Kurt Sonnenfeld’s statement at the presentation of his book El Perseguido (Persecuted) on May 8, 2009, at the 35th Annual Buenos Aires Book Fair in Argentina, where he lives in exile since 2003. Therein, Sonnenfeld tells the history of his persecution at the hands of U.S. authorities over the course of more than seven years after his official mission to Ground Zero as FEMA’s videographer ... an experience that turned him into an inconvenient witness.
May 8, 2009
Statement by Kurt Sonnenfeld:
I want to convey my deepest gratitude to Adolfo Perez Esquivel, to Rolando Graña and to my wife Paula for accompanying me tonight, and to all the people and organizations that have helped me and my family. And to Ignacio Iraola and Mariano Valerio of Editorial Planeta for giving me a voice. You are all exemplars of courage and the fight for justice.
There has never been an independent commission officially assigned to investigate the horrible events that occurred on September 11, 2001, although independent commissions for tragedies of this magnitude are customary. From the beginning, the investigation into the attacks on the World Trade Center has been tightly controlled directly from the White House. And now almost all of the evidence has been destroyed.
Does anyone believe the official version offered as to what happened on September 11, 2001? There are many who say that the wildest conspiracy theory of all is the theory offered by the United States Government. Do you know that on the weekend prior to the attacks on the WTC, all electricity was cut off for approximately 36 hours, including the security cameras and control systems in a highly irregular “maintenance operation”? Do you know that in the weeks leading up to the attacks there were several unusual evacuations of both towers? Do you know that the company in charge of security at the World Trade Center was directed by Marvin Bush, George Bush’s younger brother, and Wirt Walker III, George Bush’s cousin? Do you know that the same security company also lists as government clients "the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S Air force, and the Department of Justice," and provides security for classiﬁed and high-risk government sites? Do you know that hundreds of government personnel were pre-positioned in New York City on September 10, preparing to do a large scale simulation of a terrorist attack to be carried out on September 12? FEMA officials had already set up their command post at Pier 92 near the World Trade Center one day before the attacks.
Do you know that the 47-story Salomon Smith Barney Building, officially known as Seven World Trade Center, imploded at 5:20 in the afternoon of September 11, 2001, some nine hours after American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower? It took only about 6.5 seconds for the entire structure to fall straight down into itself, a half second more than the amount of time it would have taken a stone to hit the ground if you had dropped it from the roof in a vacuum. The collapse of Building Seven left a curiously small and tidy rubble pile, and the buildings to either side of it were relatively undamaged. It had not been hit by an airplane and had suffered only minor injuries to its structure when the Twin Towers collapsed.
The Secret Service, the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Office of Emergency Management’s “Crisis Center” occupied huge amounts of space there, spanning several floors of the building. Other federal agencies had offices there as well. After September 11, it was discovered that concealed within Building Seven was the largest clandestine domestic station of the Central Intelligence Agency outside of Washington DC, a base of operations from which to spy on diplomats of the United Nations and to conduct counterterrorism and counterintelligence missions.
But the 9/11 Commission Report, supposed to investigate thoroughly all aspects and consequences of the attacks for devising public safety and national security recommandations, does not even mention Building Seven, its collapse, nor the bizarre specifics of that collapse. Nor did NIST, the government agency assigned to investigate the collapse of the Twin Towers. Like the 9/11 Commission, they completely ignored the suspicious collapse of Building Seven procrastinating the publication of their report time and again. 
Do you know that one of George Bush’s top Cabinet Secretaries later said that the conquest of Iraq had been planned since he first took the Office of President and that an invasion had been discussed at the first meeting of the National Security Council? But there had not yet been justification strong enough to invade. Not until September 11, 2001. The attacks on the World Trade Center gave them the justification they had been seeking.
But the first casualty of all war is the truth. The reasons given for attacking Iraq were knowingly fraudulent. Intelligence documents that had been submitted as evidence were deliberately fabricated. There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction and there were no links to al Qaeda. We all know that the U.S. authorities tried to deceive us about the existence of clandestine prisons around the world and the systemic torture of prisoners. The U.S. government lied. International law was violated.
Again the media was manipulated, and some willingly played the role of accomplice. US news crews signed contracts with the military that limited what they were allowed to report, and a few reporters were even paid by the government to write stories favorable to the administration. As Josef Goebbels said, “He who controls the medium controls the message.” And thus the aggression continued.
My book is not about conspiracy theories, but I do offer my theory. And my theory is that there was a conspiracy and I approach the subject from my point of view and experience. But mostly it is about the bizarre events that have happened (and are still happening) to me after my tour of duty at Ground Zero.
I was at the world Trade Center. I was part of the official investigation. Previously I had been an official videographer for the US government in critical or catastrophic situations. I’ve done work characterized as confidential at many classified and maximum security locations related to the storage, development and transportation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons or their components and participated in simulations and training for disasters, catastrophic accidents and terrorist incidents for many different agencies.
Immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the entire area in lower Manhattan was sealed off to the public and to the news media. All cameras were prohibited inside the secured perimeter and any “unauthorized” cameras were immediately confiscated. I was given total and absolute access, however, and was instructed to document for the investigation and to provide some “sanitized” pool video to virtually every news network in the world. But I never handed my tapes over to the authorities.
Since then, over the course of the past seven years, I have been falsely accused, imprisoned twice in two different countries, tortured, put in solitary confinement, followed across two continents and slandered relentlessly in a campaign to dehumanize me so that no one will protest and to discredit me so that when I talk, no one will listen. Four years ago, the US embassy sent a note to Argentine officials to confiscate all of my possessions and documents and to remit them to the United States. To this day, my wife, my twin daughters and I live in a closed world surrounded by threat and harassment.
I wrote this book to save my family.
