Los Angeles Times reporter Shashank Bengali clearly put a great deal of energy and time into trying to persuade readers on Thursday that the five Gitmo terrorists released in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl "may not live up to (that) description."
It only took a day for Bengali's work to be discredited. The person he seemed to believe would be among the least likely to become a threat — after all, he was supposedly just a "civilian official" — "pledged to return to fight Americans in Afghanistan." Geez, couldn't Noorullah Noori at least have allowed a decent interval before telling the truth? Don't you just hate it when one of the guys you're trying to whitewash almost immediately turns around and makes you look like a complete fool?
Here's how Bengali presented the five choir boys – er, terrorists held at Gitmo — followed by what he wrote about Noori (bolds are mine throughout this post):
Dangerous? Guantanamo 5 may not all live up to description
Critics of the Obama administration's deal to swap five Taliban detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl have characterized the five as dangerous extremists whose release could endanger U.S. security.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the five, who are now in Qatar, “the hardest and toughest of all.”
A closer look at the former prisoners, however, indicates that not all were hard-core militants. Three held political positions in the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and were considered relative moderates. A fourth was a mid-level police official, according to experts.
Only one, Mohammed Fazl, appears to have a documented history as a military leader and dangerous extremist.
Alex Strick van Linschoten, who has written extensively on the Taliban, said the release of the five men would be “a boost in terms of morale" for the group, but said he doubted that they would contribute significantly to the conflict in Afghanistan.
“All these guys are pretty old now,” he said.
Of course, one will search in vain for the term "terrorist" in Bengali's story.
I'll bet the age of these "pretty old guys" won't prevent them at the very least from using the phone and the Internet to advance their jihadist objectives. Bengalis describes one of them, Mohammed Haq Wasiq, as "a student of Islam in his mid-20s who went to Kabul when the Taliban came to power." That would make him about 45. I'd say that after 13 years of three squares a day and all the time in the world to get and stay fit that Mr. Wasiq would, if so inclined, be someone not to trifle with on the battlefield.
But let's get to Bengali's description of Noorullah Noori:
Mullah Norullah Noori was listed in Guantanamo documents released by WikiLeaks as “a senior Taliban military commander" in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif who was “wanted by the United Nations for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiite Muslims.” But experts say Noori was a civilian official who never held a military post. His name does not appear in several extensive war crimes reports conducted by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and the independent Afghanistan Justice Project.
Some "civilian official."
Bengali "somehow" forgot to inform readers that Noori was, according to one of the documents he referenced, "Taliban governor for the Balkh and Laghman provinces." That's like characterizing a governor in a U.S. state as a mere "civilian official." In such a position, it seems quite likely that Noori would have had the ability to initiate atrocities while covering his tracks.
And if he wasn't really a "Taliban military commander" — ignoring the obvious point that in a thoroughly militarized government the line between "military" and "civilian" often barely exists — Noori sure talked like one, according to an NBC report (links are in original):
Freed Taliban Commander Tells Relative He'll Fight Americans Again
One of the five Taliban leaders freed from Guantanamo Bay in return for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release has pledged to return to fight Americans in Afghanistan, according to a fellow militant and a relative.
"After arriving in Qatar, Noorullah Noori kept insisting he would go to Afghanistan and fight American forces there,” a Taliban commander told NBC News via telephone from Afghanistan.
Noori pushed to return to Afghanistan after learning that the U.S. had provided written assurances that no country would arrest any of the five freed for a year as long as they lived peacefully, one of his relatives told NBC News by telephone from Afghanistan.
Under the terms of the deal, the former commanders would remain under the control of the government of Qatar for one year and be subject to “restrictions on their movement and activities," a senior U.S. official has told NBC News –- including a one-year travel ban. A diplomatic source later told NBC News that their movements within the Arab emirate are not restricted.
... Noori's relative admitted he was having some health issues, but denied he was suffering from any mental disorders.
... The Taliban commander in Quetta said he was in touch with his men in Qatar and they decided not to talk with the five commanders about their imprisonment and their treatment at the hands of the Americans.
Wait a minute. All five of them are "commanders," and not choir boys? Imagine that.
Bengali's report was clearly a disgraceful attempt to deny the obvious truth. The LA Times reporter and the paper itself both richly deserve the humiliation Noori served up only a day later.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.