two main pieces of "evidence" that Batouti
uttered a prayer in Arabic translated as "I put my
trust in God" before he supposedly shut down the engines,
and the allegation that he forced the plane's tailpieces
down, which prevented it from regaining altitude
are a matter of interpretation and supposition rather
than solid fact.
what the Times called "the enigmatic prayer uttered
in Arabic" by Batouti Tawakilt ala Allah
is a common linguistic tic in the Arab world, often
uttered at the beginning of even the simplest and most non-threatening
tasks. The next day, the Times reported the controversy
over the translation, citing Mahmoud el-Azzazzay, a travel
agent who once worked for EgyptAir, as saying: "We say
it probably 200 or more times a day. This is what God recommends
us to do. It means all my future is in God's hands."
In the secular West, naturally, such a devout mindset is utterly
incomprehensible, and even sinister.
"INNOCENT MISTAKE" NOT!
Speaking of sinister we
are now told
that widely-published reports of Batouti's last words "were
not spoken"! Reuters and several other news organizations
have been reporting that not only did Batouti utter the sinister
prayer, but he preceded it by saying: "I made my decision."
Now it turns out that, according to the NTSB, "on closer review
of the tape," Batouti said nothing of the kind. One NTSB official
averred that this was "an innocent mistake", but, according
to news reports, "was unsure how it had happened." Now this
is a strange "error" -- not a mistranslation, but a case of
"hearing" something that was not even spoken. An "innocent
mistake"? Give me a break.
OR EMERGENCY LANDING?
for the second tidbit of "evidence" depending
on the circumstances, shutting down the engines could be interpreted
as an heroic attempt to save lives.
to Captain Zaki al-Kashef, a pilot at EgyptAir, instead of
sabotaging the plane Batouti was intent on making an emergency
landing in response to some cataclysmic event. "The
speed he landed at, which was 0.86 mach, was almost the usual
speed for an emergency landing. Switching off the engines
was in accordance with standard procedures in cases of landing
American media is trumpeting the conflicting positions of
the plane's elevators as "evidence" of some kind
of struggle between Batouti and the chief pilot, Ahmed al-Habashi.
This is said to have ensued soon after Habashi, upon his return,
was heard to say "What's going on?" But what does
any of this prove? The answer is: nothing. For there is a
far simpler and more credible explanation for the conflicting
positions of the tailpieces, and that is sheer panic and confusion.
If some other kind of disturbance occurred elsewhere in the
plane, then that would explain Habashi's otherwise unexplainable
absence from the cockpit. According to the U.S. government's
evolving scenario, the chief pilot left Batouti alone
in the cockpit. But this would violate the safety rules of
all airlines everywhere, and is never done except,
perhaps, under extremely mitigating circumstances.
rush to judgment on the part of the media and US government
officials is, in itself, suspicious. The hard push for the
"suicide" scenario in the English-speaking press
is being taken to great lengths; e.g. the November
18 Sydney Morning Herald piece, headlined "Agony
of the pilot on death flight 990,"
which starts out "Copilot Gamil el-Batouti had a lot
on his mind as he boarded EgyptAir Flight 990 at Los Angeles
International Airport on the afternoon of October 30."
The article points out that he had just returned from a visit
to his seriously-ill daughter, being treated in the US for
lupus, and goes on to declaim that "the news was not
good." But that is not true: Batouti had been told by
doctors that her illness was treatable: instead of
handing down a death sentence, doctors handed him a message
of hope. Again, it is a matter of interpretation. Family members
deny that Batouti had any kind of financial problems: as a
former trainer for the Egyptian airforce, and a longtime employee
of EgyptAir, Batouti was no pauper. In spite of the cost of
his daughter's illness, he had made arrangements for the whole
family and some friends to travel together to New York
hardly a likely plan for a bankrupt planning suicide.
EGYPTIAN SPIN MACHINE
the Egyptian side, the story of the pilot's suicide is angrily
rejected. This anger is reflected in the protests of the Egyptian
government that the Americans, in rushing to judgment, are
dissing the state-owned airline, and, it seems, impugning
the national honor of Egypt. This
"spin" naturally carried over pretty faithfully
to the Egyptian media, which immediately latched on to
the idea that a technical malfunction had occurred. Several
lawsuits by relatives of the deceased are already being launched
in New York, against Boeing (the maker of the aircraft) and
others, based on precisely that contention. Cannily playing
the nationalist card, the regime of Hosni Mubarrak needs as
much bolstering as it can get, what with Islamic radicals
constantly barking at his heels. The Islamic underground,
outlawed and ruthlessly suppressed, nonetheless persists and
is very active: add to this the proximity of Sudan, the potential
patron and ideological lodestar of Egyptian Islamic groups,
and it is easy to see why the Egyptian government and media
(or do I repeat myself?) downplay the prospect of terrorism
except in a wildly distorted form.
Ragah, editor of the influential "semi-official"
Al Gomhuriya, lashed out at the US government as well
as the American media for making Batouti a "scapegoat,"
which prompted an angry response from the American ambassador.
