Another Man’s Freedom Fighter

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on February 2, 2015

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at WSJ written by the editor, James Taranto.

Another Man’s Freedom Fighter
After 9/11, the Reuters news service issued an infamous style decree: Its reporters could not refer to the terrorist attack as such unless they used scare quotes. “We all know that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and that Reuters upholds the principle that we do not use the word terrorist,” explained global news editor Stephen Jukes. (Although Jukes is long gone from Reuters, his scare-quote legacy lives on. A dispatch early this week referred to Israeli immigration as “Jews coming to ‘the Jewish state’ ”).

Jukes’s pronouncement suggests an obvious question: Just who is this “other man” he has in mind? What combination of depravity and foolishness would lead someone to evaluate such an atrocity as the act of a “freedom fighter”?

Last year the Obama administration entered into an agreement with the Taliban—the group that ruled Afghanistan in 2001 and gave safe haven to al Qaeda—for a prisoner swap. Five Taliban detainees were released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had gone missing from his base. This week came reports—“patently false,” according to military officials quoted in Stars and Stripes—that Bergdahl will be charged with desertion. The officials said the investigation is still under way.

Meanwhile CNN reports that “multiple officials” from the military and intelligence community tell the network there is evidence one of the erstwhile Taliban detainees “has attempted to return to militant activity from his current location in Qatar by making contact with suspected Taliban associates in Afghanistan”:

Under current law, this act placed the man in the category of being “suspected” of re-engaging in terrorist or insurgent activities. However, several officials say there is now a debate inside the administration that the intelligence may be stronger than the “suspected” classification. Some elements of the intelligence community believe the information is strong enough to classify the man as “confirmed” for returning to illegal activities.

Anyone could have seen that coming – except for President Obama, who, as CNN reminds us, said at the time: “I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought that it was contrary to American national security.”

It’s been an awkward week for the White House as the Bergdahl chickens come home to roost. The day before the CNN report, ABC News’s Jonathan Karl asked deputy press secretary Eric Schultz about the administration’s opposition to a proposed Jordanian prisoner swap with the Islamic State: “How is what the Jordanians are talking about doing any different than what the United States did to get the release of Bergdahl—the releasing prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay to the Taliban, which is clearly a terrorist organization?”

Good question! Which naturally prompted an evasive set of answers:

Schultz: Prisoner swaps are a traditional, end-of-conflict interaction that happens. As the war in Afghanistan wound down, we felt like it was the appropriate thing to do. The President’s bedrock commitment as commander in chief is to leave no man or woman behind. That’s the principle he was operating under.

Karl: Isn’t that what the Jordanians are operating under? I mean, the Taliban is still conducting terrorist attacks, so you can’t really say that the war has ended as far as they’re concerned.

Schultz: Well, I’d also point out that the Taliban is an armed insurgency; ISIL is a terrorist group. So we don’t make concessions to terrorist groups.

Karl: You don’t think the Taliban is a terrorist group?

Schultz: I don’t think that the Taliban—the Taliban is an armed insurgency. This was a winding-down of the war in Afghanistan, and that’s why this arrangement was dealt.

Our view is, as the President said at the time, which is, as Commander-in-Chief, when he sends men and women into armed combat, he doesn’t want to leave anyone behind. That was the commitment he was following through on this.

“A spokesman for the Taliban claimed responsibility for a shooting at a military airport in Kabul on Thursday which left three American contractors dead,” notes the Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross. “The attack comes as the White House is refusing to call the Taliban a terrorist organization, opting instead for the softer label of ‘armed insurgency.’ ”

Ross notes that at yesterday’s press briefing, Karl pressed Schultz’s boss, Josh Earnest, on a further administration inconsistency:

Karl: I asked for verification, yesterday—it was said that the United States government, that the White House does not consider the Taliban to be a terrorist organization. I’m just wondering how that’s consistent with what I believe is the designation that the Treasury Department has on its list of specially designated terrorist groups, which clearly list [sic in transcript] the Taliban. So does the administration consider the Taliban a terrorist organization or not?

Earnest: Jon, the reason that the Taliban is listed on the—this description that you have put forward here is for two reasons. One is they do carry out tactics that are akin to terrorism. They do pursue terror attacks in an effort to try to advance their agenda. And by designating them in the way that you have described does allow the United States to put in place some financial sanctions against the leaders of that organization in a way that’s been beneficial to our ongoing efforts against the Taliban. Now, what’s also true, though, Jon, is that it’s important to draw a distinction between the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Taliban has resorted to terror tactics, but those terror tactics have principally been focused on Afghanistan.

In “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell observed: “Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” True enough, but usually politicians don’t try to make murder committed by the enemy sound respectable.

Are the Saudis Muslim?
If Jon Karl wants to have some fun at the next press briefing, here’s a question he might ask: Are the Taliban Islamic?

As we noted last August, President Obama himself issued a faux fatwa declaring that the Islamic State “speaks for no religion.” He added: “No faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day.”

If the president feels compelled to weigh in on such theological matters, we’d like to see him elaborate. Can a faith still be a faith if it teaches people to carry out tactics that are akin to massacring innocents?

Here’s another question: Are the Saudis Islamic? We ask because Michelle Obama was in Riyadh this week accompanying her husband to King Abdullah’s funeral. The Washington Post notes the first lady drew some attention for her liberated ways:

As noted by the Associated Press, Michelle Obama did not wear a headscarf or veil Tuesday. In Saudi Arabia, that’s unusual: The country is one of the few on Earth where women are expected to cover their heads, and many Saudi women wear niqabs.

Exceptions are made for foreigners, however, and Michelle – who did wear loose clothing that fully covered her arms – appears to have been one of them. In photographs from the official events, other foreign female guests are also shown not wearing headscarves. In the past, Saudi leaders have met with a number of other foreign females without headscarves. . . .

More than 1,500 tweets using the hashtag #ميشيل_أوباما_سفور (roughly, #Michelle_Obama_unveiled) were sent Tuesday, many of which criticized the first lady.

Back in August Obama said of the Islamic State: “One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.” Surely “we” also “can all agree” that forcing women to cover their faces has no place in the 21st century. So does that mean the Saudis speak for no religion? Should the new king style himself Custodian of Two Big Buildings?

For more “Best of the Web” click here and look for the “Best of the Web Today” link in the middle column below “Today’s Columnists.”