


Dear Peter,

Please forgive my delay in responding in detail to your messages: the end of the teaching semester is a busy time of year for academics.

In my brief reply to your first message, I noted that the first word of the RMC motto directs us to a shared commitment to Truth—which I suggested might help to move us beyond overheated rhetoric and toward a lucid consideration of what’s at stake. Let’s see then if we can sort out truth from propaganda, disinformation and outright falsehood in the case of the occupation of Afghanistan.

You believe that what you call our Afghan “crusade” (a term the people of that country, whatever their politics, are unlikely to appreciate) is legal, necessary, and defensive in purpose; and you think my comments dishonour “[my] family’s honourable military tradition,” and are “an insult to those [Canadians] who have fallen” and “to those who continue the fight.”

I believe you are wrong on all the major issues of fact out of which these judgments arise. And as I said in my previous brief response, “I do not think there is anything honourable about sending young Canadian men and women off to war on false pretences. The real insult to their courage, their sacrifices, and their suffering comes from the politicians and propagandists who have lied to them.”

Let’s consider first why the United States overthrew the Taliban regime in the fall of 2001. The purported reason is that the Taliban were harbouring Osama bin Laden, who organized the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The Taliban were indeed harbouring Bin Laden, who had effectively declared war upon the United States. We can agree that the Taliban regime was loathsome, and that Bin Laden is (or was) a terrorist. But did Bin Laden’s minions carry out the atrocities of 9/11?

As you guessed in your second missive, I’m among those who believe 9/11 was an “inside job.” But before you jeer or scoff about “conspiracy theorists,” I’d suggest you take a look at the website Patriots Question 9/11, where you’ll discover that scepticism about the official story of 9/11 has been publicly voiced by a significant number of senior US military officers, military research scientists and intelligence officers, as well as distinguished academics in many disciplines, and more than six hundred architects and engineers.

Check out the people listed there, and see if you think they’re all fools. They include Raymond McGovern, former Chairman of National Intelligence Estimates, CIA; Lt. Col. Shelton Lankford, USMC, a former fighter pilot with over 300 combat missions; David L. Griscom, PhD, a distinguished research physicist with decades of service at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington; Paul Craig Roberts, PhD, former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury, Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal, and William E. Simon Chair of Political Economy at Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies; Capt. Russ Wittenberg, a pilot with over 30,000 hours flying time, including over 100 combat missions and 35 years as a commercial pilot; and Lt. Col. Robert Bowman, PhD, another former fighter pilot with over 100 missions, and Director of Advanced Space Programs Development under Presidents Ford and Carter. (I had the honour of sharing a platform with Bowman at an event in Toronto this past July. Should you be interested, a video of our lectures is available on the internet; a documentary film of a discussion we had together on the same day, The Fighter Pilot & the Professor: A Conversation About 9/11 [Snowshoe Films, August 2008], is available on DVD.)

You might also want to check out some of the books the people listed on the Patriots Question 9/11 website refer to in their statements and writings. They include:

Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, The War on Freedom: How and Why America was Attacked, September 11, 2001 (Tree of Life Publications, 2002). 
----, Behind the War on Terror (New Society Publishers, 2003). 
----, The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation, and the Anatomy of Terrorism (Olive Branch Press, 2005). 
Michel Chossudovsky, America’s “War on Terrorism” (Global Research, 2005). 
David Ray Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor (Olive Branch Press, 2004). 
----, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (Olive Branch Press, 2005). 
----, Debunking 9/11 Debunking (Olive Branch Press, 2007). 
----, 9/11 Contradictions: An Open Letter to Congress and the Press (Olive Branch Press, 2008). 
----, The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Cover Up, and the Exposé (Olive Branch Press, 2008). 
R. T. Naylor, Satanic Purses: Money, Myth, and Misinformation in the War on Terror (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006). 
Michael C. Ruppert, Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil (New Society Publishers, 2004). 
Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11 (University of California Press, 2007). 
Paul Zarembka, ed., The Hidden History of 9/11 (Seven Stories Press, 2008). 
Barrie Zwicker, Towers of Deception: The Media Cover-Up of 9/11 (New Society Publishers, 2006).

