Transparency Fail as FBI Retracts Redactions in Orlando Transcripts
Government censorship of attack "only seemed to encourage speculation online, and in the political arena, that the investigators might be concealing something."
After coming under fierce criticism for its decision to published redacted transcripts of the Orlando shooter's 911 calls, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) late Monday released the full transcript which actually names the terrorist organizations Omar Mateen claimed allegiance to.
"Unfortunately, the unreleased portions of the transcript [...] have caused an unnecessary distraction from the hard work that the FBI and our law enforcement partners have been doing to investigate this heinous crime," the DOJ and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said in a joint press statement. "As much of this information had been previously reported, we have re-issued the complete transcript to include these references in order to provide the highest level of transparency possible under the circumstances."
The censored transcript read, in part:
OM: Praise be to God, and prayers as well as peace be upon the prophet of God [in Arabic]. I let you know, I’m in Orlando and I did the shootings.
OD: What’s your name?
OM: My name is I pledge of allegiance to [omitted].
OD: Ok, What’s your name?
OM: I pledge allegiance to [omitted] may God protect him [in Arabic], on behalf of [omitted].
The government claimed that it had censored the transcript out of sensitivity to the families and surviving victims of the June 12 attack on a Florida gay club, and also because it "did not want to provide the killer or terrorist organizations with a publicity platform for hateful propaganda."
However, the initial refusal to name the Islamic State or its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was criticized as being another form of "propaganda."
Exactly. So ironic that they justify propagandizing the public as necessary to combat ISIS propaganda. https://t.co/jizbBTYL0J
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 20, 2016
What did Mateen say & when during his 911 calls during the shooting? We don't really know. Transcript heavily redacted & summarized by FBI
— Abigail Hauslohner (@ahauslohner) June 20, 2016
What's more, the Obama administration has refused to release the audio record of the calls—which, as The Intercept's Robert Mackey notes, "only seemed to encourage speculation online, and in the political arena, that the investigators might be concealing something."
Indeed, Mackey points out, there are already discrepancies between what's been stated about Mateen:
[B]ased on a previous description of Mateen’s 911 calls given by FBI Director James Comey last week, it appears that the federal investigators continued to withhold details of a second conversation Mateen had with the 911 operator, which was not referred to at all in the government’s timeline. "He made 911 calls from the club, during the attack," Comey said last week. “He called and he hung up. He called again and spoke briefly with the dispatcher, and then he hung up, and then the dispatcher called him back again and they spoke briefly. There were three total calls."
Also missing from the transcript and summary of the conversations was any mention of the fact that, as Comey also said last week, Mateen had expressed solidarity with the Tsarnaev brothers, who carried out the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, and Moner Mohammad Abusalha, a Floridian who carried out a suicide bombing in Syria in 2014 on behalf of al Qaeda's representatives there, the Nusra Front. The FBI’s Boston office revealed that Mateen had referred to the Tsarnaev brothers as his "homeboys" during one of the 911 calls, despite a lack of evidence that he had ever been in contact with them.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and other conservatives were quick to jump on the censorship as an indication that the Obama administration is trying to downplay the role of Islamist extremism in the attacks—inflaming arguments over the motive behind the hate crime.