The final moments of American Flight 77 are no longer a mystery, dispelling the dark conspiracy theory that it was a U.S. missile that struck the Pentagon at 9:38 a.m. on September 11.
Military officials yesterday yielded to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and released two videotapes that show the aircraft striking the building -- killing 125 persons inside, 59 passengers and crew, and the five terrorists who had hijacked the Boeing 757 jet at Washington Dulles International Airport.
The two minutes of footage taken from security cameras adjacent to the Pentagon is halting, brief and grainy. But the pale fuselage of the aircraft and the fireball that followed are clearly visible in several of the frames.
"We fought hard to obtain this video because we felt that it was very important to complete the public record with respect to the terrorist attacks of September 11," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, the government watchdog group, which filed the FOIA request with the Pentagon on Dec. 14, 2004, seeking video from security cameras at the Pentagon, a nearby Citgo gas station, a Sheraton hotel and Virginia Department of Transportation traffic camera.
Footage from the gas station and hotel yielded nothing, and there was no film in the traffic camera. But the images from the Pentagon are enough.
"We hope that this video will put to rest the conspiracy theories involving American Airlines Flight 77," Mr. Fitton said.
Multiple, unsavory speculations have surfaced about the September 11 attacks in the past five years. One of the most enduring was "9/11: The Big Lie," a 2002 book by French author Thierry Meyssan who claimed that the "American military-industrial lobby" orchestrated the Pentagon destruction, using a satellite-guided missile.
"This attack could only be committed by United States military personnel against other U.S. military personnel," Mr. Meyssan wrote, building his case around the fact that no video footage of the impact had been released to the public and that eyewitness accounts were suspect.
Footage did exist, confirmed in a letter to Judicial Watch by the Pentagon in early 2005. But Defense Department officials told the group that the videos were exempt from release because they were evidence in the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person tried in this country in association with the September 11 attacks. He was sentenced this month to a life sentence at a federal prison in Colorado.
"Now that the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui is over, we are able to complete your request and provide the video," wrote William Kammer of department's freedom of information office, in a letter to Judicial Watch last month.
But conspiracy theories about September 11 persist.
Missouri-based 9/11 Truth, an advocacy group founded to investigate the possibilities, will host a convention in Chicago in June that includes a workshop called "Flights of Fancy: 11, 15, 77 and 93 (an Inside Job)" -- which "highlights the many inconsistencies between The 9/11 Commission Report versus the NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] timeline, the testimony of expert witnesses and the presumed facts," according to organizers.