June 21, 2016 – The New Yorker
by Amy Davidson
On Monday morning, the Justice Department released a redacted transcript of a call to 911 that Omar Mateen, the shooter responsible for the deaths of forty-nine people at the Pulse night club, in Orlando, placed during the attack. (There was more than one call; a couple of others, apparently between Mateen and hostage negotiators, were vaguely described, but no transcripts were released.) By Monday afternoon, after a torrent of criticism, the Department decided to release the full transcript. The redactions in the first version would have been the stuff of farce had so many people not been in mourning. The key passage read like this:
OM: Praise be to God, and prayers as well as peace be upon the prophet of God [Arabic]. I wanna 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 [Arabic], on behalf of [omitted].
The first “omitted” is “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State”; the second is “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi”; the third is “the Islamic State.” It’s not as though this were classified intelligence. Last week, law-enforcement officials and President Obama alluded to the Islamic State being the object of Mateen’s allegiance. “We know he mentioned ISIS. What else did he talk about?” John Dickerson asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch, on “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “Well, he talked about what—what he was saying at that time were part of his motivations for why he was in the night club,” Lynch answered, implicitly confirming what Dickerson had said. She also mentioned that the transcript, when it was released, would be “partial.” On “Meet the Press,” she elaborated on that decision, saying that the transcript would not “further proclaim this individual’s pledges of allegiance to terrorist groups and further his propaganda,” although it would capture him talking about “some of those things.” But there is a difference between not quoting a long rant, about various obsessions, and eliding the most basic information. For that matter, why not let him go on and on? (If that is what he did—it’s still hard to tell from the summaries of the other calls.) Why treat the proclamations of the shooter as if they were somehow potentially inspiring, rather than damning? In these and other appearances, Lynch said that the audio recordings of Mateen’s calls would not be released out of respect for those who died. Holding back the audio is defensible, particularly if the voices or cries of victims can be heard. Clumsily redacting the 911 transcript—and continuing to withhold details of what was said in the other calls—is inexplicable. [READ MORE]