The 9/11 Commission Report
The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the
W.W. Norton & Company
How did a series of
coordinated attacks take place on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon without any apparent warning
on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001? What
can be done to prevent their recurrence?
To answer these vexing questions, the US Congress
and the president created a national commission
comprising ten members. The Commission, co-chaired
by Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, reviewed
more than 2.5 million pages of documents and interviewed
more than 1,200 individuals in 10 countries.
Its findings are distilled into a 567-page long
treatise. The most important chapter of this report
may well be Chapter 12, which lays out a global
strategy for fighting “Islamist terrorism
- especially the Al Qaeda network, its affiliates
and its ideology.”
The Commission members were aware of the widely
held misperception in American public opinion that
equates Islam with terrorism. Thus, they state,
“Islam is not the enemy. It is not synonymous
with terror. Nor does Islam teach terror.”
However, this point may be too subtle to be grasped
by the American public.
The report discusses how the attacks of 9/11 took
place and goes into the nuts and bolts of how the
attackers carried out the attacks in total secrecy
and with a lethality that had never before been
witnessed on US soil.
It discusses intelligence failures at the Central
Intelligence Agency and how the Federal Bureau of
Investigation and the Immigration and Naturalization
Service failed to deny entry to the attackers. It
also discusses the inability of the US military’s
North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) to intercept
and neutralize the hijacked aircraft, since they
had prepared for a military attack from overseas.
The report contains vivid descriptions of communication
between the flight attendants and air traffic control
and describes how F-16s circled ineffectively looking
for planes that had already crashed into the World
Trade Center. While the accounting of these conversations
could have come out of a Tom Clancy novel, there
is very little that is new in this discussion. Most
of the intelligence and military failures that allowed
the surprise attacks to occur are well known by
now to even the casual newspaper reader.
The report does not provide any proof about the
people who are alleged to have carried out the attacks.
While their Muslim identities have been accepted
at face value in the US these identities are still
the subject of much dispute in the Muslim world.
Conclusive evidence on their identities would have
helped to bridge the gap in understanding between
the Muslim world and the US.
The report is remiss in not calling for any resignations
or firing of senior public officials in the Bush
administration. It says that its job was not to
assign blame. But that begs the question: if it
was not the job of the 9/11 Commission to assign
blame, then whose job was it?
Despite the volume of material that the Commission
sifted through in preparing the report, a relatively
shallow understanding of terrorism permeates the
document. There is virtually no discussion of the
influence of past US policies in promoting terrorism.
For example, the report does not discuss how the
US support for the mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan
war led to the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda,
which may well be regarded as a “blowback”
phenomenon. There is little discussion of how the
US support of despotic regimes in the Muslim world
has contributed to rising anti-Americanism there.
The report does not comment on how much of the Muslim
world views the US as being hypocritical in its
support for democracy, when it has long supported
dictators such as the Shah of Iran, Suharto and
The report seems to subscribe to the neo-conservative
philosophy that there is a finite pool of terrorists
that can be attacked and killed. It does not recognize
that the failure to restrain Israel from oppressing
the Palestinians generates much anti-Americanism
in the Muslim world. Nor does it recognize that
the continued pursuit of large-scale military action
in Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq,
with attendant civilian casualties and humiliation
of entire nations, adds to the political cachet
of the terrorists.
Pakistan figures prominently in Chapter 12, which
talks about endemic poverty, rampant corruption
and lack of education as sources of terrorist recruitment.
It also briefly mentions the lack of progress in
democracy as being an additional factor.
The report says almost all the 9/11 attackers traveled
the north-south nexus of Kandahar-Quetta-Karachi.
It says that Balochistan and Karachi remain centers
of Islamist extremism and asserts, “Within
Pakistan’s borders are 150 million Muslims,
scores of Al Qaeda terrorists, many Taliban fighters,
and - perhaps - Osama bin Laden.” Unfortunately,
many observers in the western media now think of
Pakistan a nation of 150 million Muslim terrorists.
The report calls on the US to continue supporting
the Musharraf government, since it is pursuing “enlightened
moderation” despite the two attacks on General
Musharraf’s life. It says that the Musharraf
government “represents the best hope for stability
in Pakistan and Afghanistan”, and the US should
support it as “long as Pakistan’s leaders
remain willing to make difficult choices of their
The report fails to note that military leaders have
regularly seized power through unconstitutional
means in Pakistan, or to note that they have, in
every instance, been successful in winning the support
of the US. This has tarnished American credibility
in the past. In the present, super-heated environment,
it is being used by the terrorists to portray the
military leaders as American stooges. Thus, America
is losing its support not only among the conservative
elements in Pakistani society but also among its
secular, liberal elements. While being an asset
for the US in the short term by agreeing to fight
the terrorists militarily, the military leaders
remain a long-term liability by not being able to
contain the cultural, social, and political forces
that lead to terrorism.
- Dr Ahmad Faruqui