Did George W. Bush Engineer the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks? An Interview with David Ray Griffin

By John W. Whitehead
February 06, 2007

When I came to the conclusion that the Bush-Cheney administration had orchestrated 9/11 in order to promote this empire under the pretext of the so-called war on terror, I decided that I needed to say so by means of summarizing the evidence for this conclusion.—David Ray Griffin

David Ray Griffin is Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Theology, Emeritus, at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, where he remains a co-director of the Center for Process Studies. The author and editor of more than 30 books and 175 essays, he also served for 17 years as the editor of the SUNY Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought.

He is one of 60 theologians worldwide included in the most recent edition of the Handbook of Christian Theologians. His books—which have been primarily in the philosophy of religion, theology, and philosophy of science—include God, Power, and Evil: A Process Theodicy (1976), Process Theology: An Introductory Exploration (with John Cobb, 1976); Physics and the Ultimate Significance of Time (ed., 1986); The Reenchantment of Science (ed., 1988); God and Religion in the Postmodern World (1989); Evil Revisited: Responses and Reconsiderations (1991); Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality: A Postmodern Exploration (1997); Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the Mind-Body Problem (1998); Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts (2000), Reenchantment without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion (2001); Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith (2004); Deep Religious Pluralism (ed., 2005); and Whitehead’s Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy: An Argument for Its Contemporary Relevance (March  2007).

He has also put out six books about 9/11 and American imperialism: The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 (2004); The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (2005); Christian Faith and the Truth about 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action (2006); 9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out (2006, co-edited with Peter Dale Scott); The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God (2006, co-authored with John B. Cobb, Jr., Richard Falk, and Catherine Keller); and Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory (March 2007).

His essays and interviews about 9/11 have appeared in such disparate publications as Conversations in Religion and Theology, Global Outlook, LA Times Magazine and Zion’s Herald. He has also been featured on “The Richard & Judy Show” (London), C-Span, ABC News Radio, and about 200 radio talk-shows.

Dr. Griffin has been a leading proponent of the concept that the United States government orchestrated the events of 9/11. He took time out of his busy schedule to discuss his book The Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11 (Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).

John Whitehead: You write in your book: “Still another reason for me, as a Christian theologian, to speak out is that Christianity began as an anti-imperial movement; there can be no greater distortion of the original Christian message than the use of Christianity to support imperialism.” Could you elaborate on that? Is Christianity being used to support imperialism?

David Ray Griffin: There is a growing consensus that the gospel Jesus was preaching was an anti-imperial gospel. There is no doubt that Jesus was crucified and that crucifixion was a Roman form of execution. Nobody else could have done that. This was a form of execution used especially for what Rome considered political criminals; that is, people who had opposed the Empire. If you study the authentic sayings of Jesus, they show time and time again a critique of the Roman Empire and of the support given to the Roman Empire by the Temple establishment of the time. There is no doubt about the Temple episode. Whatever happened there was a precipitating event leading up to the crucifixion.

JW: What do you mean by the Temple episode?

DRG: It is what we call turning the tables over and chasing the money changers out of the Temple. Many had been crucified for denying that Jews should pay the tribute to Rome, and clearly that was a very controversial issue. When Jesus said “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s,” that was a clever way of avoiding the trap and yet still saying not to pay the tribute because nothing is Caesar’s. Everything is God’s. 

JW: So are you saying that Jesus was a tax protester?

DRG: He certainly was in terms of the terrible tax that was imposed on the Jews, and particularly the poor. They were being driven systematically into bankruptcy. They were losing their farms and then having to work as slaves on great estates.

JW: A tribute tax was imposed by the Roman Empire?

DRG: It was a double tax, and it was quite onerous. You have to understand what the message of Jesus was really about. Take, for instance, the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus says, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This was an issue because many of the people did not have enough to eat. Thus, Jesus thought that was important enough to put in this very short prayer. So unless you understand the economic issues surrounding the gospel Jesus preached, in that it was simultaneously a religious, political and economic gospel, you really don’t understand what he was all about. 

