Beast of the Month - December 1999
Jim Hall, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
"A reasonable man knows the chances of this being mechanical are slim, whether it's 1 percent or 5 percent."
The quote above is in reference to TWA Flight 800, and was made three days after the infamous crash. Who is the person that would make such a bold statement about this tragedy? Pierre Salinger, perhaps?
Actually, it was James Kallstrom, the chief FBI "Investigator" of the crash, who early on was quite eager to lay the blame on sabotage, feeding the flames of widespread suspicion that the cause of the TWA 800 crash was a bomb placed by terrorists. It was only when the prime suspect turned from being evil, brown-skinned Muslims to the U.S. military in the underground press that Kallstrom began blasting any speculation of sabotage being the culprit as "reckless."
Kallstrom wasn't alone in this sudden about face. The korporate media was quite eager to trumpet assertions of a supposed "terrorist" plot behind Flight 800, but when the finger began pointing to the military among the finest Internet researchers, it was smeared as a "paranoid conspiracy theory." Of greatest note was 60 Minutes, which on March 2, 1997, had anchor Lesley Stahl argue for the suppression of information presenting the compelling evidence. After showing the TWA 800 web page of Ian Goddard, Stahl proclaimed, "Shouldn't this be expunged?" She continued, stating "that it's wrong, that it's inaccurate, it's irresponsible, that it is spreading fear and suspicion of the government."
As far as 60 Minutes and other korporate outlets are concerned, inaccurate, irresponsible spreading of fear and suspicion may be wrong when the poor, defenseless victim is the U.S. government, but apparently it's okay if the target is a dead, Egyptian pilot. How else can you explain the malicious bandwagon that verbally defamed Gameel Batouti, the co-pilot on Egypt Air 990? A chorus began to declare that Batouti was the culprit for the tragic Halloween plane crash which killed 217, fed on by leaks from supposed U.S. investigators working for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The main piece of supposed evidence? Allegedly, Batouti was repeatedly making a prayer as the plane was going down, stating "I put my faith in Allah."
Gee, imagine that. A plane is diving as though it is out of control, and a passionately religious man is praying to his God.
Perhaps the World Socialist Website (unsurprisingly, one of the few media outlets that doesn't buy korporate press proclamations as gospel) put it best in debunking the "suicide pilot" theory with the following description:
Batouti, 59, was a veteran pilot. Apparently happily married, with five children, he was independently wealthy. He was to retire in March, when he would receive a $108,000 bonus plus a monthly pension and social security benefits. He was in the process of building a retirement villa. Two days before he flew out of New York's Kennedy International Airport on the doomed Flight 990 he telephoned his family and asked them to meet him at the airport in Cairo. He was carrying presents for his son, including two spare tires and a sweater. Associates who saw him before he left Kennedy said he was smiling and eagerly anticipating his return to Cairo, where he was looking forward to celebrating his thirty-fifth wedding anniversary.
Batouti did not have life insurance. He was religious, but did not have any known political affiliations. Suicide, considered an affront to the Islamic faith, is extremely rare in Egypt.
On face value, the allegation is without merit, a vicious and reckless media display not seen since the attempted scapegoating of Richard Jewell. In fact, every piece of supposed "evidence" against Batouti can be debunked as bogus. The turning off of the plane's engines and disengagement of the autopilot are both normal (and expected) procedures that are done in cases of emergency. Further, no evidence has been provided of a struggle between Batouti and the other pilot, despite the claim that this happened. In fact, the alleged quote from the other pilot that was leaked ("Pull with me. Help me.") is consistent with two pilots working together to face an unexpected crisis. Jim McKenna of Aviation Week has stated: "Based on the publicly available data, there is nothing that makes a case for pilot suicide." McKenna went on to say he was "puzzled" why "government officials chose to leak this story without revealing the evidence to back it up."
Why would authorities want to pin mass murder on Batouti? For one thing, he isn't a major multi-national korporation like Boeing, who built the 767 plane that crashed. Coincidentally, the investigation team includes representatives from Boeing - as well as the engine manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney - who would be quite eager to pin the blame on someone else. When asked about how much influence Boeing has over the investigation, Jim Hall (National Transportation Safety Board Chairman and The Konformist Beast of the Month) became visibly upset. "For over 30 years, our agency has proudly and independently investigated accidents. We understand fully the important responsibilities that this investigation brings to the NTSB, as well as the importance of the independence of this investigation for all of the parties who have an interest in it." Which doesn't answer the question, of course.
