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The Problem With Eye-witness Accounts

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posted on Sep, 20 2005 @ 06:33 AM
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 the 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 happened.

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?

Absolutely not.

Is there a better way of ascertaining what did actually happen?

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

posted on Sep, 20 2005 @ 07:23 AM
I read somewhere once that when eyewitnesses get together and discuss what they saw, then it actualy taints their recollection, because they talk each other into remembering things they didn't actually see. This is especially prevalent when they only saw something for a very short time, and didn't have a chance to get a really good look at it. It's actually very common for eyewitnesses to either talk each other into remembering wrong, or even talk THEMSELVES into remembering wrongly.

posted on Sep, 20 2005 @ 08:44 AM
Have I been doing this for too long, or are things really starting to repeat around here? I got blasted as being arrogant and insulting in a currently ongoing thread because I mentioned that certain specifics of the WTC collapses had been covered in exhaustive detail in other threads and referred a poster to one of them. And we're talking recent, high-profile threads here, not ones that are way back in the ATS archives that would need a 3-inch layer of dust blown off them.

I seriously thought we'd discussed the objectivity problem with eye-witness testimony, as well as the validity of alternative sources of data/information/evidence in this thread by PowerMac; a thread which is still ongoing. TF, you know I respect you, but you were heavily involved in that thread, and your post here seems like it should be another post in that thread, or even just a rehash of what we've already said in that thread, so why repeat it again here? How many threads do we need discussing the exact same aspects of those events?

I guess I can only assume it's because that thread has gone off topic... Maybe I should just bow out of this whole 9-11 forum for a couple of months; I think I'm starting to sound like a jaded, cranky old fart.
Either that or just start copying and pasting entire posts between threads.

[edit on 2005-9-20 by wecomeinpeace]

posted on Sep, 20 2005 @ 08:54 AM
Don't you dare bow out

Honestly? I haven't found a thread where the concept is actually addressed fully - perhaps more to the point though, there are still threads (you know, the awfully long ones...) where witness testimony is being used as proof of a claim.

Maybe I'm expecting too much, in terms of what's considered "exhausted"? We just keep seeing the same posts, over and over again, saying 'Well these witnesses saw.....', and "So what? these other witnesses didn't!", you know?

My perception is that either the message isn't getting across; people aren't seeing it at all, or there's another reason my uncaffeinated head is yet to come up with.

That's all, really...then again, perhaps I should simply copy it over to that one, and see where it goes?

posted on Sep, 20 2005 @ 09:22 AM

Originally posted by wecomeinpeace
... Maybe I should just bow out of this whole 9-11 forum for a couple of months;

Don't bow out completely WCIP. I will miss your posted pictures like the one of Atta's passport miraculously surviving the molten lava flowing from Mt. Vesuvius.

I have two words pertaining to eyewitness accounts and a conspiracy: grassy knoll

Nuff said!


posted on Sep, 20 2005 @ 10:08 AM
Yeah, eye-witness testimony is always going to be dodgy, especially when it comes to events as vastly complex as those which transpired on 9-11. There are so many contradictory reports that seem to categorically prove one side or the other, which is of course an impossibility, kind of like the seemingly arbitrary and alternating wave and particle behaviour of light.

And then there are inherently vague or subjective reports that could be construed either way - to either support or refute any particular argument depending on your own personal interpretation. Take for example Larry Silverstein's "Pull it" comment in regards to WTC7. HowardRoark is famous for his adamant insistence that those words refer to "pulling the fire crew out", even when even most people on the "pancake theory" side agree that the comment is pretty damning and back away slowly from the Roarkster when he starts rabbiting on about it. But you know...he could be right.

So what's left to us?