JW: But now we have the American Empire.

DRG: Yes, and the American Empire in many ways duplicates the Roman Empire. Many have argued that the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, shouldn’t have been in the Bible because of its rather violent imagery.  But it signals as clearly as possible what many of the early Christians thought about the Roman Empire. In other words, it was the incarnation of demonic power. The Roman Empire is known as the Beast, and the Beast was the symbol for Satan. However literally they thought of a satanic figure, there is no doubt they thought that the Roman Empire was demonic. Today, more and more people are saying that America is the new Rome. Some are saying this critically and others with a great sense of pride that we are as powerful, relative to our world, as Rome was relative to its world. In fact, many believe that we are more powerful than Rome because Rome, of course, dominated only a small portion of the planet. However, today’s right-wing ideologues—the neo-cons and fellow travelers—believe America is going to be the first all-inclusive empire in history. It will be the first empire without borders.

JW: Technology has greatly enhanced the power to reach around and dominate the world.

DRG: That is right. Our communications systems, our air and sea power and now the idea of having weapons in space, this was a central motive the Bush Administration made clear in its document promulgated by the neo-cons. This was the Project for the New American Century in September of 2000 on rebuilding America’s defenses, which spoke to this. Rebuilding partly meant, and most centrally meant, placing weapons in space, which is enormously expensive. It takes trillions of dollars to get a space weapon system operational. Thus, we are talking about an empire that can reach to any part of the globe within seconds. There are documents in which this is talked about with great bravado. 

JW: Do you believe the American Empire is as satanic as the Roman Empire?

DRG: Yes. I described some dimensions of this in my book. More people are awakening to the reality of the evil of the American Empire because of what has happened in Iraq. We had a previous awakening during the Vietnam War, and we refer to that as the ‘60s. Since the ‘60s, there has been a counter-movement against criticism of imperialism, which makes us willing to be more aggressively imperialistic. That began most triumphantly after the Soviet Union dissolved. We could now say that we’ve gone from a bipolar or dipolar world to a unipolar world. What is needed is the support of the American people to use military power to dominate the world in a way that we never had before. But as I show in my book, the growth of the Empire is a very long story that goes back to the 18th century, particularly the latter part of the 19th century. It goes as far back as the taking over of Cuba, the Philippines and Hawaii. That is when the American government began taking the Empire beyond the continent. So we have had a period of almost uninterrupted extension of the Empire for the past two centuries. And in many cases, this has involved great evils economically, militarily and in terms of human rights violations. Therefore, we didn’t suddenly become an evil Empire under the reign of Bush and Cheney, but it did become exponentially worse under them. It became more explicitly militaristic. But, to a great extent, this was simply a revelation of practices that we have been carrying on for a long time.

JW: The theory of your book seems to be that a contrived 9/11 was a way to expand the Empire perhaps faster. As you write: “The main alternative theory, which is developed in this book, is that 9/11 was a ‘false-flag’ attack, orchestrated by forces within the U.S. government who made it appear to be the work of Arab Muslims.” What is a false flag attack?

DRG: Historically, when the main form of warfare was with ships, they would raise the flag of their enemy. Sometimes they would use this to get close enough to an enemy ship to shoot it out of the water. Other times, the false flag ship would carry out raids in which the enemy would be blamed. This would then be used as a pretext to launch an all-out war against the enemy. Of course, the enemy was defined as someone whose country or possessions you wanted to take control of. Empires have done this for thousands of years. The United States has done false flag attacks in many cases. The 1898 incident involving the USS Maine is a good example. This ship was put in the harbor in Havana, Cuba, uninvited by anyone, and was then mysteriously blown up. It is still a mystery as to what really happened. But it is not a mystery that it was not the Spanish who blew it up. They had no motivation. They did not want us to come into the war. The last thing they would have wanted was to give us a pretext for coming into the war.