In these books, and at websites like those of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth and Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice, a large body of evidence and of critical analysis is available. This evidence and analysis shows, I think conclusively, that if people associated with Bin Laden were in any way connected with the events of 9/11, it was as patsies.

The key elements of the events of that day were organized by the people who financed Mohammed Atta’s group (notably General Mahmoud Ahmad, head of Pakistan’s ISI, who was in Washington on 9/11 for meetings with senior US intelligence officials); by the people who effectively disabled the US air defences by means of multiple exercises scheduled for 9/11 (including air defence exercises that shifted fighter aircraft from the northeast US to Iceland and Alberta, and hijacking exercises which cluttered the screens of military air traffic controllers); and by the people who planted demolition charges in World Trade Center buildings 1, 2, and 7 (despite the obfuscatory efforts of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the evidence of demolition is irrefutable).

Whoever they may have been, these people were quite certainly not Al Qaeda operatives.

Add to this the fact that despite Colin Powell’s promise of a White Paper demonstrating Bin Laden’s guilt, the US never produced evidence of that guilt. The famous “confession video” that surfaced in November 2001 after the invasion of Afghanistan may be evidence of Bin Laden’s malice, but it contains nothing that was not already public knowledge. Perhaps that’s why, in 2006, the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ page on Bin Laden contained no mention of 9/11: a journalist who noticed this peculiar fact was told by the FBI’s Director of Investigative Publicity that this was because the agency had no hard evidence linking him to the attacks.

So what’s left of the rationale for the invasion of Afghanistan? You claim in your second message that Al Qaeda “continues to use Afghanistan as a training ground for renewed attacks on those not exactly like them,” and mention as examples the terror attacks in London, Bali, Amman, Islamabad, Madrid and Mumbai.

But the notion of a significant connection between Afghanistan and any of these atrocities is without foundation. And since you ask—yes, there are indeed problematic features to some of these attacks. Survivors of the London underground bombings reported that the explosions blew up the floors of the carriages from below (which contradicts the official story of suicide bombers with backpacks). Senior Indonesian politicians have claimed publicly that state intelligence agencies were responsible for the Bali bombing. Photographic evidence suggests that the bomb in the Amman hotel was planted in the ceiling rather than carried into the building and detonated at floor level. And the diary of one of the Madrid bombers contained the private phone number of one of Spain’s most senior anti-terrorism officials. I draw no conclusions, but don’t you think it might make sense to call for serious inquiries into such matters?

There’s another rather more convincing explanation for the US invasion of Afghanistan. It has to do with energy geopolitics. When the Taliban came to power, there were serious negotiations for a Unocal pipeline from the Caspian Basin oil and gas fields across Afghanistan and into Pakistan and thence to the Indian Ocean. After the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa and retaliatory Tomahawk strikes into Afghanistan, these talks stagnated and finally collapsed. There’s good evidence that in the summer of 2001 US diplomats threatened the Taliban that continued obstruction of the pipeline plan would result in heavy-duty bombing, and their overthrow, by October 2001 at the latest (see Chossudovsky, p. 66).

The events of 9/11 very conveniently brought US and world opinion into support for the already planned attack on Afghanistan.

Of course, the notion that energy geopolitics had anything to do with the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has been scoffed at by American and Canadian government officials. But in June 2008 the distinguished petroleum economist John Foster (whose four-decade career has included stints with British Petroleum, the World Bank, Petro-Canada, and the Inter-American Development Bank) published a monograph entitled A Pipeline Through a Troubled Land: Afghanistan, Canada, and the New Great Energy Game (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, June 19, 2008)—and suddenly it was being generally acknowledged that a $7.6-billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline was indeed going to be constructed, at American insistence, in 2010—and further, that Canadian forces in Afghanistan would be assigned responsibility for protecting the pipeline, which is to pass through the Kandahar region in which most of the Canadian army’s casualties have been suffered. (Should you care to check this out, you’ll find articles by Shawn McCarthy, “Pipeline opens new front in Afghan war,” and “Would help protect pipeline, Canada says,” in The Globe and Mail [19 and 20 June, 2008].)

