Citizens cannot trust news organizations if those organizations collaborate with government. You cannot collaborate in the production of propaganda without adopting the norms of the institutions that produce it. We know those institutions – institutions of government – are not trustworthy. Their record of deceit, secrecy, illegality, and destructive self-protection is long and well documented. Sycophantic journalists and editors, who ought to be independent and who ought to know better, have become subordinate proxies in a propaganda machine. I am not talking about individual journalists. I am taling about the profession of journalism, and about the profession’s public treatment of government’s activities.

Large media organizations, the ones that have access to sources of information inside government, are no longer fit to extract or elucidate true information about government’s projects or behavior. That’s especially true for projects and behavior the feds want to keep secret. Consequently, these organizations are unfit to investigate the truth about what happened on 9/11, a complex task that requires complete independence for the investigators.

Critics and skeptics, citizens who care about truth in public life have argued in good faith for a new investigation into the 9/11 attacks. Victims’ families and others say the 9/11 Commission report does not explain why the North Tower, the South Tower, or World Trade Center 7 fell. It does not explain why nearly three thousand people died in the Twin Towers. Gravity and structural weakness cannot make one hundred ten story skyscrapers do what we saw those two buildings do, no matter how many planes might hit them, or how many fires might burn. Gravity and office fires would not destroy World Trade Center 7 – a forty-seven story, steel-framed skyscraper – in a free-fall, vertical collapse.

If we accept the Commission’s explanation for why these three buildings fell, we would not see what we see in the video evidence. The so-called zipper effect – the explanation offered for the successive, rapid collapse of floor upon floor in the Twin Towers – would not result in the explosive force we witness in the video record. A total collapse due to gravity, if that were even possible, would look far different. The evidence we do have on film, which is consistent with many other pieces of information, demonstrates that catastrophic collapse due to gravity and structural weakness did not destroy the towers. Something else did. Though the destructive technique used to bring down World Trade Center 7 was different from the one used to bring down the towers, the same argument holds for the third building. Something other than gravity and structural weakness caused World Trade Center 7 to collapse.

Institutional difficulties

If disagreements exist about what happened on 9/11, critics argue, we need a new investigation to account for the evidence we have, and to explain puzzles that remain. Who would conduct a new investigation? Advocates for 9/11 truth argue that Congress, the press, or some combination of the two should launch a new inquiry. These two institutions may be somewhat more believable than the executive branch’s 9/11 Commission, but honestly, do you find them good candidates for the job? If legislators or journalists were to undertake the project, why do we think we would have any more confidence in their conclusions than we have in the Commission’s?

To start, let’s take a closer look at Congress. Several advocates for a new investigation suggest that only Congress would command the resources required for a thorough inquiry. No private body would have enough money to hire the people required for the effort, nor would private investigators have access to the information they needed. Indeed Congress could throw ten, twenty million dollars at an investigation like this one. For researchers, writers, and investigators, Congress would want to buy nothing but the best. I’m doubtful whether anyone – skeptics or otherwise – would regard the money well spent.

Most telling, Congress is not institutionally capable of a complicated, controversial, or independent investigation now. It cannot accomplish routine tasks, like voting on a budget, or on nominees for offices in the executive branch. It cannot accomplish tasks of any complexity at all, or tasks that require even a little cooperation between parties. Members of both parties don’t trust each other, nor do legislators trust the president or anyone else from the executive branch. That is true no matter which party controls the House of Representatives, which party controls the Senate, or which party holds the White House.

Of course, you would want a congressional committee to challenge the executive branch in an investigation like this one, but the two branches do need to communicate. The executive branch holds information a congressional committee would need. We know from many precedents that the executive would never give that information up. The White House distrusts Congress even more than Congress distrusts the White House. In a situation like this one, you want to find a way to uncover the truth about crimes without bringing such poorly functioning institutional relationships into play.

The call for a new, independent investigation by Congress or the media dates from the Watergate days, and, twelve years later, from the Iran-Contra scandal. We remember both as cases of executive branch malfeasance, where investigations by congressional committees and the press served to reveal information that would not otherwise have come to light. That was another world. Forty years have passed since the Watergate hearings and associated press reports. During those four decades, power has shifted decisively in the direction of the executive branch. Congress and the press are demoralized. They do not serve as independent power centers, as they did in the 1970s. They would not be able to mount an investigation that anyone would recognize as independent, or even credible.