JW: So a false flag operation is a way to manipulate the American public to allow those in power to basically do what they want to do. 

DRG: Other governments have done the same. For example, when Hitler was ready to attack Poland, the Nazis had German soldiers dressed up as Polish soldiers. They snuck over the border and then came back and attacked German outposts along the German border in 21 different places. The next day, after Hitler had launched his attack into Poland, he told the German people and the German Parliament that they had attacked Poland as a defensive reaction to Poland’s attack on Germany. 

JW: You intimate that Osama bin Laden was not the mastermind behind 9/11. In fact, in your book you write: “First, in June 2001, when OBL was already America’s “most wanted” criminal, he reportedly spent two weeks in the American Hospital in Dubai, where he was visited by the local CIA agent.”

DRG: Yes, bin Laden was treated by an American doctor. By the summer of 2001, he was supposedly the most wanted terrorist by the American government. We had an easy chance to capture him, and we obviously didn’t do it.

JW: What is your theory on bin Laden? 

DRG: I don’t really have a theory. People call us conspiracy theorists. However, what we are really doing is challenging the government conspiracy theory. In polite company, one isn’t supposed to call the government’s theory a conspiracy theory because we are all taught that conspiracy theories are bad things and only idiots believe conspiracy theories. But if you look in the dictionary, you will find that a conspiracy occurs when two or more people conspire in secret to do something illegal, wicked or immoral. And the official theory about 9/11 is that the attacks were brought on because Osama bin Laden and various members of Al Qaeda conspired in secret to orchestrate these attacks. Thus, my work shows the reasons that the government’s conspiracy theory doesn’t stand up once you investigate the facts. I have a large number of facts about Osama bin Laden that question the idea that he was behind the attacks. If you go on the FBI’s Most Wanted page—that is, their page of most-wanted terrorists—and look under Osama bin Laden, you will find that they don’t mention him as wanted for 9/11. He is wanted for various other terrorist attacks, but there is no mention of 9/11. The official FBI reason for this is there is no hard evidence that Osama bin Laden was involved in 9/11.

JW: You wrote: “[T]here is no doubt that a [large] plane did not hit the Pentagon.  There is no hole big enough to swallow a 757…. There was no tail, no wings; no damage consistent with a B-757 crash.” What, in your opinion, hit the Pentagon?

DRG: I don’t have a theory about what exactly happened. What I do present is an enormous amount of evidence that the official story is false.

JW: Could a missile have been used to attack the Pentagon?

DRG: There are various possibilities. The evidence is quite contradictory once you get into it. Thus, it is very difficult to develop an alternative theory that seems to fit all the facts. I am not saying it is impossible. I am just saying it is difficult and highly debated. But what is not debated among people who differ as to what actually happened is that the official story—that Hani Hanjour flew Flight 77 into the Pentagon—simply cannot be true. For one thing, Hani Hanjour, by all evidence—and I mean we are talking about dozens of different reports—could hardly fly a tiny Cessna or a Piper Cub. People wouldn’t even go up with him a second time, saying he couldn’t fly. Thus, the idea that he got into a Boeing 757, flew it to Washington and then took it on a path that would be impossible for even a very accomplished pilot is completely unbelievable. According to radar, the plane that hit or at least came close to the Pentagon took an amazing 333 degree downward spiral and went down 8,000 feet in just a few minutes. Thus, we know the official story is false.

JW: You analyze the oral history of the Twin Towers attacks, writing: “Some eyewitnesses reported hearing another explosion just before the structure crumbled.  Police said that it looked almost like a ‘planned implosion.’… Somewhat more explosions were reported by firefighter Thomas Turilli, who said, referring to the South Tower, that ‘it almost sounded like bombs going off, like boom, boom, boom, like seven or eight.’” Is your argument that it was a planned implosion of the building?

