9/11: seeing and make-believing
A French revisionist's book about the September 11 terror attacks has met with media hype and subsequent runaway sales in France. Its most controversial claim is that no plane ever crashed on the Pentagon. Marc Burleigh reports.
Everybody has seen the televised images of hijacked planes crashing into the World Trade Centre on September 11. But what about the attack the same day on the Pentagon?
The lack of dramatic pictures, few eyewitness accounts, little aircraft debris and blanket of secrecy thrown over the sensitive site of the crash have left big blurry spots in the public consciousness about what happened exactly to the US Defence Department - spots that conspiracy theorists have leaped into with glee.
One of the most determined of those theorists is Thierry Meyssan, a left-wing French radical who heads up what he calls "an information agency", called the Reseau Voltaire.
He has written a book, The Dreadful Imposture, filled with claims about the Pentagon attack, other events on September 11, and the consequent US-led global "war on terror" that make the speculation about JFK's assassination seem pale by comparison.
Drawing inferences from the very few pieces of aircraft wreckage at the Pentagon crash site and the relatively small hole in the building's side, Meyssan says that the blackened pit was in fact caused by a bomb set "by a group of people who had authorised access to the Pentagon" and who were really trying to destroy a new Navy Command Centre.
A few steps of questionable logic later, he alleges that the World Trade Centre housed a top-secret CIA office, that the ensuing US military campaign was the fruit of a plan by the US political establishment to boost defence activities and spending, and - most implausible of all - that Osama bin Laden was a CIA agent who helped channel US public anger "towards foreign scapegoats".
But while many might easily dismiss the claims as crackpot provocation, they have been widely read on the Internet.
A website run by Meyssan's son, Raphael, (www.asile.org) posted pictures of the Pentagon on September 11 with questions that push the reader to conclude that, at best, the facts do not fit the official version of events, or, at worst, that the US government actively lied to its public and the world.
The reactions in online chatrooms and boards have ranged from fury to agreement, while sites dedicated to busting popular misapprehensions and urban myths have tackled the allegations one by one - and found them lacking.
Reputed US media such as the Washington Post newspaper and CNN have also made available eyewitness accounts and graphics of how the hijacked plane carrying 50 passengers, six crew and three or four hijackers would have crashed into the Pentagon.