Witness testimony given to the official 9/11 investigation reveals that 156 people gave oral accounts to authorities saying that they witnessed bombs being exploded at the World Trade Center buildings on the day of the attack.
Retired university professor Graeme MacQueen uncovered the eyewitness accounts after trawling through 12,000 pages of oral accounts given by Fire Department employees in the months after 9/11.
The statements given by witnesses reveal that many saw or heard explosions at the twin towers, supporting the theory that the buildings collapsed due to a controlled demolition.
“It’s all well and good to say these buildings were demolished, but surely someone would notice, right?” MacQueen said in an interview. “Well, they did.”
This treasure trove of eyewitness evidence was just waiting to be examined, but for years the City of New York was determined to keep that from happening. It took a lawsuit by the New York Times to force the release of the pages in 2006.
The idea for the project, MacQueen explains, came from an article written early that year by David Ray Griffin, entitled “Explosive Testimony: Revelations about the Twin Towers in the 9/11 Oral Histories” in which 31 witnesses to explosions in the towers were identified. Fascinated by the selection of first-hand accounts that Griffin had presented, MacQueen thought a more detailed analysis of all 503 histories could reveal more. The accounts—from firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics—were recorded between early October 2001 and late January 2002.
“They suffered through the thing; many of them are sick now,” he explains. “They can tell me what they saw, what they heard, what they felt — just remarkable. What an opportunity to just get a sense of what it was like that day.”
As MacQueen discovered, many gave vivid descriptions of explosions. After carefully examining all the accounts, he arrived at a “cautious” total of 118 who reported blasts (he says he was actually criticized for underestimating).
“They’re more reliable, in my opinion, than most newspaper accounts because these people were taped, and the audio tapes were transcribed,” he says. “You get the name of the person; you get where they were, who interviewed them, and when they were interviewed. This is really useful.”
MacQueen posits that he was one of the first to read all of the firefighter oral histories, which were officially named The World Trade Center Task Force Interviews. (The accounts were taken by the Port Authority of New York at the instruction of city fire commissioner Thomas Von Essen.) The result of MacQueen’s investigation was an article called “118 Witnesses: The Firefighters’ Testimony to Explosions in the Twin Towers,” which was published in the Journal of 9/11 Studies (of which he is currently co-editor) in August 2006. More on the findings can be found in the AE911Truth book Beyond Misinformation , which was released last September. (I was a contributing writer to the book while MacQueen served on its technical review committee.)
While the figure of 118 became established within the Truth Movement—even though people were often not aware of where it had originated—MacQueen decided in 2011 that he could investigate whether there were witnesses to explosions other than FDNY employees. He examined police accounts assembled by the Port Authority Police Department and looked at many media reports that featured interviews with eyewitnesses and first-hand reports by journalists.
The result of this phase of work was a second paper, entitled “Eyewitness Evidence of Explosions in the Twin Towers,” which he presented at the International Hearings on the Events of September 11, 2001, better known as the Toronto Hearings, that September. His findings led him to increase the cautious total of witnesses to 156.
“I wasn’t just worried about my own credibility, I was really worried about the credibility of the movement,” he said, adding that there could be many more who witnessed explosions, and he encourages others to continue this research.
In MacQueen’s second paper, he quotes firefighters Dennis Tardio and Pat Zoda, who many have seen in various 9/11 videos (including the Naudet brothers documentary) describing the series of explosions they witnessed. MacQueen writes:
Zoda says, as he moves his hand: “Floor by floor, it started poppin’ out.” Tardio concurs and uses the same hand gesture: “It was as if they had detonated, detonated (Zoda: “Yeah, detonated, yeah”), you know, as if they were planted to take down a building: boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.” Zoda adds: “All the way down. I was watching and running.”
The paper quotes Paul Lemos, a set designer who was in the WTC vicinity to participate in filming a TV commercial:
All of a sudden I looked up and about twenty stories below…the fire…I saw, from the corner, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom…just like twenty straight hits, just went down and then I just saw the whole building just went ‘pshew’…and as the bombs were goin’ people just started running and I sat there and watched a few of ‘em explode and then I just turned around and I just started running for my life because at that point the World Trade Center was coming right down…
Why eyewitnesses are so important
When he first began to look at the oral histories, MacQueen explains, he thought it would be helpful for the movement if he could contribute some “solid and quantifiable” data that could help test the controlled demolition hypothesis, adding that the eyewitness record is a valuable complement to all the forensic evidence that has been gathered. He admits there are significant prejudices against eyewitness accounts because many feel they are unreliable. But, he says, it is possible to learn a great deal from what eyewitnesses describe when the accounts are analyzed and when they are combined with other types of evidence.
“Eyewitness evidence is really important,” he asserts. “Ordinary people can identify; they can relate to that. If you start evoking their high school physics, they just tune out. But if you can say, look, this was a cop who was on the scene and says there was an explosion that was so strong it picked him up and threw him across the concourse—well, they can relate to that.”
In his second article, MacQueen addressed the claim by some that eyewitnesses are unreliable and therefore should be disregarded:
Eyewitness evidence certainly has its vulnerabilities: we know that eyewitnesses can misperceive, misremember and deceive. But, as with other kinds of evidence, we have developed ways of checking to see if what the witnesses report is accurate. For example, we look for corroborating evidence—further eyewitness evidence as well as evidence of entirely different kinds.
He makes the point that it is important not only to look at how many people perceived explosions but also how many of the histories seemed to contradict them.
“You don’t just cherry pick; you don’t just look for things that support your hypothesis, you look for the opposite as well.”
MacQueen explains in the second paper that of the 156 eyewitnesses, 121 are from the Fire Department of New York, 14 are from the Port Authority Police Department, 13 are reporters (most of whom were working for major television networks), and eight are listed as “other”—mostly civilians who worked in the area of the Towers.
“Members of the FDNY and PAPD are what we call “first responders.” So 135 out of 156 witnesses, or 87% of the total, are first responders. This is significant because these people have had much more experience of explosions than most of us. Moreover, their statements were given to superior officers as part of their professional duties, and the circumstances in which the statements were collected make this eyewitness evidence, in my view, very strong.”
One of the challenges for MacQueen when he began his project in 2006 was how to analyze the documents—what to look for, what would support the existence of explosions, and what would count against it. He read through the accounts once to determine a list of terms that would be relevant to the subject and then a second time to record how many featured key words like “explosion,” “bomb,” “implosion,” and “blast.” As he proceeded, he says he made a point of erring on the side of caution—meaning that someone who mentioned a loud rumbling or other similarly vague description was not included in the total.
A number of those interviewed for the oral histories later changed their view about explosions, MacQueen concedes, but this came after the official narrative was firmly established, and that narrative did not include the use of explosives. Some firefighters who originally said they experienced explosions later came to think they must have been mistaken because the official story had the buildings coming down primarily because of office fires.
“Our memory of these things will change, and it will tend to be in the direction of the social consensus,” MacQueen points out.
But despite some changing their story as time passed, most of those who reported explosions have stuck to their stories, and their powerful and revealing oral histories are a tremendously valuable resource for anyone who wants to know what happened at Ground Zero that day.
“It’s extremely important,” he says. “The whole global war on terror is at stake here.”