Let’s talk about honour, then. How honourable is it to tell young Canadian soldiers that they’re putting life, limb and sanity at risk defending us all from attacks by terrifying Afghanistan-based terrorists—when the story of an Afghan connection to the crimes of 9/11 is a fraud, and when what we actually want them to do is to protect a pipeline?

Is it honourable to tell our soldiers, as a fall-back position, that they’re protecting the rights of Afghan women, who were being oppressed and tormented by misogynist theocrats? Yes, Taliban fanatics have done the vile things you mentioned, from denial of schooling to murderous violence against women. But misogynist theocratic fanatics in the puppet government the US put into power have done and continue to do many of the same things. (Have you forgotten Sima Samar, the Minister of Women’s Affairs, who was driven from office by death threats from fundamentalists, among them the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who charged her with blasphemy, a capital crime?)

And what about the opium trade, which the Taliban had very nearly eliminated, but which came roaring back once the war-lords and drug-lords of the Northern Alliance were in power?

And democracy? It’s a cruel mockery of the word to claim that the puppet government of Hamid Karzai and his associates has anything to do with democracy. In the Wolesi Jirga (Parliamentary) elections of 2005, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) identified debilitating technical problems, and observed widespread intimidation, vote rigging, electoral fraud, and miscounting of ballots. (If you care to find out about these things, one starting place would be Press for Conversion, Issue 59 [September 2006], which reprints a large number of articles from the mainstream and alternative press on the subject of “The New Face of Terror in Afghanistan: How so-called 'Democracy' Empowered our Allies, the Fundamentalists, Warlords, and Drug Barons.” The website is

Is it honourable to litter someone else’s country with depleted uranium? Isn’t that what happens when our troops, or those of other NATO detachments, are attacked by Taliban insurgents, and call in US air support? Setting aside the criminality of exposing civilian populations to this horrible and permanent toxicity, do we have no concern about its effects on our young soldiers? (Do you want details? Check out Michael Clarke, “Doing the Wrong Thing in Afghanistan: Depleted Uranium: The Definitive Moral Paradox,” [29 August 2006],

Is it honourable, finally, to have our troops handing over prisoners they’ve taken to Afghan authorities which our government knew and knows has been subjecting them to torture and to summary execution? That is, unambiguously, a war crime. (Our government very certainly did know: see Paul Koring, “What Ottawa doesn’t want you to know: Government was told detainees faced ‘extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial’,” The Globe and Mail (25 April 2007), “If this report is accurate,” University of British Columbia law professor Michael Byers declared, “Canadians have engaged in war crimes, not only individually but also as a matter of policy.”

Even if there weren’t incriminating evidence that senior figures in the Canadian government had been informed of what was being done to these prisoners by the puppet government’s police, it would still be a violation of the Geneva Conventions to hand prisoners over. We’re an “Occupying Power,” together with other NATO countries, and prisoners taken by our soldiers are therefore subject to the Geneva Conventions. As Neil Kitson—an activist who has worked hard to save the honour of our country—has written:

Articles 10 and 12 of the Third Geneva Convention make abundantly clear that prisoners taken must be cared for by the “Detaining Power,” and if transferred to a “Transferring Power,” such transferring power must be a signatory to the Geneva Conventions. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has not signed any Geneva Conventions. Furthermore, Article 10 of the Third Geneva Convention makes clear that signing agreements with local authorities when the country is ‘occupied’ is illegal. Therefore, Canada’s agreements with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan regarding prisoners are invalidated by the Geneva Convention they claim to uphold.

(Kitson, “The War of Fog: Canadian Prisoners in Afghanistan,” (7 February 2008)1

Here’s a final judgment for you, from Francis A. Boyle, a respected authority on international law:

The Bush Jr. administration’s war against Afghanistan cannot be justified on either the facts, a paucity of which has been offered, or the law, either domestic or international. Rather it is an illegal armed aggression that has created a humanitarian catastrophe for the twenty-two million people of Afghanistan and is promoting terrible regional instability.

