Slander and dishonesty

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on June 15, 2006

Maybe I shouldn't have been so hard on New York Times columnist Paul Krugman for being a dishonest in many of his columns over the past five years -- he's merely a product of his environment. The Times editorial page is perhaps the most dishonest of any in the nation. I've pointed out before how the Times twisted the term "filibuster" for partisan ends, but today's outrage makes this look like little more than jaywalking infraction.

On Wednesday's op-ed page, the Times either knowingly -- or with reckless disregard for the truth -- published an op-ed piece by a former terrorist detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

At the end of the piece, the author is described this way:

Mourad Benchellali has written a book about his experience in a Qaeda camp andat [sic] Guantánamo Bay, with Antoine Audouard, who assisted in the writing of this article and translated it from the French.

What the Times had is a responsibility to disclose is that Mourad Benchellali is currently in French custody -- like the rest of his family.

No, that's not a typo. In a case of inconvenient timing, today's Times carries an article about the rest of Mourad's family.

Prosecutors had charged them with planning attacks on several sites, including the Eiffel Tower. One of the convicts, Menad Benchellali, 32, was accused of trying to concoct chemical or biological weapons at his mother's apartment in a suburb of Lyon.

Twenty-seven people stood trial in the case, which began in December 2002 after chemicals, material for bombs and a chemical weapons protection suit were discovered in an apartment on the outskirts of Paris. The police also found elements for a sophisticated remote control detonator, suggesting that the group was planning a chemical bomb attack.

Mr. Benchellali, whose younger brother, Mourad, had been held in the American detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and was released two years ago, was sentenced to 10 years in prison with Merouane Benhamed, 33, whom the court described as the group's leader.

...

Shorter terms were handed down for others convicted in the case, including Mr. Benchellali's father, mother and brother, Hafed, who were found guilty of "criminal association in relation with a terrorist enterprise." Two people were acquitted.

The Times either knew, or should have known, that Mourad's family was facing terrorism charges -- because they wrote about it nearly two years ago.

When you have these facts in mind, then statements like these from Mourad's op-ed piece are seen in a completely different light.

In the early summer of 2001, when I was 19, I made the mistake of listening to my older brother and going to Afghanistan on what I thought was a dream vacation. His friends, he said, were going to look after me. They did — channeling me to what turned out to be a Qaeda training camp. For two months, I was there, trapped in the middle of the desert by fear and my own stupidity.

As soon as my time was up, I headed home. I was a few miles from the Pakistani border when I learned with horror about the attacks of 9/11. Days later, the border was sealed off, and the only way through to Pakistan and a plane to Europe was across the mountains of the Hindu Kush. I was with a group of people who were all going the same way. No one was armed; most of them, like me, had been lured to Afghanistan by a misguided and mistimed sense of adventure, and were simply trying to make their way home.

This guy's mother, father, and two brothers were all on trial in France on terrorism-related charges and we're to believe that he was the "good son" who had nothing to do with his family's evil. We're supposed to believe that Afghanistan (Afghansitan!) was a dream vacation?

The Times allowed someone with no credibility to slander America on its pages -- either out of malice or gross incompetence.

An apology is owed, but don't expect one. The Times has chosen to sacrifice decades of hard-won credibility in an effort at short-term, partisan political gain.

Journalists should weep for the depths to which a once-great newspaper has sunk.

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