Many claims - and indeed, counterclaims - relating to the 9/11 & 7/7 attacks are dependant upon eye-witness accounts.
Eye-witnesses saw a Boeing 757 strike the Pentagon - and other eye-witnesses say it was something other than a Boeing 757.
Eye-witnesses heard explosions and/or bombs in the WTC - and other eye-witnesses counter this.
So who do we believe?
Well, let's take a look at the concept of eye-witnesses first.
An eye-witness is someone who has knowledge of an event through observation via their senses - sight, sound, smell, etc. To qualify as a witness,
you must have been there "at the time".
Since the very earliest judicial engagements, eye-witness testimony has convicted millions upon millions of accused parties. Usually considered
more reliable than circumstantial evidence, such testimony is often considered the key factor to a jury, and often tips the balance in favour of one
verdict over another. It has also convicted many innocent people.
And here's the problem: eye-witness accounts are not always reliable at all.
What we remember depends on where we were, what we actually saw (and heard and felt) versus what we thought we saw (and heard).
You hear an explosion. Because of your immediate environment (you're sitting in your house watching TV), you assume that it's a gas explosion in a
house down the street, or maybe a car backfiring. This is a natural assumption, and one which most of us would make. You didn't see
explosion, but you heard and possibly felt it.
But what if you were elsewhere, and heard that same sound? Would you assume it was also a gas explosion? Would it become more likely that it was a
bomb detonating? Could it have been a multi vehicle accident?
If, as in the above example, we have only one or two senses contributing to our memory-making process, it's easy to see how such a recollection might
be less than accurate when compared to the actual event, and so already our statements might be less accurate than we even realise.
When we add to this the fact that our memories can change over a period of time, it becomes even more difficult to discern what actually happened from
what we think
Whether consciously or subconsciously, we pick up bits of news elsewhere. We read magazines, newspapers and books, and we watch TV. We pick up
conversations at the water-cooler, and discuss events with our friends and families. We might read message boards and we invariably find out
"new" information over time. This leads to a process of integration, which in turn can make Jane Doe's original eye-witness account completely
different to the account she makes two years after the event. Even if she's shown her original testimony, the likelihood is that she'd simply
think she was mistaken at the time, and the current version is far more accurate. Which is the truer account?
Knowing then, that eye-witness accounts can be misleading, should we simply try to disregard all
witness statements relating to an event?
How do we discern which accounts are accurate, and which are not?
Fairness would suggest that to be objective, we'd generally have to exclude the testimonies of most eye-witnesses, on both
sides of the
matter. Expert testimony is a little different, and might play a larger part in ascertaining the truth - but it's usually hard to find experts who
actually witnessed an event itself. In the case of the WTC on 9/11, there is expert testimony which provides support to both
notions - yes
there absolutely were
bombs/charges, and no, there absolutely were not.
Again, confusion reigns.
So if we're to exclude eye-witness testimony pertaining to the 757 Pentagon matter, we're at least left with some physical evidence (in terms of
finding bits of aircraft, etc).
True, this could have been planted...but there doesn't appear to be much to support that notion as yet.
The WTC however presents a bigger problem; if we exclude eye-witness testimony, we're left with virtually no physical evidence at all to suggest
planting and detonating explosive charges. The matter of squibs has been debated back and forth here for awhile, and it's still ambiguous; video
evidence of such squib-like behaviour can also be explained by other means.
Does this mean it never happened?
Is there a better way of ascertaining what did
If you exclude eye-witness accounts, what are you
left with? Love to hear your thoughts on this one
Read more about eye-witnesses
And cases where testimony has been disproven by DNA
Eye-witness research lab
A PBS documentary on eye-witness inaccuracy