(Boyle, Destroying World Order: U.S. Imperialism in the Middle East Before and After September 11 [Clarity Press, 2004], pp. 119-20)

That’s what I was saying—very briefly—in the Guelph Mercury letter which caused you such distress. Perhaps this longer response will only shock and distress you further. But who ever said that the truth isn’t sometimes unwelcome, and painful?

I’d like to insist that this isn’t a matter, as you seem to think, of being politically left-wing or right-wing. I very much doubt that any of the distinguished Americans whom I mentioned above as being among those listed on the Patriots Question 9/11 website would classify himself as a leftist, or even (with the possible exception of David Griscom) a liberal. Robert Bowman, the only one of that group that I’ve met, is a staunch conservative. But these are people who’ve made a thoughtful and unflinching assessment of the evidence, and have then had the courage to stand up in public and say aloud what they believe to be the truth.

That is behaviour that I respect, and honour, and admire. I hope that with time, and study of the evidence, you may come to share my opinion of it.

Best wishes,

8430 Michael Keefer
Professor, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph


5. Coda: A belated eVeritas comment on “We mustn't participate in 'criminal follies'” (and my response)

16142 J.J. Smith (July 7, 2010):  As a lawyer and law academic I appreciate Professor Keefer's well reasoned opinion piece. But his conclusion that the 2001 invasion and continuing occupation under the aegis of a NATO mission [are illegal] is, regrettably, incorrect. Chapter 7 of the UN Charter applies here to make the use of Security Council sanctioned force entirely legal. And, for greater effect, NATO is the invitee of a democratically elected government, whatever its present frailties may be. The use of force in generally proportionate ways and the presence of foreign armed force in Afghanistan is, to the contrary, entirely legal and manifestly correct under the new world order put in place in 1945. Better, perhaps, to address continuing illegal occupations that threaten the arrangement of sovereign nation-states, including the cases of Palestine and Western Sahara, to name two in which CF personnel have served under UN mandates.


This comment deserves a response (not least because I addressed the question of legality only very briefly in my correspondence with Peter Ludorf).

The UN Charter permits the use of armed force by one country against another (1) in self-defense, or (2) with the authorization of the Security Council.

(1) The US invasion of Afghanistan was not an act of self-defense. By the US government's account, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were carried out by a non-state organization, Al Qaeda, and no claim was made either that any of the nineteen men identified as suicide-hijackers were Afghans or agents of the Taliban regime (fifteen of them in fact were Saudis), or that the US faced any imminent threat of attack by Afghanistan. The Taliban was indeed sheltering Osama bin Laden, but offered to send him to a third country for trial, asking only for what would amount to prima facie evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks—evidence that the US refused to provide. (It would have been appropriate in this regard to have recourse to the Montreal Sabotage Convention, of which Afghanistan and the US were both signatories.)

(2) The US was not authorized by the Security Council to use military force against Afghanistan. George W. Bush wanted such a resolution, but Security Council resolutions 1368 and 1373 did not authorize military action. The fact that NATO accepted the US's invocation of article 5 of the NATO treaty (thus activating the organization's collective security provisions) gives no cover of legitimacy. Chapter VII of the UN Charter thus does not apply; the US attack was illegal.

It is a mistake to claim that NATO entered Afghanistan at the invitation of an elected government: NATO forces were there before any post-Taliban government was elected (and under article 10 of the Third Geneva Convention, any ex post facto invitation by the puppet government of a country under occupation is vacuous).

