Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 09/11/23


In search of answers. I first spoke with Ray McGinnis, the Canadian religious scholar, Psalm expert and unlikely 9/11 investigator almost exactly two years ago about his then-new book Unanswered Questions: What the September 11th Families Asked and What the 9/11 Commission Ignored. In 2023, he says those questions remain frustratingly unanswered.

JWK: Please remind our readers about what drove you, a Canadian religious scholar, to take up investigating the facts surrounding 9/11?

Ray McGinnis: I was someone who had been teaching writing workshops…I first read Kristen Breitweiser’s memoir Wake-up Call: The Political Education of a 9/11 Widow in 2007. Her husband Ron had died in the South Tower. I thought that the story about the families who lost loved ones on September 11th and their shift from grief and loss to going to Washington D.C. and speaking to the politicians and then successfully finally getting the 9/11 Commission up and running and monitoring it was a remarkable story of the search for accountability to make the nation the safe again.

I chose finally to write my book because, although there are lots of articles about certain families over the years, there wasn’t much focused on the families’ efforts to have an investigation…But for their efforts, the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission said there would never have been an investigation. So, I thought it was an important story to know about.

In Canada almost no one knew about that. People knew about the obituaries and the losses. Every anniversary people were reminded of it but they didn’t know about this angle and about what the families had done.

JWK: So, what questions remain and has any progress been made in addressing those questions over the past two years?

RM: I think that one of the things that’s outstanding is there are hundreds of families who want to have a lawsuit (against) certain Saudi officials that they allege could be complicit in the attacks of September 11th in some way.

The families have been struggling to get their day in court with Saudi Arabian officials. Back in 2018 there were lawyers representing Saudi Arabia that requested (that) a United States judge throw out the lawsuit but the judge – in accordance with the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act – denied the dismissal (and allowed) the lawsuit to go forward.

Then the Department of Justice instructed the FBI to produce formerly classified documents for the families to prosecute the case but in April of 2020 Attorney General William Barr and Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell…argued before the judge that revealing anything more about “Saudi connections” to the 9/11 plot would imperil national security. The Administration insisted in court filings that even its justification for that secrecy needed to remain a secret. William Barr said to the judge that the revelation would reveal information that could cause harm to state secrets and so on.

So, the families are still trying to get a trial date…My sense is that the families – now 22 years after the attack – are really baffled because they’re saying how can our efforts to bring people in Saudi Arabia that we think could be complicit in some way with the plot of 9/11…harm state secrets and national security here in America? That’s one of the big things that’s unfolded since we last spoke. 

JWK: So, it’s all pretty much tangled up in the courts and who knows what’s gonna happen. Do you think the truth will ever come out?

RM: Yes, it’s tangled up in the courts in a kind of pretrial of legal hijinks. Will the truth come out? I don’t know. It’s hard to know. I mean before the 9/11 Commission happened there was this joint House and Senate investigation of the attacks on 9/11 which was more restrictive. Bob Graham was the senator from Florida. He co-chaired that committee investigation. In the last five years he said he felt that the government (was) shielding different things – sort of like what I just mentioned about shielding the Saudis from any possible prosecution. He thinks that the government’s involved in active deception. It’s hard for me to know. I haven’t interviewed him, so I wouldn’t know exactly but he just thinks that there’s something more than just embarrassing former President Bush. It’s hard to say.

JWK: Do you think there’s something more than just the fact that the US has a strategic relationship and that complicates any investigation? I mean some people have even suggested that our own government was in on it. Would you go there?

RM: There are things that are puzzling. I remember watching Richard Clarke – the counter-terrorism czar – testify before the 9/11 Commission. He said to the commissioners “You’re government failed you. I failed you.” I remember thinking when I saw that here’s somebody that’s realizing we didn’t connect the dots and so on – and I thought he’s a good guy.

But then the families learned that Richard Clarke had a close relationship with a number of key United Arab Emirate royal family members from the mid-1990s. One of these was a defense minister with the United Arab Emirates. Some of these royal family members in the UAE happened to be buddies with Osama bin Laden and would from time to time go on bird-hunting expeditions with him. So in 1999, after the attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the CIA learned that bin Laden would be going on a bird-hunting expedition in February of 1999 with some of these royal family members from the United Arab Emirates. Richard Clark (blocked) the effort to go and capture him – which had to be signed off on by President Clinton.

