A Recommendation

The following is reprinted with permission from the new book Unanswered Questions: What the September Eleventh Families Asked and the 9/11 Commission Ignored, by Ray McGinnis. It appears as the book’s Forward, on pages v through viii, just before the author’s Introduction. — MCM


By John B. Cobb, Jr.

September Eleventh, for many people, is history. But not so for those who lost loved ones on that fateful day. Each September Eleventh, 9/11 family members stand at podiums and read the names of loved ones who died in the attacks. Yet few of us are aware that 9/11 families pressed for an independent investigations into the attacks against the objections of the Bush White House. Few are aware 9/11 families presented hundreds of questions to the 9/11 Commission to aid the investigation.

Like many people recovering from tragedy, they want closure. That closure would require at least a credible account of what happened. Sadly, their questions have largely not been answered. With all its resources for research and investigation, the American government designated $3 million, and eventually spent only $14 million, to, as President Bush stated, “uncover every detail and learn every lesson of September the Eleventh.” In comparison, over $80 million was spent in the 1990s investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton regarding the death of deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster, the Whitewater scandal, and the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. Principally, the 9/11 Commission blamed the attacks on “a failure of imagination.” Either the government does not know much about what happened, or it declines to tell.

Some people will object to this characterization, saying that the government has provided an account: The 9/11 Commission Report. Granted. But it contains so many inconsistencies and is often so vague that those with serious questions remain frustrated and upset. Indeed, what they are told only raises new questions. Too often, 9/11 families are told that the information they seek is classified, even when it is hard to believe that there are good reasons for withholding it.

Ray McGinnis has written a book that takes the concerns of those whose loved ones died in that awful atrocity with utmost seriousness. He does what he can, starting with some of the questions the 9/11 families asked the Commission to investigate, and searches for answers. Since the 9/11 families are not the only people who are curious about these matters, the answers he offers in this book are of much broader interest.

Obviously, there are many questions that he cannot answer, but what is surprising is how much reliable information he has found. The government and the press have not done a good job of keeping the mourners informed—or the general public. Simply to learn what can be known may help toward at least a partial closure.

For others, the primary focus of concern is less a matter of closure and more to prevent a repeat. No one can question that our vaunted security system failed utterly to protect us on that infamous day. Surprisingly, none of those who were actors in this debacle have been reprimanded. They have kept their jobs, and even been promoted. Why is this? Does it mean that human beings had no responsibility for the failure? Does the fault lie entirely in the system?

In that case, all the more, we citizens need to be assured that the system has been radically improved. All of us want this assurance. But when we inquire, we are told that nothing is to be gained by blaming people.

Citizen inquiry into the government’s account is characterized as speculation, even as our government instructs us: “If you see something, say something.” Or we are confronted with silence, sometimes justified as the protection of secrets.

Perhaps the many branches of government involved in this failure have engaged in a thorough self-examination and have adjusted their practices and policies to ensure that they will not fail again. Perhaps the failure of interdepartmental communications has also been fully examined. But if so, we need more than casual assurance that we have no need to worry. We received that verbal assurance before the 9/11 event.

If they would tell us where the system broke down, we would be assured that they knew what to fix. Surely, they could tell us a bit about this without risking the nation’s security. Vague assurances of the kind we have received—basically just asking us to trust them—provide no closure for those who most deeply care.

The live proceedings of the Watergate conspiracy and the Iran-Contra Affair were broadcast daily, In contrast, the 9/11 Commission proceedings only received mainstream coverage with the appearances of Richard A. Clarke and Condoleezza Rice. Otherwise, the proceedings of the 9/11 Commission were mostly a footenote buried beneath the headlines.

After the 9/11 Commission concluded, the chairman, Thomas Kean, and vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, said it was “set up to fail.” The Los Angeles Times called Kean and Hamilton’s book, Without Precedent, “a devastating account of how the Bush administration blocked the 9/11 Commission at virtually every step.”

McGinnis’ book is inherently critical of our government. He agrees that the needs of whose whose questions he is writing about have not been taken seriously. He tells the story of their repeated frustrations and disappointments

Speaking simply for myself, I say that people who go to great lengths to keep others ignorant appear to have something to hide. I feel certain that those who have experienced refusal to real information for so long must sometimes share this suspicion.

But McGinnis notes that the questioners are a varied group. There is no consensus among them. He leaves the question of why things have happened as they have for readers to decide for themselves. He just tells us what happened.

May that information bring some closure to those who need it! In any case, all who read Unanswered Questions: What the September Eleventh Families Asked and the 9/11 Commission Ignored will be reliably and richly informed. As a bonus they will find it quite wonderfully readable.


John B. Cobb, Jr. is an American theologian, philosopher, and environmentalist who has authored more than 50 books. Three months after the release of The 9/11 Commission Report in July 2004, he was one of 147 original signers of a petition asking for a deeper investigation into the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.The October 2004 statement, along with the names of the signers, is HERE.

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