WaPo op-ed contributor and former Gitmo detainee posts photoshopped dead Obama pic on his website

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

The Washington Post’s Outlook section just gave ex-jihadi Moazzem Begg a half-page this Sunday to lament the U.S. war on jihadis, and Begg repaid the Post by showcasing a photoshopped image of a dead President Barack Obama on his advocacy website.

“The decision to publish Begg’s piece does not reflect a blanket endorsement of his views or of everything that appears on his organization’s Web site,” according to a statement from Carlos Lozada, the section’s editor. He reports to Marcus Brauchli, the Post’s executive editor. “It reflects our interest in exploring the many ways that Osama bin Laden shattered and upended lives… [and] the experience of a Guantanamo detainee is completely relevant.”

The Investigative Project on Terrorism directed TheDC to the photo on Begg’s website.

Lozada’s response came just before Thursday, when shareholders are expected to protest financial losses by the newspaper’s parent company, The Washington Post Co. The company’s main revenue-source, the Kaplan education division, has lower profits than expected.

The image, which can be seen at Begg’s Cage Prisoners website, shows a doctored image of Obama with fatal head-wounds. The image is headlined “Breaking News: Barack Obama is Dead,” and comes with a subhead declaring that “American War Criminal Barack Obama has been killed by Pakistani security forces in the UK, Prime Minister Hasan Abdullah of Pakistan has said.”

Begg is the director of the website, and the image and accompanying blog-post are featured on the site’s main page.

The May 9 blog post portrays Obama as a “devout Christian” version of Osama bin Laden, the Muslim leader of the Islamist Al Qaeda network. “Obama is believed to have ordered almost 200 attacks in North and South Waziristan between 2009 and 2011 in which almost 2000 people were killed, when he served as Commander in Chief of the US Armed Forces. Obama is also believed to have ordered the continued bombardment of Afghanistan during the same period in which thousands of others were killed,” according to the article’s author, Fahad Ansari.

A May 11 update explained the blog-post as a satirical article. “The article was intended to provoke a reaction among readers of how the world might feel if in the future, other governments adopted the Obama doctrine of extrajudicial killings for what they deem to be justifiable…We have no doubt that an objective reading of the piece shows that we do not condone extra-judicial killing,” said the explanation.

But Begg and his site have repeatedly boosted jihadis, including Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born Islamist-jihadi who has urged Muslims to launch jihad attacks on American and Israeli civilians, including women and children, said Tom Joscelyn, a lawyer, jihad-researcher and senior fellow at the D.C.-based Federation for the Defense of Democracies.

Begg “is a self-proclaimed jihadi and his own organization, Cage Prisoners, takes pro-jihad positions,” he said.

The Post published Begg’s op-ed even though the federal government has released several reports showing his involvement with Afghan jihadis before and after 9/11, and also denying his claims about maltreatment in U.S. prisons, said Joscelyn. Begg was released from Gitmo in 2005 with several other U.K. citizens, after an extensive lobbying campaign in London persuaded the U.K. government to press for their release.

The op-ed was one of four half-page articles that filled up two pages of the Outlook Sunday section. Begg’s article was accompanied by an article from a Muslim-American lawyer, and was placed over an article written by a U.S. Marine who fought bin Laden’s jihadis in Iraq during 2004. That year, bin Laden wrote to jihadis and to Muslims to declare that “the most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation… in the land of the two rivers [Iraq].” Iraq was a key prize for bin Laden and his fellow jihadis because it is the historical heart of the Muslim world, he wrote. “The world’s millstone [for grinding corn] and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the [historic] caliphate,” or Muslim empire, said bin Laden.

The Outlook section “featured essays by four individuals directly affected by Osama bin Laden: a 9/11 family member, a Marine reservist who went to war, a Muslim American who suffered discrimination, and a man (Begg) who was held in Guantanamo and ultimately released,” said Lozada’s statement. “Their stories were personal, yet representative of the major consequences and debates that 9/11 unleashed — and that was the point.”

In the article published by the Washington Post, Begg claimed that after his jailing in Afghanistan, he was “punched, kicked, spat upon, stripped naked and shackled by U.S. troops…Bin Laden did not incarcerate, torture, abuse and violate my body and dignity. He was in fact fighting the people who were doing this to me.”

However, the Justice Department’s Inspector General issued a May 2008 report which said that “many of the witnesses interviewed by the Army investigators said that Begg cooperated with military interrogators by assisting with translations, that Begg received comforts such as reading and writing materials, and that Begg never complained about mistreatment while he was at [the jail in] Bagram.”

The op-ed did not detail his presence in Afghanistan, except to say that “I was born and raised in England, but I had been living with my family in Kabul since June 2001, working at a school. We remained there until the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.”

The 2008 IG report, however, said that “Begg’s signed statement indicates, among other things, that Begg sympathized with the cause of al-Qaeda, attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and England so that he could assist in waging global jihad against enemies of Islam, including Russia and India; associated with and assisted several prominent terrorists and supporters of terrorists and discussed potential terrorist acts with them; recruited young operatives for the global jihad; and provided financial support for terrorist training camps.”

Begg ended his op-ed with a paragraph that flattered bin Laden, “as the man who made the United States tremble — prompting it to unleash a war on terror in Muslim lands and thus strengthen al-Qaeda as a global idea, instead of an organization whose numbers could once be counted.” Begg’s op-ed did not mention that bin Laden’s attack killed 3,000 Americans.

Lozada did not respond when he was asked if he fact-checked Begg’s article, or why he posted it above the Marine’s article.

The Outlook article is only one of several occasions where the Post has give favorable coverage to jihadis. Shortly after 9/11, the Post portrayed al-Awlaki as a moderate Muslim, and has recently awarded the moderate label to Feisal Abdul Rauf, who played a role in boosting the proposed mosque on the 9/11 ground-zero site in New York.

Many other media outlets mistake Islamists for moderates. For example, the editors at the left-of-center Huffington Post let Rauf publish a June 2009 on their site article calling on Obama to recognize Iran’s Islamic theocracy. “He should say his administration respects many of the guiding principles of the 1979 revolution — to establish a government that expresses the will of the people; a just government, based on the idea of Vilayet-i-faqih, that establishes the rule of law,” recommended Rauf, who was described by the site’s editors as “chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that seeks to use religion to improve Muslim-West relations.” Since then, the theocracy supported by Rauf has shot and arrested many pro-democracy protesters.