The Department of Justice today released a transcript of the calls Omar Mateen made during the shooting rampage at an Orlando nightclub a week ago.
The transcript is incomplete, however. During a conversation with NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said references to Islamic terrorism would be removed.
“What we’re not going to do is further proclaim this man’s pledges of allegiance to terrorist groups, and further his propaganda,” Lynch said. “We are not going to hear him make his assertions of allegiance [to the Islamic State].”
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The DOJ has reversed course. A complete transcript of Mateen’s phone call has been released.]
At first blush, this might sound like an administration once again struggling to define a terrorist’s self-proclaimed act of terror as terrorism.
But there appear to be some salient differences here, the most prominent one being that the government was quick to use the t-word to describe Mateen’s actions. The transcripts also contain several references to Islam, so sanitizing the report to conceal Mateen’s religious fervor does not seem to be the primary motive either.
So why is the government scrubbing references to Islamic State in the transcript?
Perhaps there is concern that if the transcripts were released in full they could radicalize other Muslims who might be sympathetic to ISIS. This is what Lynch appeared to be hinting at when she said refused to further Mateen’s propaganda. (She also said the editing was being done to spare families members from being “re-victimized,” an explanation that does not seem to concur with the release of the transcripts to begin with.)
Another possibility is that the government is attempting to shape the theory Mateen was a lone wolf with no legitimate connection to ISIS.
There are other plausible explanations, including the possibility that Mateen named someone in the call whom the FBI does not want to be publicly identified.
Without knowing precisely what the government’s reasons are, I’ll go out on a limb and call the redactions are a mistake. It’s hard to see any real benefit in scrubbing the references to Islamic State–assuming that’s what those references are.
Redacting the information, on the other hand, feeds into the narratives that the White House is either hiding something or refusing to properly classify Islamic terrorism as such.
What do you think? Does the government’s explanation hold water? Does the reasoning seem sound?