  • Physical evidence: Hampered by the fact that most of the physical evidence was shipped off by the feds, or is still in their hands, and any testing on such material is done by government agencies which...err...kinda defeats the purpose when the government is the body that stands "accused".
  • Photographic/video evidence: Again, this is prone to subjective interpretation. I see explosion squib, you see "syringe leak". I see weak fires, you see hellish infernos. He sees holographic planes, the rest of us see a complete looney.
    And so the arguments continue...
  • Data and records: (such as the plans for the WTC towers and WTC7). Again, these are in the hands of the feds and they're staying tight-fisted. They release whatever titbits they feel inclined to, which only serves to increase the speculation as to "what they have to hide". Included in this category is the video evidence from the gas station over the road from the Pentagon.
  • So-called "smoking guns": Such as the spike in airline put options just before 9-11, the slip-ups and weird comments from members of the cabal, the Silverstein factor (insurance taken out a month before, the "pull it" comment), the dancing Israelis, the bomb-sniffing dogs being taken out, and the list goes on. There are literally hundreds of these bizarre events surrounding 9-11 that pretty much started people questioning the official story in the first place, so you're either a "conspiracy theorist", or a "coincidence theorist", there's no other choice.
  • Highly Credible Witness Testimony: This is where witness testimony is pretty hard to refute. FBI whistle-blowers, WTC structural engineers/architects, fire-fighters, etc. These people are either experts in the towers themselves, or are extremely objective when it comes to explosions and such due to career-based first-hand experience; but again, even these folks can sometimes be shown to have conflicting views.
  • Physics: This is one witness that never lies. An example is that there is simply not enough energy available in the WTC towers, 1, 2, or 7, for them to destroy themselves as they did with the observed phenomena purely under gravity. This is a fact, and no amount of fancy-pants government reports, or calling people paranoid losers, can get around this.

So where do we go from here? I'll tell you: round and round and round and round and round...

But as Dr Luuuurve mentioned, some photographic evidence is pretty damn hard to refute:

[edit on 2005-9-20 by wecomeinpeace]

posted on Sep, 20 2005 @ 10:16 AM
I’d like to make a couple of comments here.

1) I think that all observation is subjective. We need to put things into a familiar context so that we can categorize and understand them. The problem occurs when the event being observed is sufficiently out of our everyday experience that we don’t have a direct comparison to categorize it by. Thus someone will say something along the lines of “it sounded like . . . “ or “It looked like . . . “ even in situations where the comparison is tenuous at best.

2) The other thing is that our sense of reality has been tainted by Hollywood. Thus you get people who ask “why can’t we see the stars in the photographs from the lunar landing?” They expect to see start because that is what they have seen in bad science fiction movies (along with the boom of exploding spaceships). When you are looking for a suitable context to put an unusual event, if you don’t have a direct experience, you use an indirect experience, i.e. you compare reality to a Hollywood special effect.

3) The last thing is that in times of extreme stress, or high adrenaline, we tend to hit sensory overload. Thus while certain events might tend to stand out, they lose the context of cause and effect. Our sense of the passage of time is also distorted so that things might seem like they happened at the same time, when in fact they did not.

The above is based on my personal experience and not on any specific research. It would be an interesting subject to look into in detail, however.

[edit on 20-9-2005 by HowardRoark]

posted on Sep, 20 2005 @ 06:26 PM

The total disregard of eyewitness testimony for either side wouldn't much bother me, as I don't feel it's really important to the major points of either case. I think we have sufficient data to deal with, without resorting to eyewitness testimony. And there's certainly no substitute for hard evidence anyway.

But can't criminals be convicted of crimes from two witnesses alone? ...x.X

posted on Sep, 20 2005 @ 06:28 PM
I've heard of it happening with one witness. That's part of the problem of eyewitnesses.

posted on Sep, 20 2005 @ 06:28 PM

Originally posted by bsbray11

But can't criminals be convicted of crimes from two witnesses alone? ...x.X

They can be, absolutely. And that's often quite worrisome, particularly considering the not-infrequent cases of DNA evidence freeing some folk who were convicted on such statements.

Thank you all for your great posts, so far!

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