This week, a journalist for McClatchy, Amina Ismail, asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in a news conference about the Boston bombings if civilian collateral deaths in Afghanistan make U.S. forces “terrorists” there too. When I first started seeing the reports of this, I had to seek out the original transcript of the exchange to get clarity and make sure I wasn’t misreading or misinterpreting Ms. Ismail’s question. Surely, I thought, a professional with sense enough to get a job with a reputable news service like McClatchy would have at lease the most basic of understandings of the concept of terrorism.
But after reviewing this reporter’s actual question, I find myself disappointed not only in her journalistic and intellectual capabilities, but also in McClatchy’s quality standards if this is who they chose to send to the White House on their behalf.
Ismail: “I send my deepest condolence to the victims and families in Boston. But President Obama said that what happened in Boston was an act of terrorism. I would like to ask, Do you consider the U.S. bombing on civilians in Afghanistan earlier this month that left 11 children and a woman killed a form of terrorism? Why or why not?”
I have no clue where Ismail was educated, but someone there evidently forgot to teach her what the concept of terrorism is all about – intent. If one’s intent is to instill terror within a civilian population, then we’re talking about true terrorism. However, if a nation’s armed forces are targeting another nation’s military or an insurgent force, even one that hides within civilian facilities and populations, that, by definition, is not terrorism.
Mr. Carney’s response was also concerning. Telling Ms. Ismail that he would need to get more information and refer her to the Defense Department when asked if the U.S. had committed an act of terrorism in Afghanistan was the wrong answer. The first response from any White House or U.S. government spokesman should have been an unequivocal “no.” The White House should not need to gather more information or check with the Pentagon to figure out whether the Obama administration uses terrorism as a strategy or tactic. I feel confident in speaking for Mr. Carney in saying that it does not, even without checking with the Pentagon.
What Mr. Carney may not have known off the top of his head when answering Ms. Ismail’s question at the news conference was that the air strike to which she was referring also killed six Taliban insurgents, including two senior Taliban leaders, Ali Khan and Gul Raouf, who the Afghan Interior Ministry itself confirmed had been leading attacks within Kunar Province northeast of the city of Jalalabad along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Sometimes our intelligence in the most remote parts of the world is wrong and such strikes may miss their intended targets. But this time those targets are confirmed to have been successfully eliminated in this air strike. Unfortunately for the civilians who were killed in the process, these insurgents and Taliban leaders chose to hide by embedding themselves around innocent civilians. This is a hallmark tactic of cowardly insurgents, who constantly remind us that they still have no regard for even the lives of their families and neighbors.
Those in positions of access and responsibility, like journalists covering the White House, especially when those journalists are sanctioned and employed by legitimate news services like McClatchy, should know better. Shame on this “journalist.” And if this is the type of “journalism” that McClatchy endorses now, then shame on them too.