The question of the legality of the ongoing occupation is more complicated. It could be claimed that an otherwise illegal occupation was legitimized by the actions of the UN Secretary-General and Security Council. On December 5, 2001 the UN produced the Bonn Agreement, which provided for the establishment of an Interim Authority on December 22, to be replaced within six months by a Transitional Authority established by an Emergency Loya Jirga convened by former king Mohammed Zaher, and, following elections held within a further eighteen months, a Constitutional Loya Jirga charged with adopting a new constitution for Afghanistan. On December 20, 2001, Security Council resolution 1383 ratified the Bonn Agreement, authorizing the establishment for six months of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF); and on October 13, 2003, Security Council resolution 1510 authorized ISAF to operate beyond the immediate region of Kabul, calling on ISAF “to continue to work in close consultation with the Afghan Transitional Authority and its successors and the Special Representative of the Secretary General as well as with the Operation Enduring Freedom.” The language of this resolution seems designed to offer retrospective legitimation to the invasion as well as to the occupation of Afghanistan.

These resolutions are evidence not that the occupation is legal, but that the Security Council acted corruptly, betraying the principles of international law in the lawless interests of the global superpower in a largely monopolar world.

Other instances of the same corruption include the Security Council's failure to condemn the illegal invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and of Iraq in 2003; its failure to condemn the no less illegal overthrow of Haitian democracy by the US, Canada, and France in 2004; and its resolutions ratifying, after the fact, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the occupation of Haiti. The notion that actions which are in themselves criminal can be whitewashed in this manner violates elementary and fundamental principles of law.

Some relevant analyses by specialists in international law:

Francis Boyle, Destroying World Order: U.S. Imperialism in the Middle East Before and After September 11th (Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press, 2004). 
Marjorie Cohn, Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law (Sausalito, CA: Podipoint Press, 2007). 
Alex Conte, Security in the 21st Century: The United Nations, Afghanistan, and Iraq (Aldershot, Hants.: Ashgate, 2005). 
Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage, and Crimes Against Humanity (London: Pluto Press, 2004). 
Myra Williamson, Terrorism, War, and International Law: The Legality of the Use of Force Against Afghanistan in 2001 (Aldershot, Hants.: Ashgate, 2009).

I agree with J.J. Smith's suggestion that we should attend to other “continuing illegal occupations” in the Western Sahara and Palestine—though we should so not instead of, but in addition to attending to the illegal occupation of Afghanistan.

A UN mission (MINURSO) has since 1991 maintained a buffer zone between the two-thirds of the Western Sahara occupied by Morocco and the remaining part administered by Frente POLISARIO, but no Canadians are currently serving in MINURSO, and it may be doubted that Canada has much leverage in the UN's rather pallid attempts to nudge Morocco towards accepting a plebiscite.

The situation with regard to Palestine is quite different. Canada has been deeply complicit in the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, providing both diplomatic and financial support to the occupation, and Canada was the first country in 2006 to join in Israel's blockade of Gaza. A shift in Canada's position—toward demanding an end to the blockade, a withdrawal of Israel's settlements in the West Bank, the removal of Israel's apartheid wall, and an end to the occupation, would be of major importance.




1  Kitson's statement here needs some correction. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan regards itself as a successor state to the Afghan government which in 1956 became a party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. (It can be added that in late 2009, nearly two years after Kitson wrote, and a year after I wrote this letter, Afghanistan acceded to the 1977 Additional Protocols I and II, which protect victims of international conflicts and civil wars.) It remains the case, however, that Article 12 of the Third Geneva Convention is categorical: “Prisoners of war may only be transferred […] to a Power which is a party to the Convention and after the Detaining Power has satisfied itself of the willingness and ability of such transferee Power to apply the Convention.” It is clear from the statements both of senior Canadian diplomats and of Amnesty International, the UN Commission on Human Rights, the US State Department, and other sources, that the Canadian government, far from having “satisfied itself” that the Afghan regime would treat prisoners properly, knew that the regime made a regular practice of torturing prisoners. For details, see my article “Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canadian War Crimes in Afghanistan,” published by the Centre for Research on Globalization (24 April 2011). Kitson's remark about Article 10 of the Third Geneva Convention is valid: Afghanistan is a country under military occupation, and agreements signed by the occupying powers with the government they set up following their overthrow of the preceding regime have no more legitimacy than agreements signed in the early 1940s between Germany and the Norwegian government of Vidkun Quisling.