The Guardian gives a platform to a 'self-confessed terrorist'; using CiF to defend the killing of US troops

The Guardian has lent its Comment is Free pages to a dangerous man who 'supports the right of Muslims' to kill U.S. troops

Chomsky and Caputi: Two peas...
On 17 April 2012 16:00

Even one of the more sympathetic jurors who laments Mehanna’s long prison sentence acknowledges that he was a radical obsessed with violence, jihad and on the killing of U.S. troops. Perhaps Caputi’s defense of Mehanna would be less robust if it had been he that was targeted – or perhaps in such an extreme case, it would have driven him even further.

But ‘free speech’ is always the elephant in the room in cases like this. What is to stop The Guardian, Ross Caputi or even Tarek Mehanna from speaking their minds on such issues – even if it leaves the bitterest of tastes in our mouths?

The legal implications are complex, but in Britain, Caputi’s statements of support for Mehanna, including we assume from his words, his trip to Yemen and interest in fighting in ‘the resistance’ in Iraq is not just endorsement of terrorism but also proliferation, glorification and tantamount to incitement. His piece supports the killing of American soldiers abroad and could indeed be criminal under USC 2339A – ‘providing material support to terrorists’ and in Britain 'inciting murder for terrorist purposes overseas'.

In Mehanna’s case under U.S. law, a 1969 Supreme Court case which the ‘Brandenburg test’ is derived from sets a precedent. For criminality of speech to be inferred, you have to be able to show that it would lead to ‘imminent lawless action’. Mehanna’s defence argued that he did not do this, but rather he was prosecuted for conspiring to kill American soliders and supporting Al-Qaeda – far more heinous crimes.

The question now arises of what happens to Caputi, since it was he himself writing in the Guardian Comment Is Free (America) who originally wrote, “I have done everything that Tarek Mehanna has done, and there are only two possibilities as to why I am not sitting in a cell with him: first, the FBI is incompetent and hasn't been able to smoke me out; second, the US judicial system would never dream of violating my freedom of speech because I am white and I am a veteran of the occupation of Iraq.”

Here, Caputi sets himself up as a hero - his status as a veteran of the war in Iraq he argues, precluding him from the arms of the law. Neither of the stated reasons is accurate, as Caputi did not travel to Yemen looking for terrorist training, nor did he conspire to assist al-Qaeda. To the best of our knowledge, he also never conspired to kill American soldiers overseas - unless he knows something we don't know? However he does raise a valid point. Since he is in fact, openly inciting terrorist acts abroad, what do British and American courts intend to do about it?

Typically, going after someone like Caputi would not be worth the time and money it would the government to prosecute him, even if they could be sure of a conviction.  What makes this incident even more telling for the rational amongst us is Caputi’s own admission of being somewhat of a less than perfect soldier - not the 'hero' the FBI would have to think he was in order to, as he asserts, violate his freedom of speech. In fact, reading his blog it is easy to see that Caputi is indeed not the prim and proper Iraq veteran he masquerades as, nor was he privy to the kind of primary source information one might think The Guardian editors would look into:

“My unit got called into Camp Fallujah a couple of weeks before the 2nd assault. I was a buck private at the time and had recently been demoted for a number of charges from underage drinking to theft to general conduct unbecoming of a Marine. I was even moved out of my old infantry platoon because I just was not listening to anyone in charge of me, and they made me the Company Commander’s radio operator instead.”

This Chomsky-fanatic, who has only just surfaced in the mainstream, poses a serious threat to rational and evidence-based discourse about the war in Iraq, its consequences and the ongoing terrorist threat. Since he’s so adamant that he was a terrorist in Fallujah – I’m tempted to suggest that Caputi should be frog-marched to the nearest courtroom and forced to stand trial under his own admission of guilt. The reality is though, as he conveniently leaves out of his Guardian articles, he was scarcely ever around to witness what happened. “Most of the time” he admits, “I was perfectly safe with the officers, and there was no fighting within my immediate vicinity”.

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator. He tweets at @RaheemJKassam

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