I would like to read the last few pages to you:
It’s been a few years since President Bush stood up on a cannon mount atop the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and exultantly shouted “mission accomplished” to the cheering troops who stood below him.
Since then, Saddam Hussein’s regime has been “decapitated”. Saddam himself was nearly decapitated, too. When he was hanged in front of a mocking crowd, his vertebrae shattered and ripped a large wound through the side of his neck. Two weeks later, when they hanged Saddam’s half brother, Barzan Ibrahimal-Tikriti, his head was completely torn away from his body, and both parts dropped to the ground beneath the gallows, convulsing and gushing torrents of blood.
But still the fighting continues. The region is more destabilized and resentments are strong. And hundreds of thousands of people have died in a war justified by lies and by fraud. More deaths and more lies are sure to follow.
Recently I saw photos, posted on-line by a German magazine, of an Iraqi boy only about three or four years old. He had been burned so badly by a phosphorous bomb that his skin had melted away. You could see the white bones of his ribs, and he had no fingers, no lips, no eyelids. But he was not “al qaeda”. Almost none, if any, of the casualties were. They were not “axis of evil”. They were not “haters of freedom”. They were babies, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, sisters and brothers, too. People who care and people who cry. Their deaths cannot be summarily dismissed as “collateral damage”.
What is the cost of a war? Who pays and who gains? War is expensive, but the money has to go somewhere. War is very profitable for the very few. And somehow their sons always end up in Washington DC, making the decisions and writing the budgets, while the sons of the poor and the poorly connected always end up on the enemy lines, taking their orders and fighting their battles. Many people have the hope that this will all end with the current administration. But it won’t. It’s been going on for a long time, in one way or another, and it won’t stop. The legacies live on.
If I’m lucky, and if God is willing, I will never go back to America. It’s the best I can hope for. But that’s okay. I have Paula. I have Scarlett and Natasha, too. And that’s all I need. And as unlikely as it once seemed to me, I have hopes, too. That’s more than I could ask for.
But its strange how memories keep sneaking up behind me, tapping on my consciousness and re-introducing themselves like some old forgotten friend. Sometimes when I walk past a fountain or a pond, I recall my father taking me to the lake when I was a child, throwing me high up into the air so I could splash down into the water. And after I grew up, going fishing with him at the same lake. And when the sky of the late afternoon is particularly golden, I recall my mother and I driving in the mountains, just the two of us, stopping to pick up garbage along the highway. When the wind blows, I think of riding fast on motorcycles with my brother. And when I listen to music, sometimes I remember all the long talks I used to have with my sister while she played her favorite records. And I always think about Mark, patiently teaching me the small details of television production or the big generalities of philosophy and religion. How I miss the people I might never see again. Sometimes I ache for them! And how I miss the mountains! The smell of lavender in the summer, the smell of snow in the winter, the smell of pine logs burning in fireplaces all year long.
I remember once shooting a segment on “cartoneros” for Graña’s program, “Informe Central”. The producer, Miguel, wanted a documentary portrayal of what life was like for them as they searched the streets at night for discarded recyclables to sell. It was almost midnight when we climbed into the back of their big communal truck to ride along with them to their homes in the villa, and everyone was in a good mood. As we bounced along through the city, balanced haphazardly atop the mountain of cartons they had collected, we interviewed a precocious teenage boy. More accurately, we just let him talk and recorded it all on tape. But then he began to ask about me. What was I doing there? Why was an American working as a cameraman for an Argentinean television show? How did that happen? They were good questions, and I tried to answer them. But the camera was rolling, my Vari-Lite was burning, and our story was about his life and not mine. And so to keep it brief, Miguel told the boy that I had once stepped into a time machine and traveled back in time. While I was in the past, I touched something that I shouldn’t have. And when I returned to the present, everything was different. I thought that was a better explanation than I could have ever offered.
Recently, we were in a café near the Plaza de Mayo. Paula was talking on the cell phone. Scarlett was busily occupied with sugar packets and napkins and Natasha was immersed in drawing pictures with her finger in a little pool of water on the table. The café was insulated from the noise on the street, and it was quiet inside, too. I just sat there, thinking, my arms folded across my chest, and watched through the window at the busy hustle on the street and the people as they walked by. I looked at their eyes and tried to imagine what was their experience of life. Here is a businessman hurrying by. And there a doctor. And there, perhaps a lawyer. A delivery boy, an engineer, a secretary, a waiter. On the corner was a shoe shiner. On the curb a drunk. Some are blessed. Some are cursed. By God, by nature, by man, or by circumstance. What triumphs had catapulted them to their heights? What tragedies had knocked them to their depths? And what surprises lay in wait to change their direction completely?
No one knows if they won’t die of some terrible disease, be badly injured in an accident, be killed by an airplane crashing into a building, be kidnapped, be falsely accused, be chased across continents, lose everything. We can’t know. We can never have that solace. Fundamentally, we are all terrified. We all decay and die, despite the illusions we create for ourselves.
I too was once hurrying by café windows on my way to work, full of plans and hopes, getting things done. And then an extraordinary series of events occurred, and all of that was gone, replaced by threats and dangers from all sides. When I first arrived here, I didn’t have much hope that I would last another month. But then, as if by a miracle, Paula came into my life, and I squeezed out a few more drops of grace from this world that was at once beautiful and horrible. Now I rather like it here. I want to stay for awhile.
What do we think about when we think of paradise? That everything is beautiful and that there are no threats to us. What is it that we imagine when we imagine happiness? It’s that we no longer have to defend ourselves." (El Perseguido, pages 383 - 386.)
I sincerely thank you for honoring us here today with your presence. Thank you everyone! And thank you Argentina, the land of my wife Paula, the country we have chosen for our daughters, and also my country.