251,287. That’s the number of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks claims to have obtained. 1,897. That’s the number of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables that, according to WikiLeaks’s own count, have thus far been published on its website: not even 1 percent of the reported total. At the current rate of publication, the much vaunted “over 250,000” documents should be online and available to the public in their entirety by sometime in 2021—supposing the WikiLeaks website still exists at that time.
But whereas WikiLeaks has withheld the documents from the public, five handpicked media organizations have enjoyed exclusive access to the complete stash. A more glaring violation of WikiLeaks’s supposed commitment to “radical transparency” could hardly be imagined. Moreover, the selection of the five newspapers enjoying privileged access has clearly not been arbitrary.
Germany’s Der Spiegel, Britain’s Guardian, Spain’s El País, France’s Le Monde, and America’s own New York Times. Not only are these five of the hoariest dinosaurs still roaming across the international old media landscape. Taken together, they are probably the five print media of reference that have done the most over the last decade to propagate the dismal view of American power and American foreign policy that passes for “leftism” nowadays in both Europe and the United States itself. (Italy’s La Repubblica could be added to the list.) Why were precisely these media and not others given privileged access?
The exclusive access provided the five old media dinosaurs has given them an unfair competitive advantage vis-à-vis their competitors and thereby an obvious economic boost. For instance, after selling out and then reprinting its initial edition featuring a cover story on the cables, Germany’s Der Spiegel has now brought out a special edition titled “The Superpower Unveiled” that is entirely dedicated to “America’s Secret Dispatches.” But the exclusive access has also given the fabulous five old media organizations the opportunity to pick and choose among the cables and to spin their content in accordance with the precepts of the anti-American Weltanschauung.
And spin they have. Der Spiegel and its treatment of the story of the Egyptian imam Abu Omar provides a revealing case in point. Der Spiegel, incidentally, plays a unique and particularly weighty role in the present connection, since it publishes selected articles online in both the German of its home market and in English, so to say, “for the world.”
Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, better know as “Abu Omar,” was reportedly kidnapped from the streets of Milan in February 2003 as part of the American program of so-called extraordinary rendition. He had been serving as imam at Milan’s Via Quaranta mosque at the time. According to the standard press accounts, Abu Omar is supposed to have been rendered by the CIA to his native Egypt, where he was interrogated and later released. In November 2009, twenty-three Americans were convicted in absentia by an Italian court for their alleged roles in his abduction.
As far as one can tell from the coverage in Der Spiegel, the American diplomatic cables add virtually nothing to our knowledge of the case. Nonetheless, earlier this month the Spiegel editors felt compelled to publish a breathless article, in both German and English, highlighting the supposed “revelation” that American authorities discouraged their Italian counterparts from issuing an international arrest warrant for the American suspects. As depicted by Der Spiegel, these alleged communications become American “pressure” and “threats.”
The Spiegel article notes that Abu Omar was “known to Italian authorities as a hate preacher at a mosque in Milan.” This may well be the understatement of the year. In fact, at the time that he went missing, Abu Omar was under surveillance by Italian authorities on suspicion of forming part of an international terrorist organization of which his Via Quaranta mosque served as a hub.
The investigation would lead to the issuance in June 2005 of a warrant for Abu Omar’s arrest. The Italian arrest warrant affirms that Abu Omar was no mere member of said terrorist organization, but indeed “a Kaid, a supreme commander.” It concludes that his “engagement in supporting the terrorist cause” is “documented by numerous elements of proof that are unquestionably serious and concordant.” Much of this evidence consists of taped conversations between Abu Omar and other terror suspects. Transcripts of these conversations are included as supporting material in the warrant.
