Here’s a good example of how a phrase taken out of context can really convey a different meaning. Jake Tapper, referring to an op-ed by John Brennan, Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, has a misleading headline saying, WH: Some Critics ‘Serving the Goals of al Qaeda’. The same headline is going out on Twitter and Facebook, giving a misleading idea of what Brennan actually said.
The first impression from this title is that the White House has resorted to the same sort of jingoism seen during the Bush years, such as that if you are not with us you are supporting the terrorists. Reading Brennan’s actual op-ed gives an entirely different meaning when these words are not taken out of context. This quote comes from this passage:
Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda. Terrorists are not 100-feet tall. Nor do they deserve the abject fear they seek to instill. They will, however, be dismantled and destroyed, by our military, our intelligence services and our law enforcement community. And the notion that America’s counterterrorism professionals and America’s system of justice are unable to handle these murderous miscreants is absurd.
Headlines do need to condense, but simply expanding the headline to “unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda” provides a far closer view of what Brennan wrote. He is repeating what many of us critics of the Bush administration and the right wing response to terrorism have been saying since 9/11. The goal of terrorists is to instill terror in the population. Fear-mongering by the right wing does play into their hands, and does serve the goals of al Qaeda.
Brennan also makes another point which many others have also made in recent weeks since the Obama administration has been attacked for handling the attempted Christmas day terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in civilian court (emphasis mine):
It’s naive to think that transferring Abdulmutallab to military custody would have caused an outpouring of information. There is little difference between military and civilian custody, other than an interrogator with a uniform. The suspect gets access to a lawyer, and interrogation rules are nearly identical.
Would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid was read his Miranda rights five minutes after being taken off a plane he tried to blow up. The same people who criticize the president today were silent back then.
Cries to try terrorists only in military courts lack foundation. There have been three convictions of terrorists in the military tribunal system since 9/11, and hundreds in the criminal justice system — including high-profile terrorists such as Reid and 9/11 plotter Zacarius Moussaoui.
Brennan also responds to those on the right who claim that the Obama administration is not taking the threat of terrorism seriously, noting Obama’s successes in 2009 and how they compare to Bush’s record:
This administration’s efforts have disrupted dozens of terrorist plots against the homeland and been responsible for killing and capturing hundreds of hard-core terrorists, including senior leaders in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond — far more than in 2008. We need no lectures about the fact that this nation is at war.
Update: An op-ed at The Washington Examiner further misquotes Brennan with a headline reading: White House: People who criticize us are helping al Qaeda.