Unquestioning propaganda

“Abu Faraj Farj al-Libbi, allegedly number three in the al-Qaeda network and a close associate of Osama bin Laden, has been captured in Pakistan, the country’s information minister said on Wednesday.”

The Sydney Morning Herald, and a host of world newspapers, published this story on May 4. George W. Bush said his capture removed a “direct threat” to America and “represents a critical victory in the war on terror”.

The magnitude of the arrest was explained: “Security officials said al-Libbi took over the command of al-Qaeda in Pakistan after the capture in March 2003 of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, believed to be the key planner of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.”

But it now looks like Bush and his media cheerleaders may have been premature in celebrating. Yesterday’s Murdoch’s UK Sunday Times reported a rather different story:

“According to European intelligence experts, however, Abu Faraj al-Libbi was not the terrorists’ third in command, as claimed, but a middle-ranker derided by one source as “among the flotsam and jetsam” of the organisation.”

The story paints a devastating picture of intelligence bungling, an unquestioning media all-too-ready to hail the capture of Bin Laden’s right-hand man and a cynical hyping “by two countries [Pakistan and America] that want to distract attention from their lack of progress in capturing Bin Laden, who has now been on the run for almost four years.”

This major revelation didn’t stop today’s Sydney Morning Herald publishing an article that continued the propaganda:

“Intelligence officers who have been questioning Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the senior al-Qaeda suspect arrested last week, have cast doubt over claims by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, that the interrogation is “proceeding well”. Libbi, 28, who is said to be al-Qaeda’s No. 3, had defied efforts to make him give details about its senior hierarchy, despite coming under physical pressure to do so, officials said on Saturday.”

Had the paper not read yesterday’s Sunday Times? Did they not care? The fact that they didn’t have publishing rights to the Murdoch story shouldn’t mean that they published an article with major question marks over its allegations. Whatever the reason, it’s unacceptable that the so-called Fairfax flagship newspaper is publishing material of dubious factual accuracy.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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