That following month, in March of 1999, the CIA – without needing to go through President Clinton this time – saw that bin Laden was going to be on a second bird-hunting expedition with these royal family members in the United Arab Emirates. In that case, Richard Clarke passed word on to his friends in the United Arab Emerites that were going to go bird hunting with bin Laden…about the plan by CIA agents in the field in the Near East to capture him – and then bin Laden evaded capture. So, the family members are just saying “Well, Richard Clarke, aren’t you the counter-terrorism czar? Isn’t bin Laden – already in 1999 – wanted for the bombings of the two embassies in East Africa? Why would you be trying to thwart having him apprehended?”

JWK: Does Richard Clark dispute any of this?

RM: No. He was asked about it by some congressman – I can’t remember who it was – and he just sort of was a little evasive. It was kinda like someone got him but then he kinda changed the subject and moved on.

Kristen Breitweiser in her book Wake Up Call talks about dereliction of duty – just like making a very wrong judgement about what do. I guess the point of my raising this is what if Richard Clarke didn’t get in the way of the CIA’s efforts to apprehend bin Laden in March of 1999 – which CIA agents were apparently confident they could do? Then in March of 1999 bin Laden would be going to trial regarding the bombings of the Tanzanian and Kenyan embassies which possibly then would have prevented him from being able to do anything regarding planning 9/11. Of course, we don’t know but, for the family members who have lost loved ones, they’re just baffled at that kind of judgement which in their view is a poor judgement.

(Note: For details on the missed opportunities to capture or kill Osama bin Laden check out this 2016 article from The Washington Post.)

JWK: That’s all about the roll up to our entry into Afghanistan. There are also military families who have testified recently about our exit from Afghanistan. These families are also not being heard about the questions they have about how we pulled out and the thirteen soldiers who were killed. You have thoughts on the way we got in. How about the way we got out?

RM: Regarding how we got in, the families had a question which they wish President Bush had discussed at the 9/11 Commission which he didn’t. That question was (about documentation)  that on the ninth of September of 2001 President Bush signed a memorandum to go to war in Afghanistan. Now, I don’t know. Maybe there are memorandums regarding going to war that are kind of always sort of sitting there all the time. I don’t know – but…if it’s a surprise attack it would make more sense for you to sign a memorandum on the twelfth of September.

Anyway, (regarding) the whole way that it ended…the exit seems to have left a big mess and there’s still fighting going on there today. I’ve got a cousin in Canadian Forces – who were also involved in Afghanistan – who sort of shakes his head and says “What was all that for?” I think that there is an awful lot of sober second thoughts on the parts of some family members regarding what’s been achieved. I don’t know. I don’t know what your thoughts are about that.

JWK: I’m a little bit of an outlier, I guess. I’m one of the few people who kinda thinks we probably never should have left. I think there was like a year and half prior to the pullout where no American soldiers were killed. We don’t go that long without cops being killed in major American cities and we’re not pulling out of them. Too many of these soldiers who were sent there were maimed and killed and there was all that destruction and death. At least one good thing that came out the whole thing was that women in Afghanistan were being treated with more human rights and girls were receiving an education. That’s all gone now.  So, it does seem like – to your point a moment ago – what was it all for?

RM: Yeah…The exit seemed like just chaos and kind of a catastrophe, a fiasco. I don’t know many people at all from anywhere on the political spectrum that are very happy with the exit all.

JWK: So, what’s next for you? Is there another book?

RM: In Canada we had something called the Public Order Emergency Commission which was examining the justification for the invocation of the Emergencies Act in Canada in response to a trucker protest in Ottawa in January and February of 2022. The Emergencies Act resulted in the freezing of bank accounts and so on. I happened to go to that commission in Ottawa for a week and sat through some of the hearings back in November of 2022. So, it seems I’ll be probably getting to a book about that commission.

JWK: Wow! That’s a pretty interesting subject! Just briefly, what do you think about that whole issue?

RM: I think that the testimony of the intelligence and police officers to the commission in Ottawa showed that there wasn’t violence. There were allegations of violence in the news but not violence by the protesters. What’s supposed to happen with our Emergencies Act is that there are other things that should happen before that. (For example) if the police think that a protest is now constituting a riot they (should) declare a riot and then begin to move in and arrest protesters but at no point did the Ottawa Police Service view or declare the protest in Ottawa to be serious enough to declare a riot.