DRG: That’s right. The evidence for this is probably the strongest we have on 9/11 for the falsity of the official government version of 9/11. There is so much evidence that the collapse of the Towers and also Building 7 simply could not have happened according to the official story—which is that with the Towers, it was the combined impact of the airplanes, plus the fires that brought down the buildings. Supposedly with Building 7, it was just the fires, plus whatever damage was done by the debris falling from the North Tower. One problem is that there has never been a steel-framed, high-rise building collapse—totally collapse—into a small pile of rubble. Here we are talking about 110 stories and the Twin Towers collapsing into a pile of rubble. Each one had enormous columns of steel that went all the way from the sub-basement to the top. Somehow those disintegrated into pieces small enough to make a pile no more than seven stories high.

JW: Are you saying that the facts look as if it was an inside job by the U.S. government?

DRG: Yes. Part of that evidence is that we have literally dozens of people on the scene reporting multiple explosions in the Towers. There is also some testimony from Building 7, but particularly from the Towers. I only cited about 40 of these testimonies. Another fellow did a more complete study and found that just from the fire department alone, there were 118 witnesses to explosions.

JW: Thus, detonations were set into the buildings to make them collapse?

DRG: That’s right. If you look at the collapses of the Towers, you see that they came down at virtually free-fall speed. That means all that steel and concrete in the lower floors—the floors lower than the impacts of the airplane—were offering no resistance whatsoever to the upper floors coming down. By the laws of physics, that is completely impossible. So if the official story is true, these Al-Qaeda young Muslim terrorists not only were brilliant enough to defeat the most powerful sophisticated military defense system in  history, they were also clever enough to defeat several laws of physics.

JW: Are you accusing the Bush Administration of murder and treason?

DRG: Of course. It seems absolutely clear. Thus, we are asking for a genuine investigation. The evidence that 9/11 was an inside job is simply overwhelming. The only thing we have to do is get people to actually look at the evidence because when people look at the evidence, they invariably are convinced. In fact, a former CIA analyst named Bill Christison recently wrote a letter to his friends and published an article. He said, “You know, after spending 5 years avoiding looking at 9/11, I finally did it and I see that it just had to be an inside job.” 

JW: Why then, if there is all this evidence, don’t we see some discussion about this on MSNBC, CBS News, CNN and so on? There is absolutely none. 

DRG: One of the things I discuss in my book is the fact that we have a corporately owned media system in this country that makes it very difficult to get anything on the air that is severely critical of American imperialism. Why? Because the corporations that own these media are benefiting wildly from what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex.  We are talking about tens of billions of dollars. We may like Brian Williams, Katie Couric and the other people on NBC and MSNBC, but we have to remember that company is owned by General Electric, which is one of the major producers of weapons systems in the world. And if you look at their stock records, you will see that since 9/11, they and all the other companies that produce military hardware and software are getting very rich.

JW: From the time we’re small children in school, we are taught the American catechism of how great America is. Isn’t it almost impossible for Americans to think their government is evil in any way?

DRG: We don’t get any positive or even neutral coverage from the mainstream media. Also, we have these myths. One of them is that the American government is exceptional. We know that other countries engage in conspiracy, and we know that other countries’ leaders lie on a regular basis. But it has been very hard for Americans to believe that their own leaders would do such a thing. We now know that the Bush Administration lied repeatedly and systematically about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction and all the related excuses for war. The idea that the Bush Administration would have deliberately killed several thousand American citizens seems to go too far. However, in my book I cite the fact that after 9/11, at Ground Zero, the Boston Globe had reported two days afterwards that the asbestos levels in the air were very high. And asbestos is one of the most deadly things there is in terms of getting into your lungs and causing cancer of various kinds and other diseases and difficulties. The EPA was ready to put out an announcement warning people to be very cautious. But the Bush Administration made the EPA change the message and remove the cautionary warnings; that is, to tell people the air was safe. And so the EPA put out that message.

JW: In New York City?

