By Frank Moher
So, this one should have been easy. At a star chamber-style military trial, the Pentagon releases the transcript of testimony by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, purported Al-Qaeda mastermind, in which he admits to a laundry list of atrocities and would-be atrocities. Not only was he responsible for the 9/11 attacks, it says, but also for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Bali terror bombing, the murder of Daniel Pearl, the attempt by bumbling shoe-bomber Richard Reid to down a trans-Atlantic airliner, assassination attempts against former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as well as Henry Kissinger and Pope John Paul II, and a score of other terrorist plots. He stopped just short of claiming responsibility for the explosion of the Hindenberg and Britney Spears’ career. It was, as Fox News reported in an inadvertent fit of truth-telling, an “incredible confession.”
There was, of course, no reason to regard the Pentagon’s assertions as trustworthy, given that reporters and independent observers have been barred from the military tribunal from which they issued; that Mohammed’s admissions may very well have been elicited under torture; that the American government has rather a poor record of truth-telling lately; and that KSM may be either a self-aggrandizing liar or a convenient construct.
Nevertheless, here’s how our press handled the story:
The National Post: Al Qaeda Confessions
“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay that he was ‘responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z,’ the 2002 Bali bombings, the 1993 World Trade Center attack and a long list of other, thwarted plots.”
The Globe and Mail:
‘I decapitated . . . Daniel Pearl’
In U.S. interview, Sept. 11 suspect admitted role in 31 terrorist plots
The CBC: Suspected 9/11 mastermind confesses at hearing: U.S.
“The suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States confessed to the 2001 attacks and others when he appeared at his military hearing in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a transcript shows.”
That CBC hed at least suggests, dimly, that this is the US version of the truth, although the paragraph that follows presents it as gospel. And the Globe article does offer some qualifiers. The Post barely allows that Mohammed “may be overstating his prowess as an international terrorist leader” before bringing in an expert to throw cold water on that possibility.
Regardless, the credulity of the Canadian media itself beggars credulity. Instead of presenting the facts as they have them — which is that the U.S. claims this was said by someone whom they claim to have in custody — they cough up the official version as news. We saw the same sort of wide-eyed reporting last summer, when the RCMP busted an alleged terrorist ring in Ontario. The CBC in particular got right on it: Linden McIntyre “exclusively” interviewed the paid informant, then-29 year-old Mubin Shaikh, who helped implicate the accused.
McIntyre was not interested in the fact that Shaikh had organized the training sessions in the northern woods that eventually led to the arrest of the 10 men and five youths — at least, not interested enough to ask about it. Nor was he interested in the mole’s motives. Said the not overly-articulate Shaikh, explaining himself: “Like to do it because — I would have to be malicious, I would have to try to like set somebody up, and what would motivate me to do that?” Good question. Could it have been the $77,000 he said he’d been paid, plus the $300,000 he said he was owed? McIntyre didn’t inquire.
The accused are also alleged to have planned bombings of various Canadian institutions, including CSIS, the Toronto Stock Exchange, and the CBC. A mole, it later transpired, was also involved in that plan. He turned out to be an agricultural student who, handily, was able to help the alleged conspirators gain access to large amounts of ammonium nitrate, a bomb-making component. McIntyre reported that the second mole said he “felt compelled to work through the authorities because he feared a civilian calamity.” (video) A few months later it was reported that Mole No. 2 had been paid $500,000 — and had requested $14 million.
Of course, it is doing these news organs a favour to assume that they are merely credulous. Otherwise, we would have to believe that they are in some way complicit in helping governments shape official reality, which would be to believe in conspiracy theories. And being reasonable, non-nutty sorts, we don’t believe in those. Do we?