Independent research

That means independent researchers have to do the job: patiently, collaboratively, and without full access to relevant information. A model for this kind of research already exists. Independent researchers stayed with the Kennedy case to produce a far better picture of what happened on November 22, 1963 than we had when the Warren Commission published its report. They pieced together enough information to demonstrate that government’s initial report about Kennedy’s death was incomplete and incorrect.

The same process of discovery will occur with 9/11 research. It is already well underway. Independent researchers cannot rely on institutions that supposedly have more credibility, or more capacity for credible work, than the researchers do. Yes, journalists and legislators speak of independent researchers as conspiracy theorists, which actually means conspiracy nuts. So what? Investigators must rely on the persuasive power of actual evidence, not invite more dishonesty from a government investigative body that outlines its conclusions before it goes to work. That is what the 9/11 Commission did before it commenced preparation of its so-called investigative report.

Why would we expect a new government investigation to reach conclusions substantially different from the first one? We shouldn’t. Would conclusions from a congressional investigation differ substantively from the executive branch’s conclusions? They might. You could not count on it, though. To succeed, independent researchers must emulate the success of researchers who revealed the truth about Kennedy’s assassination. Private researchers act independently in that they do not depend on goverment for resources, nor can they depend on information government holds secret. They can only assist each other, work patiently, and move incrementally toward the truth.

Public trials

Government’s capacity to conceal and destroy so much critical evidence presents an insuperable drag on independent research. One possibility exists to reveal hidden information via processes and institutions that people recognize: bring the prisoners charged with 9/11 crimes to trial. Justice requires it, and the time is right. Guantanamo prisoners are engaged in a hunger strike to force the issue. Force feeding of prisoners amounts to torture, and the government knows it. It shows its insecurity on this matter every time it defends force feeding as “a humane way to protect the safety of the detainee.” It wants the issue to go away, and it won’t.

Trials for prisoners captured after 9/11 have become entangled with issues of venue. If not a trial in New York City, then where? If not a trial before a military commission, then what court? These issues become important to lawyers, but they also become artificial stumbling blocks. Certainly a government determined to bring enemies to justice would have found a way to resolve procedural questions by now, if it wanted to. The reason it has not done so concerns what would happen in a real trial: secrets would get out.

Genuine trials, wherever they are held, would observe rules of evidence and procedure that are incompatible with keeping secrets. The entire purpose of a trial is to ascertain the truth about whether a defendant is guilty or innocent of specific charges. You cannot conduct a trial with a guarantee that the truth will stay hidden. Yet the federal government, by its behavior after 9/11, showed that the truth is not something it actually cares to pursue. It wanted to pay off the victims’ families and be done with it. Everyone who received money from the 9/11 victims’ fund had to sign away the right to bring a case related to the crime to court. From September 12 onward, the government has acted to prevent any trials, whether suits brought in New York, or criminal prosecutions before military commissions in Guantanamo.

Nonetheless, with the hunger strikes and force feeding, Guantanamo’s reputation for mistreatment of prisoners, the president’s promise to close the prison, along with the unique pressure people can exert via social media, the time may be good for the 9/11 truth movement to back public trials. The call for a new, independent investigation begins to sound empty if everyone knows the chances of convening such an investigation are so small. The chances for truthful, public trials of 9/11 prisoners may not be much higher, but circumstances have gathered to make these proceedings a little more likely than they were a year ago.

Everyone who wants to know the truth about what happened on 9/11 – which is to say, everyone who does not already know it — ought to consider criminal proceedings a likely path to more knowledge than we have now. Even if partial knowledge yields less understanding than the full truth, but it is valuable nevertheless. Each advance is worth it. No matter how imperfect our understanding of the truth, even a small amount of true knowledge is superior to false belief. No matter how imperfect the trials of Guantanamo prisoners as a method to uncover the truth about 9/11, they would be worth it. At the moment, they might be the best, most realistic possibility.

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