Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Look in the files, please

The afternoon's top story on Fox looks in-teresting:

One of those evil Democrats? No, as it turns out, a Reagan-era Republican from Michigan, "indicted Wednesday as part of a terrorist fundraising ring that allegedly sent more than $130,000 to an al-Qaida and Taliban supporter who has threatened U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan."

And who would that supporter be?
The indictment charges IARA with sending approximately $130,000 to help Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom the United States has designated as a global terrorist. ... Authorities described Hekmatyar as an Afghan mujahedeen leader who has participated in and supported terrorist acts by al-Qaida and the Taliban. The Justice Department said Hekmatyar "has vowed to engage in a holy war against the United States and international troops in Afghanistan."

Sound familiar? You won't find any further clues in Fox's story, or in a version that appears to be uncut as it moved from the AP. Kind of a shame, because Hekmatyar is the sort of character who cries out for some context. In case you've thrown out your baseball cards from the Afghan-Soviet war, here's how the AP itself described his relationship to the U.S. in an August 1989 story:

Members of ... Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's group Hezb-i-Islami, which has received the most U.S. aid, were reported to have killed 30 field commanders and fighters of the rival Jamiat-i-Islami.

The Washington Post's Jon Randal was a bit more nuanced a year earlier:

Hekmatyar appears an odd guerrilla leader for Washington to champion; he is an outspoken critic of the United States and a fierce Islamic fundamentalist. ... Hekmatyar has repeatedly denied receiving U.S. aid, although many diplomats perceive his organization as the principal beneficiary of arms and money provided by the United States and funneled through Pakistani military intelligence.

Or you could find this in a post-9/11 summary over at Salon:
The largest recipient of covert U.S. aid was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was described in a 1985 congressional study as "a relatively young leader often compared to the Ayatollah Khomeini in his intense ideological fundamentalism." Hekmatyar was virulently hostile to the West as well as to the Soviets. "It was obvious that the people we were supporting were fanatics but nobody wanted to hear it because we were winning the war," says Jack Blum, special counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee between 1987 and 1989.

Well, shazam. Where on earth could a guy Reagan appointed as a delegate to the UN have gotten the idea that it's all right to send money to terrorists?

Granted, a story about an indictment in 2008 isn't the place to rehash every detail of a war that ended nearly 20 years ago. And whether giving money and state-of-the-art SAMs to Hekmatyar was a good idea or not (I'm inclined to say "not") doesn't have any real bearing on whether giving him money now is a good idea or not (really, really not). But a paragraph noting the history of the U.S. relationship with him doesn't have to blame anybody or point any fingers. All it has to do is remind us that Seemed Like Such A Good Idea At The Time can have nightmarish consequences down the road, and that the world is a far more complicated place than it sounded like when the Republican candidates were debating last week in South Carolina.

On the list of general failings in international coverage by the U.S. press, incredible contextual blinkeredness has to rank near the top. The AP really ought to be in the habit of checking its own files a little better.

3 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

This is why I'm not so sure I want to see Charlie Wilson's War...

6:29 PM, January 16, 2008  
Anonymous EditingNC said...

Thanks for posting this, FEV! I edited the story for my paper tonight and was able to squeeze a graf in to give it a little more context. HK

8:40 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger fev said...

Hey, HK! Always good to hear you're in the thick of it.

I'm looking forward to "Charlie Wilson's War" -- I think. First things first; gotta see if Carolina can drive the stake back into Tech.

11:02 PM, January 16, 2008  

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