Hall and The NTSB don't seem interested in answering the question. Nor did they seem eager to silence the smearing of Batouti that was promoted by leaks. Never mind that there was no evidence to support it, never mind his family was grieving his death. In fact, it was only when the Egyptian press began reporting - in reaction to the American media's sickening display - theories that implicated the U.S. and Israeli government that there was any denouncing of press reports by American officials. James Rubin, spokesman for the State Department, suddenly announced, "We are concerned and troubled by speculative conclusions coming out of those in the United States involved in this general investigation. We're appealing for calm, and calm can only come if there is a minimum of speculation about conclusions in this country, and a minimum of wild, exaggerated, unfounded conspiracy theories in other media in the Middle East."
So lets see: to charge that the U.S. is complicit in the downing of a plane (something that has been done before) is wild, exaggerated, unfounded conspiracy theory, while blaming it all on a supposed crazy Arab (and there is no evidence to back up he was suicidal or psychologically disturbed) is speculation about conclusions.
That said, maybe it would be a good thing to examine some of the wild, exaggerated, unfounded conspiracy theories. After all, there were 33 Egyptian military officers on the plane. This would make Flight 990 a juicy target to some who have a vested interest in increasing Middle East tensions (like, say, some officials in the US and Israeli government.) Further, it was originally reported that 990 made an unusual stop at Edwards Air Force Base. This report was later claimed false by the Pentagon and the FAA, but the report came from EgyptAir officials themselves, who likely have fairly good tracking of where their planes have been. EgyptAir has never reversed its claim. So, who do you believe: the Pentagon and the FAA (who certainly couldn't have any reason to lie) or EgyptAir? And what is a foreign private airliner doing stopping at an Air Force Base? And, more important, why would this be done in secret and then covered up? Come to think of it, why has none of the suspicion put on Batouti been leveled on Ed McLaughlin, the grief counselor who was the only passenger to get off the plane in New York, and who later concealed the fact he was on the plane when participating in a press conference eight hours after the crash?
All of these are good questions, and none of them are being asked by the korporate media. As usual, they are following the selectively chosen leads fed to them by official sources. Rest assured, for accusing Batouti of mass murder and suicide, no reporters will be punished like Gary Webb and April Oliver were for pointing the finger at the military-intelligence establishment.
Jim Hall certainly isn't the beginning or ending of the dishonest "reporting" and "investigation" of Flight 990, but, as head of the NTSB, he is at the center. Even when debunking some of the nasty attacks on Batouti, such as when the allegation he stated "I have made my decision now" was declared bogus, Hall and his associates have not behaved in a decent manner. Hall acknowledged in a press conference that American officials had leaked false information about the contents of the cockpit flight recorder tape, then declared that the truth wouldn't be discovered "on a road paved with leaks, speculation, supposition, and spin." He then tried to absolve the blame, as he stated that any misinformation given out by government sources came from agencies other than his own (which is a dubious claim.) However, if Hall was truly concerned about the false attack of Batouti, why did he not reveal who leaked it, since he supposedly knows it wasn't the NTSB? Why has he not demanded a serious investigation of this matter? And why not demand anyone involved in this "unauthorized" leak be fired and/or prosecuted? After all, the feds certainly put out all the stops against James Sanders and his wife, when the two reporters uncovered evidence that TWA 800 was shot down by a missile, charging them with stealing government, property that was necessary to undermine the government's case.
Apparently, the reputation of dead Egyptian pilots aren't of any concern to federal investigations, only the reputation of the government they serve. Wittingly or not, Jim Hall and the NTSB has collaborated with the FBI, Boeing and the korporate media to slander a man, and now many Egyptian are pissed as hell (and rightfully so.) The truth behind Flight 990 may never come out, but one thing is clear: if it does, Hall and his agency have been a hindrance at uncovering it.
In any case, we salute Jim Hall as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Jimmy!!!
Why the Rush to Judgment in the Crash of EgyptAir Flight 990?
Barry Grey, 19 November 1999
US Probe of EgyptAir Crash: Media Brands Arab Doubts as "Wild Speculation"
Martin McLaughlin, 24 November 1999
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