How much does NBC hate Guantanamo Bay? On Tuesday, the network brought a former inmate on air, let him rail against U.S. foreign policy, insist he was tortured, and proclaim his innocence, all without a single dissenting voice, and without even mentioning the massive amounts of evidence against him.
It's not that the evidence isn't available. Indeed, you can get enough information online to dispel most of former Gitmo inmate Saad Iqbal Madni's claims, or at least cast serious doubt on them.
But even in its woefully-incomplete recitation of the charges against Madni, NBC made sure to qualify all claims by immediately invoking Madni's insistence that he was in fact innocent. If NBC researchers had made even the slightest attempt to independently verify his claims, they would have discovered that they were specious at best.
Madni says he was told by the officials who detained him that they were acting on CIA instructions after he told an Islamic group that he knew how to make a shoe bomb. Madni denies the charge, saying that nobody ever even questioned him about the alleged comment during his detention.
Even American officials in Jakarta questioned the case against Madni, saying he was a braggart, a "wannabe" and should be let go, according to a New York Times article from Jan. 6, 2009.
Quoting two senior American officials, the newspaper reported there was no evidence that Madni ever met Osama bin Laden or had been to Afghanistan.
That's it. That's the extent of NBC's dicussion of charges against Madni in this segment, and as you can see the network made sure to cast as much doubt on those charges as possible.
But as Thomas Joscelyn, executive director of the Center for Law and Counterterrorism at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote at the Weekly Standard, "This is a good illustration of why you cannot just accept Madni’s word at face value now that he is giving self-serving interviews in the press."
Of course journalists should not be taking anyone's claims at face value - why have journalists if they're just going to repeat what others say? - but doing so for an accused terrorist collaborator seems especially foolish.
Joscelyn does a fantastic job of recounting the evidence against Madni (see his post for relevant links). Much of it comes from Madni's own testimony, and enough information is available online - i.e. available to NBC and its staff - to dispel, or at very least cast doubt on Madni's claims.
On whether Madni collaborated with terrorist groups to create shoe bombs, Joscelyn writes:
During his combatant status review tribunal, Madni freely conceded: “I also told [Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist Hani Yahya Saqqaq] that there was a type of shoes in which you could hide the bombs.”
In addition, U.S. intelligence officials identified Madni as the “acquaintance” of Richard Reid, who attempted to blow up an airliner in December 2001 – the same month Madni was telling IDF terrorists about shoe bombs.
It seems that would be worth mentioning in the context of Madni's insistence that he the issue was never brought during his detention. And it's not like the information was unavailable to NBC - it's all posted on the New York Times's website.
In addition, Madni had admitted relationships with Yahya and Habib Rizq, the president of an al Qaeda affiliate in Jakarta, Pakistan. Members of his family were also tied to various extremist groups, including an organization that acts "as a cover for al Qaeda agenda traveling abroad," according to Joscelyn.
And then, of course, there are the actual charges for which Madni was detained:
Madni was detained at Guantanamo because he was allegedly involved in an al Qaeda plot against an American official working in Jakarta. He was apparently fingered as the accomplice of a known al Qaeda agent. In its summary of evidence memos for Madni, the U.S. government alleged that he “asked an unidentified confidant where and with whom a United States government official would be on New Year's Eve.” Madni “wanted to know if there were protective officers with the government official and if they were American,” because he stated “it was better to kill one U.S. Government Official than 100 Americans.” The U.S. government claimed that Madni “speculated that something big was going to happen during a meeting with other al Qaeda operatives” in December of 2001.
None of this is to say that the Untied States's charges against him were true beyond a doubt. But NBC could at least have mentioned the healthy amount of evidence against him, including his own testimony, which contradicts claims he made in the NBC segment.
And then there are the torture allegations. Madni insists he was tortured, and NBC not only believes him, the network claims that "experts say [Madni’s story] stands up to scrutiny."
Who are these experts, you ask?
NBC cites as an “expert” one Sultana Noon of “Reprieve, a U.K.-based charity that represents prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world.” But Reprieve is not a credible source. It is not some unbiased institution seeking the truth. It is a notorious advocacy group that has no misgivings about spreading disinformation, including manufactured tales of torture, on behalf of its “clients.”
Simply its mission, it's reason for existing, would seem to discount Reprieve as a source of neutral, fact-based analysis of Madni's claims. The organization's record of dishonesty, detailed by Joscelyn should but to rest the notion that Reprieve is any objective observer of Madni's situation.
The point is that Reprieve is not the type of group journalists should look to for unbiased “expert” validation. And there is every reason to believe that Madni’s story is cut from the same cloth as Binyam Mohamed’s tall tale.
For instance, Madni claims that American officials had cells filled with refrigerators. “They keep me a six month in refrigerator, naked – in underwear,” Madni told NBC in his broken English.
Contrary to popular mythology, Guantanamo has long been compliant with the Geneva conventions. And there have been at least several thorough investigations of Guantanamo through the years. Not one has turned up any evidence of refrigerator cells. The International Red Cross, which has had access to detainees since the very beginning of Gitmo’s existence, has also failed to discover such refrigerator cells.
In reality, there is no reason to believe that Madni was held naked (or in his underwear) for six months in a refrigerator. This is the stuff of anti-American, anti-military mythology.
Madni says that American guards purposefully insulted the detainees’ religion and desecrated the Koran routinely by writing curse words inside the detainees’ copies. Madni even repeats the tired old myth (first reported by Newsweek and then retracted when it proved to be false) that the guards flushed a copy of the Koran in a detainee’s toilet.
These are standard talking points for former detainees, and their advocates, but they have no basis in fact. The troopers at Guantanamo are actually trained to avoid insulting Muslim sensibilities. It is a smear to claim otherwise.
Madni obviously has a vested interest in portraying his incarceration as unjustified, and the hardships he has endured since as the fault of the United States. Yet NBC for some reason decided they would simply hand Madni a megaphone and let him do so on network television news.
If Madni were a politician, it would be bias. I'll let the readers decide what to call this segment.