“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”
Astronomer Carl Sagan was fond of saying this when talking about the possibility of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the universe. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also used the expression in his own portrayal of intelligent life on this planet, in reference to his inability to find Saddam Hussein’s WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) that didn’t exist.
It’s a basically useful mindset that has both useful and useless applications, as in Rumsfeld’s using it to mean, apparently, something like: “we don’t need no stinking evidence, we know his WMDs used to exist, we believe they still exist, and that’s good enough – trust us.”
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” applies as well to the events of September 11, 2001, and it’s still not clear which usage applies best to which argument from any perspective. The assumption here is that, at a minimum, the official 9/11 story is false in some of its essentials. The official 9/11 story has too many elements to assume they’re all false, or even that they’re mostly false. On the contrary, whether one assumes official honesty or an official cover-up, the motive is the same: to get as much right as possible and/or necessary. The best lies are embedded in truth.
The 9/11 Museum is full of contradictions, acknowledged and ignored
The National September 11 Memorial Museum (cost $700 million) opened ceremonially in New York City on May 15, 2014. The Museum (operating budget $60 million a year) opened publicly six days later (admission $24). The openings were characterized by both reverence (President Obama called the museum a ”sacred place of healing and hope”) and controversy (over the gift shop, and especially its Darkness Hoodie ($39) and its United-States-shaped cheese platter with hearts marking 9/11 death sites (price unavailable), as well as serious censorship (no charge) and the CEO’s salary($378,000)).
A “Museum Review” in the New York Times pondered the museum’s “trifurcated identity:”
Was it going to be primarily a historical document, a monument to the dead or a theme-park-style tourist attraction? How many historical museums are built around an active repository of human remains, still being added to? How many cemeteries have a $24 entrance fee and sell souvenir T-shirts? How many theme parks bring you, repeatedly, to tears?
Because that’s what the museum does. The first thing to say about it, and maybe the last, is that it’s emotionally overwhelming….
Despite that overwhelming ad hominem character, emphasizing the emotional impact of the lives of the living and dead, the Museum defines itself with a contradictory pose of academic detachment: “The National September 11 Memorial Museum serves as the country’s principal institution concerned with exploring the implications of the events of 9/11, documenting the impact of those events and exploring 9/11’s continuing significance.” More credibly, the Museum defines its mission as bearing witness to the World Trade Center attacks of 1993 and 2001. Most compellingly, the 9/11 Museum seems to be a guardian of the official 9/11 story.
Omission can also be a form of bearing witness
Among the 9/11 Museum artifacts on display (its collection numbers more than 10,000 items, mostly small and personal), there are parts of the Boeing 767 airliners that hit the twin towers. The larger artifacts include a charred piece of fuselage with a missing window and the “World Trade Center Cross” (that a federal judge has ruled an “artifact,” not a violation of the First Amendment separation of church and state). The Museum also has a collection of unidentified or unclaimed human body parts, some 14,000 of them, stored in an underground repository not open to the public.
Without apparently intending to do so, the 9/11 Museum’s body of evidence that tends to reinforce the official 9/11 story in New York, also tends to reinforce longstanding questions about the official 9/11 story at the Pentagon. That story is that the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 (a Boeing 757 carrying 58 passengers and 6 crew) flew into the Pentagon at almost ground level, killing all aboard as well as 125 in the building (all but five of whom were, eventually, officially identified).
From the beginning, the official 9/11 Pentagon story caused cognitive dissonance, since the visual evidence suggests that nothing as big as a 757 have hit the outside wall of the Pentagon and disappeared even more completely than the planes that hit the World Trade Center, where they burned until the WTC collapsed around them. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
The alternative stories posit a missile or specially rigged small plane hitting the Pentagon. There is no known physical evidence to support such stories. According to Snopes.com (as of April 2008), these stories are false. Much of the evidence collected by government investigators remains secret. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Even a determined debunker of 9/11 skeptics, while laying out a coherent argument that the official 9/11 Pentagon story is true (and conflating physical evidence with photography), ends up concluding:
In this essay I asked what conclusions about the Pentagon attack were supported by physical evidence — primarily post-crash photographs of the site. I found that, in every aspect I considered, this evidence comports with the crash of a Boeing 757. At the same time, the evidence does not conclusively prove that the aircraft was a 757, much less that it was Flight 77. However, that lack of conclusiveness should not be surprising given the systematic suppression of evidence by authorities.
The 9/11 Museum, for all its claims to being the principal institution for exploring the events of 9/11, has next to nothing to say about the Pentagon or about the other 757 that crashed in Pennsylvania. New York has shown more respect for the dead than the Pentagon, where higher officials overruled subordinates and dumped human remains in a landfill.
The first step in learning the truth is choosing to look for it
At best, the events of 9/11 represent the catastrophic failure of numerous American agencies, including airport security, air traffic controllers, national air defense command, and the U.S. Air Force. That reality alone is enough to raise suspicions of a cover-up, if only to avoid accountability for lethal incompetence. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
At worst, the events of 9/11 were the result of an almost unimaginable criminal conspiracy designed to produce the “new Pearl Harbor” that would enable fans of the New American Century (many of them members of the Bush administration) to take the United States in new, warlike, world-dominating directions (maybe something like a Global War on Terror).
In any event, the Bush administration fought long and hard to prevent any investigation of 9/11 and continued to work to undermine the 9/11 Commission until it produced its flawed report in August 2004. That final report omits any mention, much less explanation, of what Vice President Dick Cheney knew and when he knew it regarding the attack on the Pentagon. The 9/11 Commission knew full well – and chose not to confront – the serious implications of the testimony to the commission by Transportation Secretary Norman Pinetta (May 23, 2003):
During the time that the airplane was coming into the Pentagon, there was a young man who would come in and say to the Vice President…the plane is 50 miles out…the plane is 30 miles out….and when it got down to the plane is 10 miles out, the young man also said to the vice president “do the orders still stand?” And the Vice President turned and whipped his neck around and said “Of course the orders still stand, have you heard anything to the contrary!??”
Conspiracies are by their nature hard to discover and hard to prove. All the same, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Even now, still in the shadows of 9/11, it might be instructive to hear President Bush and members of his administration vigorously questioned, under oath, as to why they decided to pay no attention – none at all (Bush is said to have told a CIA officer “you’ve covered your ass,” which sounds in retrospect almost like foreknowledge) – to the CIA briefing paper with the title: “Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US.” Long after the facts of 9/11, the Bush people defended their absolute inattention and inaction based on the absence of evidence.