So, it just seems that instead of treating Emergencies Act as the last resort you invoke after other things have been tried beforehand, the government seemed eager to show some strength or something. Prime Minister Trudeau conceded (as much) in his testimony before the Commission in November. He was asked “When did you first think of invoking the Emergencies Act?” He said “From the very beginning.” That would be from the six days before the protesters had even arrived in Ottawa.

JWK: It does seem like something of an assault on free speech.

RM: Yeah. It seemed to be an assault on free speech. For people to have their bank accounts frozen, including people who just gave $50 because they were a senior citizen in Lethbridge, Alberta who was upset with some of the pandemic measures – lockdowns, perhaps, in their seniors facility – it just seems to be overreach on the part of the Canadian Government in this case.

JWK: I guess the overall theme here is can we trust our governments?

RM: Yes. In Canada it’s a liberal government. In America, with the 9/11 Commission, it was under a Republican administration. It doesn’t really matter what the political stripe of the government in charge is. Citizens need to pay attention and ask questions – and, hopefully, we get good answers.

A generation on from the attack and Americans are feeling discouraged…but Timothy Plan founder Art Ally says “Never Underestimate America.” The Christian mutual fund manager maintains “Such a traumatic event may have brought down a less free nation but not an America under God and an America committed for more than 200 years to individual, economic and religious liberty.”

JWK: Twenty-two years after 9/11 a lot of people look out and see America in shambles following the disastrous pullout from Afghanistan, rampant crime, extreme political polarization at home, a lack of trust in our institutions and emboldened enemies around the world, yet you still say “Never underestimate America.” Is that just a platitude we all want to believe or do you have a basis for believing that?  

Art Ally: When I say “Never underestimate America” I am not saying this because I wear rose-colored glasses. I acknowledge the disastrous pullout from Afghanistan, rampant crime, extreme political polarization at home, a lack of trust in our institutions and emboldened enemies around the world. But there is a greater truth at work behind the scenes that is tangible – and it is the faith of Christians nationwide who are praying for our country, for the healing of our land. It says in the Old Testament (2 Chron 7:14) “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  

JWK: How do we turn things around?  

AA: This is a big question. Fundamentally, for things to turn around, the process must start with the people of America and a nationwide return to what we believe corporately, regardless of race, religion, or creed. This can be found in the gift of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  

As patriots we should advocate for Godly, moral elected officials for the top offices of this nation down to the local level.  

JWK: Is there a way we can support America through how we spend our money and our personal investments?

AA: Yes, there is a way we can support America on how we spend our money and personal investments. This is why I started the Timothy Plan in 1994, to encourage moral, Christian investors through Biblically Responsible Investing and money management that honors God and makes good business sense for our families and the nation. It’s intentional and principle-based money management.

Looking back and looking forward. Twenty-two years after 9/11, Ray McGinnis is right in calling for some honest accounting regarding the events and decisions that led up to the vicious attack.

Beyond that, we need to honestly consider where we are as a nation right now. Particularly in recent years, we have been subjected to destructive government policies and actions that have resulted in that disastrous pullout from Afghanistan, as well as rampant crime, extreme political, racial and class polarization and a lack of trust in our institutions which, taken together, have emboldened our enemies around the world and demoralized us at home. It, frankly, seems hard to explain away some of those decisions with mere incompetence. The plethora of divisive issues rampant in the culture right now have Americans even fighting over things so previously mundane as pronouns. It’s hard to not think that it all appears deliberate and systematic.

So what do we do? Fighting among each other is certainly not the answer. Art Ally is right in asserting that, from the ground up, Americans of all skin colors, ethnicities, classes and creeds need to reassert the values of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. Then, we need to consider carefully those we choose to be our leaders – with the recognition that wolves all too often come in sheep’s closing. It’s been wisely said “The fascists of the future will call themselves anti-fascists.” Eternal vigilance – and discernment – is indeed the cost of freedom. As Ray McGinnis said “It doesn’t really matter what the political stripe of the government in charge is. Citizens need to pay attention and ask questions – and, hopefully, we get good answers.”

With wisdom we can prevent our nation from descending into the nightmare on Maple Street depicted in this classic 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone and see much brighter days ahead. God bless America!

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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