"America's goal is to hide the truth by blaming the EgyptAir
pilot," declared Al Shaab in a banner headline.
"The cover-up is obvious," sniffed Al Ahram.
But what is being covered up? Al Shaab demanded "international
intervention in the course of the investigations" on
the grounds that all evidence gathered by the American
authorities suggests foul play.'' But these vague accusations
of "foul play" are invariably aimed at "the
Zionists," never domestic terrorists. In explaining why
Batouti could not have committed suicide, one Egyptian journalist
was quoted by Reuters as saying:
a shame for someone to commit suicide in our culture, it's
a sin and whoever does it will go to hell forever. It's impossible
for the pilot to kill himself and terrorism is not even an
why isn't terrorism an issue? As much as the Egyptians and
the Americans seem to be at loggerheads, the suicide scenario
versus the Boeing-Zionist conspiracy theory does seem to preclude
the most obvious and far more realistic alternative, and that
is an attack by Islamic radicals on America's most dependable
(some would say slavish) regional ally. On the politically
sensitive subject of terrorism, both governments have good
reason to be in denial: the Egyptians, because the news of
a successful and spectacular terrorist attack would undermine
the aura of invincible stability projected by the regime,
and throw the spotlight on the growing Islamic insurgency
welling up from the Arab "street." The Americans
are in denial because, as I pointed out in
my last column on this subject, it would not take long
for the foreign policy implications to sink in. The cry would
soon go up: why are we massively subsidizing a typically repressive
Middle Eastern regime such as the one that now rules Egypt?
Who knows, but such a development even could lead to a real
foreign policy debate in this country something that
neither of the major parties would welcome.
Just In Bill
Safire's New York Times column [November 18, 1999]
breathlessly announces the highlights of George W. Bush's
much-awaited foreign policy speech, in which Dubya announces
that "I'm going to say that America has got to reject
isolationism"! Wow! What a scoop! But there is something
about this theme that seems, well, strangely familiar.
Where have we heard all this before? Like Clinton, Dubya is
taking out after those nasty old Republican isolationists
in Congress who earned his ire a few weeks ago, you'll
remember, for not being "compassionate" enough (ostensibly
because they dispensed heating oil subsidies for the poor
in monthly installments instead of on a yearly basis). Safire
pats his avid pupil on the back, as if to say "Attaboy!"
and explains this Bush-Clinton confluence by cleverly averring
that it "blunts President Clinton's attack by joining
it." Now there's a winning strategy for the GOP,
one that ought to cheer the hearts of party activists in every
state an all-out assault on the Republican party by
its presidential candidate!
Gore's political fortunes may sink as quickly as EgyptAir
flight 990 plummeted into the ocean, and with the same force,
if and when it becomes known that this was a terrorist act.
For he took special responsibility for the much-touted "anti-terrorism"
program initiated by the feds. It was Gore who led a government
commission that instituted new security measures including
the controversial "profiling" program, which singled
out certain passengers as potential suspects based on several
factors (including ethnicity, method of payment, etc.). But
I guess racial profiling could not work in the case of EgyptAir
flight 900, which was filled with Egyptian nationals on their
way to Cairo. Gore's only hope is that Clinton will take the
lion's share of the blame, not only for lax security measures
but also for covering up the facts. For what everyone will
want to know, if and when the terrorist explanation proves
true, is: what did Bill Clinton know and when did he know
OR COURT JESTERS?
it is impossible, especially in this day and age, to pull
off a successful cover-up on this scale without at least the
passive cooperation of the media; not only the newspaper reporters
but the opinion-makers, the editorialists and pundits, who
are, in theory at least, the conscience of the nation. The
media and government officials have a symbiotic relationship,
with the former entirely dependent on the latter for access
and juicy tidbits thrown their way as a reward for consistently
putting the right "spin" on things. The echo chamber
effect, in the case of the EgyptAir mystery, is all too obvious:
further proof as if any were needed that the
"mainstream" media have degenerated into little
more than government courtiers.
brings us to another interest group, other than the US and
Egyptian governments, that would definitely not benefit from
the revelation that the EgyptAir tragedy was an act of terrorism
journalists. For the question would immediately be
raised: how is it that they accepted the government's official
story so readily, even eagerly, to the point of diagramming
the government's line, in full color, on the front page of
the nation's leading newspaper? And the longer they miss the
story, the more likely they are to have an interest in not
pursuing it beyond the limits set by the Washington spin machine.
PLACE TO BE
as to the implications of that: well, I won't go there,
not in this column, except to say that not all journalists
are caught in the web of government lies and evasions. But
you have to search them out, you have to know where to look,
and, above all, you have to think critically. Where can you
find such journalists without trolling through dozens if not
hundreds of newspapers a day and who has time for that?
Well, the answer is: we at Antiwar.com
have time for it. That, after all, is what we are all about.
If you want to keep track of how (and why) your rulers are
lying to you (no matter what country you're in), this is the
place to be. So look around. Explore. And stay tuned to this
column for more developments in the mystery of EgyptAir 990
as it unfolds.