O'Reilly misrepresented NY Times, Wash. Post editorials on Abu Ali case


During the February 24 edition of FOX News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly quoted editorials by The New York Times and The Washington Post out of context in order to support his accusation that the newspapers were siding with an accused terrorist against the United States. Referring to alleged terrorist Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, O'Reilly exclaimed: "I'm just appalled by sympathy for an accused guy that's Al Qaeda. ... Some newspapers seem to be taking Ali's side." In fact, neither the Times nor the Post "took Ali's side." While they criticized the government's conduct in pursuing the case, neither editorial expressed the view that the charges against Abu Ali were unfounded, and both clearly described the serious allegations contained in Abu Ali's indictment.

Attempting to dismiss allegations that Abu Ali was tortured while in Saudi custody, possibly with the tacit approval of the U.S. government, O'Reilly also falsely claimed that Abu Ali "came back and testified that he wasn't tortured. That's on the record." In fact, no such testimony has occurred, and in their only courtroom appearance so far, Abu Ali's attorneys have accused the Saudi government of torture.

O'Reilly quoted a February 24 Times editorial out of context to support his claim that the New York Times "took Ali's side":

O'REILLY: The Times says, "What we can say now is that his case seems to be another demonstration of what has gone wrong in the federal war on terror." So what we have now is the benefit of the doubt for Ali and silence for the Marine [who shot a wounded, unarmed Iraqi prisoner in a Fallujah mosque in November 2004]. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I believe the American print press has lost perspective.

But the editorial was remarking on the Justice Department's mismanagement of Ali's case, not expressing "sympathy" for Abu Ali or giving "the benefit of the doubt" to his claims of innocence, as the sentence just prior to the one O'Reilly quoted (italicized below) indicates:

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, the American citizen accused of plotting with Al Qaeda to assassinate President Bush, will have his guilt judged in an American court. What we can say now is that his case seems to be another demonstration of what has gone wrong in the federal war on terror.

The Times editorial further stated: "If the Justice Department believed that Mr. Abu Ali was a serious terrorist, he should have been brought back here long ago for trial."

The Post's February 24 editorial similarly recognized that Abu Ali is likely a dangerous individual while criticizing the Justice Department's conduct. The editorial stated: "However bad Mr. Abu Ali may be, secret law is unacceptable to the American legal tradition."

O'Reilly also used a false claim to attack the Post and the Times for expressing concern that Abu Ali might have been tortured in Saudi Arabia:

O'REILLY: But I don't understand why -- the mindset of the other side -- of the Times and the Post. Why do they care about Abu Ali, if he got slapped around in Saudi Arabia? I don't care whether he got slapped around in Saudi Arabia. He came back, Ali, and testified he wasn't tortured. That's on the record.

In fact, at Abu Ali's first and only courtroom appearance, as described in a February 23 Post article, "Defense attorneys told the judge that Abu Ali had been tortured in Saudi Arabia and offered to show the judge proof right in the courtroom." O'Reilly's claim about Abu Ali's "testimony" was apparently a reference to a claim by U.S. prosecutors: a February 24 Post article on the case quoted federal prosecutors as saying that "the consul at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh met with Abu Ali several times during his detention and that Abu Ali never complained of mistreatment. They said he described his treatment as 'kind' and 'humane.'" But there is reason to distrust these alleged statements, which were not sworn testimony, given that Abu Ali was still in Saudi custody at the time he made them.

O'Reilly's guest analyst on the program, conservative terrorism expert Lorenzo Vidino of the Investigative Project, also disputed O'Reilly's assertion. When asked by O'Reilly if he was "buying" Abu Ali's torture accusation, he replied, "Well, we can't rule it out. Listen, Saudi Arabia is known to torture some of its prisoners. We cannot rule it out."

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