Facts are what they are, provided they’re facts. They may support a narrative. They may not. They may introduce ambiguity that takes a good narrative and makes it squishy. That can’t be helped. They’re facts. Until the government gets its hands on them, whereupon facts become what the government says they are, for the sake of the victims.
In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Attorney General Loretta Lynch says that on Monday, the FBI will release edited transcripts of the 911 calls made by the Orlando nightclub shooter to the police during his rampage.
“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].”
There has been remarkable in-fighting over what motivated the Orlando shooter. Knowing who killed no longer suffices in addressing a horrific crime. What replaces banal concerns is who gets to claim credit for being victimized, which gives way to who gets a new law to protect them from victimization. Or, as Attorney General Lynch says, “revictimization.”
BASH: And what did he tell them?
LYNCH: You know, as we have said earlier, he talked about his pledges of allegiance to a terrorist group. He talked about his motivations for why he was claiming at that time he was committing this horrific act.
He talked about American policy in some ways. The reason why we’re going to limit these transcripts is to avoid revictimizing those who went through this horror. But it will contain the substance of his conversations. And there were three conversations between this killer and negotiators.
Whether the shooter’s mention of ISIS means that he was, in fact, engaged in an act of terrorism on behalf of ISIS or was just expressing some meaningless delusion isn’t the point. Sure, some will take as gospel that if the shooter says the words, then that’s what it must be. Others will recognize that it’s just one factor in the mix, to be understood in context with other information.
There are many issues wrapped up in mass shootings, not the least of which is whether the name and face of a shooter should be spread across the media, thus encouraging other dangerous nutjobs to commit similar atrocities in order to be the Kim Kardashians of killers. That choice belongs to the media, which has the option of making the shooter into a household name or not.
What Lynch does here, albeit remarkably ineptly since she gives away the game while claiming to be protecting the survivors and families from “revictimization,” is the offense of omission. Whether to disclose the calls between the shooter and police is one decision. Doing so in redacted form, such that the public is fed only that portion of information the government decides to release, is dangerous.
Granted, when the government holds a press conference or issues a press release, it includes only so much as it wants the public to know. But to introduce the underlying source evidence to the public discussion, while altering it, is reminiscent of the Stalinist images where out-of-favor Russian leaders were removed from the photos.
Yet, that’s merely the first level of wrong in this disclosure of false information by omission. The next is that Lynch justified the redaction to avoid “revictimization,” a word that’s found favor in the deprivation of cross-examination of accusers of rape and sexual assault. While confrontation of the accuser is a fundamental component of due process, the revictimization excuse, which puts the end result of guilt ahead of the determination of the fact of guilt, has gained enormous traction.
In this case, there isn’t a dispute about who are the victims, and that the crime occurred. But by relying upon the revictimization excuse, Lynch validates it as justification. There is no doubt that the Orlando massacre was traumatic to those involved and their families, but the justification of withholding information under the guise of revictimization is, at best, silly, and at worst deliberately disingenuous. Of the severe harm done, releasing accurate tapes involving the mention of ISIS is the least of the trauma suffered by the victims. They endured death of a loved one. They endured wounds. This is nonsense.
And then there’s the final level of concern, and one where the DoJ puts itself into the position of being singularly disingenuous. There is a battle of sorts between the forces who seek to have this mass killing blamed on terrorism or blamed on hatred of gays. The DoJ recently inserted itself into this social justice debate by joining with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to alter Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination into gender identity discrimination.
Does the DoJ’s redaction of any mention of ISIS in the telephone communications reflect its insertion into the debate again? The government is downplaying the terrorist connection across the board:
FBI Director James Comey said at a press conference that the shooter’s past comments about Islamist groups were “inflammatory and contradictory.”
“We see no clear evidence that he was directed externally,” the president added. “It does appear that at the last minute, he announced allegiance to ISIL. But there is no evidence so far that he was in fact directed by ISIL, and at this stage there’s no direct evidence that he was part of a larger plot.” ISIL is another name for ISIS, or the Islamic State.
This may very well be the case, but redacting the transcripts to alter what was actually said in order to protect the public from facts that could be untrue is manipulating information to limit the ability to reach a conclusion with which the government disagrees. Or in conflict with the narrative the government wants us to accept, such as this shooting being evidence of hatred of homosexuality rather than an ISIS-motivated terrorist attack.
The point isn’t to determine what the shooter’s “true” motive was, but to manipulate the public’s ability to reach its own conclusion based on the source evidence available. If all we’re fed is the government’s chosen version of fact, then it’s not fact at all. And if we can shrug it off based on the excuse of “revictimization,” then our acceptance of the concept will undermine the Confrontation Clause when it’s used as a valid excuse in other contexts.
You may support the narrative here, because this is “different” and you don’t take issue with the government’s purported purposes, but either the government provides facts or feeds us its narrative. No matter whom or what you believe, they are not the same.