What Hockenberry’s Taliban comments reveal about NPR

David Meyers Former White House Staffer
Font Size:

On NPR’s The Takeaway this morning, host John Hockenberry claimed that although the Taliban doesn’t “love” America, the organization “has never been an enemy of the United States” because “they’re not sending planes over to New York or to the Pentagon.”

This is rewriting history, and NPR should not have let this statement go unchallenged.

Al Qaeda was able to carry out the September 11 attacks (along with many others) because the Taliban gave Al Qaeda a safe haven to plan and plot those attacks. The Taliban didn’t passively allow bin Laden to enter and remain in Afghanistan. Mullah Omar, driven by ideological sympathies and financial incentives, actively aided and supported Al Qaeda and gave the terrorist group free reign in Afghanistan.

Who can forget the images of Al Qaeda’s terror camps, where militants were trained to murder innocent men, women, and children? What about the Al Qaeda weapons factories that were built without objection from the Taliban? And what about the crude biological weapons that Al Qaeda was able to test in its sanctuary state of Afghanistan?

No one thought Al Qaeda was using its territory in Afghanistan to build campfires and sing kumbaya. The Taliban knew that Al Qaeda was plotting and planning terrorist attacks against the United States, and the Taliban actively encouraged and supported Al Qaeda’s efforts.

The Taliban knew that Al Qaeda had used deadly force against America in the past (the African embassy bombings, the USS Cole attack), and that it wanted to do so again. The Taliban was complicit in Al Qaeda’s actions, and the Taliban was an enemy of the United States. The Taliban may not have had direct knowledge of September 11, but it gave bin Laden the ability and resources to plan and carry out the attack.

Nowadays, Al Qaeda’s leaders spend their time trying to avoid being captured or killed by U.S. and NATO forces. But prior to September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda didn’t have to worry about that. They weren’t on the run; they had the luxury of staying in one place and plotting their attacks against America. September 11 would have been much harder to pull off if the Taliban had not given Al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, immediately after September 11, President Bush gave the Taliban a choice: give up bin Laden or face war. According to LA Times, the Taliban vowed to protect bin Laden at “any cost.” At this point, it was clear that bin Laden was behind 9/11. Yet the Taliban chose to suffer a U.S. invasion rather than turn over a mass murderer and evict Al Qaeda. If this didn’t make them our enemy, what would have?

Hockenberry’s guest on the program, Georgetown professor Christine Fair, didn’t go quite as far. She said we needed to evaluate whether the Taliban was our enemy. In arguing that they might not be, she stated that every major Al Qaeda leader we’ve captured has been found in Pakistan.

This argument leaves out a pivotal fact: most of these men had been harbored by the Taliban in Afghanistan prior to September 11, 2001. The only reason they were in Pakistan was because the Taliban, our enemy, was driven from Afghanistan and Al Qaeda lost their sanctuary state.

It’s certainly possible to argue that today’s Taliban isn’t the same as the Taliban in 2001, as Professor Fair tried to do. But Hockenberry claimed that the Taliban as it existed in 2001 was not our enemy. And no one challenged him on that.

Hockenberry also failed to mention the atrocities the Taliban committed while it was in power (and continues to commit to this day). Is the brutal murder of thousands of Afghan men, women, and children not enough to make them an enemy of all freedom-loving countries, including the United States? What about the horrific treatment of women? Or the senseless acts of violence, murder, and stoning for the slightest violations of the law?

I heard Hockenberry’s comments because I am a regular NPR listener. I listen because the coverage is interesting and in-depth, even though it’s sometimes skewed towards an ideological agenda. But if NPR wants to maintain its listeners and its credibility, it must do a better job of stopping its hosts from stating opinions as facts and it must bring on intelligent guests who can provide the other side of the story.

David Meyers served in the White House from 2006 to 2009, and later in the United States Senate. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.