The Italian arrest warrant identifies Abu Omar as an adherent of “the most radical wing” of the Qaeda-affiliated Egyptian Islamist organization Gama’a Al-Islamiya. The historical chief of Gama’a Al-Islamiya was Omar Abdel-Rahman: the notorious “blind Sheik” who is reputed to have been the inspiration for the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and who is presently serving a life sentence in an American prison. The warrant affirms that Abu Omar and his co-conspirators were planning terror attacks “in Italy and abroad.” Prior to his disappearance in early 2003, however, their principal activity appears rather to have been the recruitment of European Muslims to join the al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist organization Ansar Al-Islam in northern Iraq.
The Spiegel article mentions none of this. It does, however, note that “Omar claims he was brutally mistreated by Egyptian intelligence officers” and even that “American officials were present while he was being tortured and interrogated.” It is true that Abu Omar has made such claims. But, as it so happens, Italian surveillance tapes of phone conversations that he had with his wife Ghali Nabila and another associate in Italy clearly contradict these claims. In the taped conversations, Abu Omar makes light of the conditions of his confinement in terms suggesting collusion between him and the Egyptian authorities supposedly holding him prisoner. In one conversation Omar goes so far as to describe his year in prison as “the best year of my life. . . . Thank God.”
Note that none of the above revelations about the Abu Omar case required any leaks of classified material. All of the information comes from a published Italian arrest warrant. The document is available online here. Whether out of ignorance or deceit, news organizations like Der Spiegel and WikiLeaks’s other privileged “media partners” have as a rule neglected to divulge its contents or even its mere existence to their readers.
Nonetheless, one passage in the Italian surveillance transcripts might be of special interest to Der Spiegel’s home audience: namely, the passage in which Abu Omar has a lengthy conversation at the Via Quaranta mosque with an otherwise unidentified “man from Germany.” The visitor from Germany describes a project to create a jihadist “battalion” consisting of European recruits. “The man behind the program is close to Emir Abdullah and we are grateful to Emir Abdullah,” he explains to Abu Omar. The arrest warrant identifies “Emir Abdullah” as none other than Osama Bin Laden.
It should come as no surprise that the European jihadist network of which Abu Omar was part had connections to Germany. As discussed in my “Germany’s War on the War on Terror,” almost every major Qaeda-linked attack of the last decade has had some significant tie to Germany.
Who is the mysterious “man from Germany” that appears in the Italian surveillance transcripts? Was it perhaps Mamoun Darkazanli, the notorious al Qaeda financier who is the object of an Interpol wanted notice and who continues to live as a free man in Hamburg? Or was it perhaps Reda Seyam, the open partisan of jihad and reputed financier of the deadly 2002 Bali bombings who continues to live as a free man in Berlin? Both Darkazanli and Seyam are reported to be personal acquaintances of Osama Bin Laden.
Or could it have been Seyam’s friend Khaled Al-Masri (a.k.a. Khaled El-Masri)? Masri is another alleged and iconic “victim” of extraordinary rendition, and the Spiegel article on Abu Omar duly notes what it calls an “uncanny resemblance” between the two cases.
The resemblance is indeed uncanny. Despite his known connections to Seyam, publications like Der Spiegel and WikiLeaks’s other “media partners” typically present Masri as an “innocent man” who had nothing to do with Islamist terror. But documents contained in a classified German government report have identified him, on the contrary, as a “proponent of military Jihad” and even suggest that he had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. (See my “The CIA Rendition Controversy: Is Khaled Al-Masri Lying?”) It is interesting to note that in a March 1, 2006 article, the New York Times claims to have had full access to the report in question. Nonetheless, its editors appear to have not deemed the revelations regarding Masri as newsworthy.
Perhaps German and/or American authorities know the identity of the mysterious “man from Germany” in the Abu Omar surveillance transcripts. Maybe there are, after all, some clues in the 251,287 diplomatic cables. But what reason do we have to expect Der Spiegel or the New York Times or any of WikiLeaks’s other “media partners” to tell us if there are? And therein consists the farce that is WikiLeaks’s self-styled “Cablegate.”
(For more on the contents of the Abu Omar surveillance tapes, including extensive translated excerpts, see my June 2008 report “Who is Abu Omar?” on World Politics Review.)