DRG: That’s right. At Ground Zero. The workers then went out without even ordinary masks on and were breathing dangerous asbestos into their lungs—virtually all day long. Many of them have now died from various kinds of cancer. This is scary because most kinds of cancers take 10 to 20 years to develop. So we are going to have far more people die because of this false assurance issued by the Bush Administration. Thus, more people will probably die as an after-effect of 9/11 than died on 9/11 itself.

JW: You write in your book: “Why, we may wonder, have the firefighters and medical workers not been speaking out? At least part of the reason may be suggested by a statement made by Auxiliary Lieutenant Fireman Paul Isaac. Having said that ‘there were definitely bombs in those buildings,’ Isaac added that ‘many other firemen know there were bombs in the buildings, but they’re afraid for their jobs to admit it because the ‘higher-ups’ forbid discussion of this fact.’”

DRG: I was talking to a cameraman just the other day who said he had gone back and interviewed many of the firefighters off-camera. They said there were bombs going off all over the place. And the cameraman asked if he could film them saying this. They responded, “No, we will lose our pensions.” At lease 118 members did speak out—118 out of about 500—about one-fifth of the members of the fire department of New York City. That is a lot. But they won’t go on camera and say it because they are afraid. We have the same problem with the workers at the FAA. They know they followed protocol that day and notified the military. And yet the official story is that the FAA never notified the military about the planes that were in trouble. And when they knew the planes had been hijacked, they didn’t immediately notify the military. Those are all lies, but they won’t—or can’t—speak out.

JW: The 9/11 Commission duly investigated this matter, but they didn’t come to the conclusion you did. 

DRG: They did not investigate the matter.

JW: That is what the American people think. In fact, you can go to the store and buy that big, thick book that has all their conclusions.

DRG: People assume that they began with the question of what really happened on 9/11. However, they began with the official story that Al Qaeda, under the inspiration of Osama bin Laden, carried out the attacks. Thus, the only question was why the attacks succeeded and why we didn’t prevent them. Also, the mandate given the 9/11 Commission was to collect whatever information they could from official government agencies. So the only information they were supposed to mandate and collect was from various agencies. And, of course, that meant agencies of the Bush Administration.

JW: So your argument is that they were investigating themselves?

DRG: That’s right. Philip Zelikow was the executive director of the 9/11 Commission. He was essentially a member of the Bush Administration and had worked with Condoleezza Rice back in the administration of the first President Bush. Later, Zelikow and Rice wrote a book together. Then Rice brought him on board when she was appointed National Security Adviser for the second President Bush. And then Zelikow was appointed to Bush’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Rice, as a member of the Bush Administration, produced the National Security Strategy for the United States of America in 2002. It was first produced by Philip Haas of the State Department, but Rice didn’t think it was strong enough. So she ordered it completely rewritten and brought in Zelikow to write it. This is the document in which the United States announces its new doctrine of pre-emptive, preventive warfare. This is the concept that the United States no longer has to abide by the old system in which we have to wait until we know another nation is ready to attack us before we can attack them. If our government believes a nation is becoming dangerous, we can attack them years before they get ready to attack us because we just can’t wait any more. 9/11 has proven the concept that we can act preemptively. And it was Philip Zelikow who used 9/11 to marshal that argument. Then he was brought in to conduct the investigation on what really happened on 9/11. So it was an extreme example of the fox investigating the foxes.

JW: You argue in your book that one of the basic principles of criminal investigations is the question of who benefits. Let me quote you: “What is this radical agenda? It is, in essence, that the United States should use its military supremacy to establish an empire that includes the whole world—a global Pax Americana. There are three major means to this end. One of these it to make U.S. military supremacy over other nations even greater, so that it is completely beyond challenge. This goal is to be achieved by increasing the money devoted to military purposes, then using this money to complete the ‘revolution in military affairs’ made possible by the emergence of the information age. The second major way to achieve a global Pax Americana is to announce and implement a doctrine of preventive-preemptive war, usually for the sake of bringing about ‘regime change’ in countries regarded as hostile to U.S. interests and values. The third means toward the goal of universal empire is to use this new doctrine to gain control of the world’s oil, especially in the Middle East, most especially Iraq.” Are you saying this is the radical agenda of the new American empire?

DRG: Yes.

JW: Do you really believe the American people are all that easy to fool?

DRG: It’s not that we are particularly stupid. It does help that we have a media system that systematically ignores these matters. But all peoples have been easily fooled. There are famous statements from some of the most notorious Nazi leaders who said that it doesn’t matter whether you are a totalitarian dictatorship or a democracy, you can always get the people to go along. All you have to do is get them to be afraid and be convinced that someone has attacked them. Then they will follow your lead. 

JW: But people are concerned about the war in Iraq. Bush’s ratings are low. What is missing in the American people of this day and age that they can’t even question their government’s motives?

DRG: You always have a critical minority. The question is whether they can get the attention of the public and win the public over. That has happened already with Iraq. When Bush gave his first State of the Union speech, his ratings were something like an 84% approval. Now, as some of the polls suggest, the percentages are in the low 30s or even the 20s.

JW: Do you really believe the people are waking up? Will the next president make any difference? Gore Vidal has said there is only one party in the United States—the property class. Are the people whom we elect running the government? What do you think?

DRG: Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth in that. There still is truth in the other views that there is a significant difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, especially on domestic policy. So, if for no other reason, it’s good that the Democrats have gotten control of the two Houses. That has opened the way to genuine investigations of what has happened in Iraq so that what the people already suspect may be absolutely proven through these investigations. They could, in that respect, be similar to the Watergate investigations for making these matters absolutely clear.

JW: I disagree with you. Bush will be out of office before any of that happens. 

DRG: Well, I don’t know. Like Yogi Berra says, I don’t make predictions, especially about the future.

JW: Do you realize that some people will look at this interview and say you’re un-American?

DRG: I don’t think so. With regard to the Iraq war, the tide has completely turned. Well over 50% of the American public now know that we were lied into that war. Certainly about 70% now believe the war is a mistake. That is a very strong percentage of those who believe it was wrong from the very beginning because it was based on lies.

JW: The Christian power base in this country is effectively controlled by the Christian evangelical right, which wields a huge amount of voters. Their leaders, such personages as James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, would look at you and think you were un-American. They have weekly meetings with White House staff via the telephone. They are part of the in-circle of the Bush Administration. Or at least they think so. What you have to say they definitely think is pie-in-the-sky and non-Christian. How do you respond to that?

DRG: I really don’t spend my time trying to speak to them. You don’t spit into the wind if you have any sense. What I do is try to reach the sensible part of America who simply have been misinformed. What is really encouraging with regard to 9/11 is the fact that while 99.9% of all mainstream coverage of 9/11 has supported the official theory and even in many cases been explicitly hostile to alternative 9/11 theories, the latest polls show that not even 50% of the American people accept the official story. They believe there has been a cover-up of some sort. Some of them believe that it is only a cover-up of incompetence. But another poll shows that 36% of the people believe that the Bush Administration either orchestrated the events or deliberately allowed them to happen.

JW: Do you believe there is hope?

DRG: That is an astounding figure. If we can get some of the media turned around on this, and if we can get a significant portion of the Christian community to start speaking out on 9/11, that would be great. That is why I wrote Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11.

JW: You hope to get a significant number of Christians speaking out on this topic. But they don’t speak out on any of the things you’re talking about. In fact, the evangelical Christian Right supports the empire notion. This can be seen in their support of the Bush Administration.

DRG: Well, they certainly have in the past, and there are some who are doing so now. I know of various churches that are making this a central point of their study groups. Thus, this could grow. In fact, once they realize the connection between 9/11 and American imperialism and recognize the truth that we began as an anti-imperial religion, so that to follow Jesus is to be anti-empire, then I think it could grow into a significant portion of the Christian community. It would be similar to what happened with the Civil Rights movement and with the Vietnam War protests. There could be a significant part of that led by Christian leaders.