An interesting YouTube video of a dialogue between an NPR reporter and national security critic Glenn Greenwald is making the rounds. The argument took place in November 2010 at the NYU School of Law during a round table discussion about “Free Speech and Incitement.” You’d think this exchange would be old news by now, but an NPR listener just posted it again on the network’s open forum page, so it seems worth revisiting.
It’s well known that Greenwald strongly objected to the drone execution of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without any due process (this discussion took place after the CIA authorized his execution, but before he was killed). Greenwald is also critical of US news outlets that he says derive most of their justification for this and other military actions from government officials.
Following the comments of Greenwald and and an FBI official, NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston, sitting in the audience, challenged a number of Greenwald’s assertions. She does national security coverage for NPR. My transcription follows:
“There’s a hand raised in the back there,” noted the moderator.
“Hi there. I’m Dina Temple-Raston with National Public Radio,” she began. “And I’m a big follower of yours’ Glenn, and I like your stuff very much. But I’m sorry I’m going to have to correct you on a number of very basic points that clearly our representative from the FBI feels uncomfortable correcting you on.”
“The first is [former National Counterterrorism Center director] Michael Leiter actually came out and said that Awlaki did indeed have an operational role in AQAP on July 1st, in Newsweek. So you can look that up.
The second thing is that it was pretty clear when Abdulmuttalab, the underwear bomber, was caught, he specifically said in early reports that we got both quietly through sources and also publicly, that Awlaki trained him and others to do what he did.
So your whole premise about Awlaki just being targeted for his speech as far as we know, actually for people who do national security reporting more deeply, I think that would be inaccurate.
The second thing I wanted to talk about had more to do with our subject at hand, which has to do with free speech and these people. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about this case that happened in the UK. There was a straight A student who went to King’s College, London; she says watched a great number of Awlaki’s videos, and they specifically inspired her to stab a former PM in the stomach a number of times. I think she was just sentenced yesterday or the day before. Can you talk about that cause and effect and whether that’s straight enough? I don’t really have an opinion on it. I’m just wondering as a specific example that you could talk about.”
“Can I just ask you a question?” Greenwald responded. “The idea that Abdulmutallab said that he was trained by Awlaki, how do you know that, and what exactly did he say?”
“Uh, he specif- I can’t tell you exactly how I know it—” Temple-Raston began.
“A government official told you that, right” Greenwald interrupted.”You weren’t in the room.”
“Maybe I actually actually saw something,” Temple-Raston shot back. “Maybe I actually saw something that you haven’t seen.”
“Uh-huh,” Greenwald responded, as people in the audience laughed.
“Is that possible?” Temple-Raston pressed.
“Well, well, so you are a journalist. You should share with us what that is.”
“I’ve, I’ve seen a statement,” Temple-Raston explained.
“You’ve seen Abdulmutallab’s statement?” Greenwald queried.
“I’ve seen parts of Abdulmutallab’s statement,” Temple-Raston continued.
Greenwald: “What did he say?”
Temple-Raston: “I just told you what he said—”
Greenwald: “He said was trained by . . . ”
Temple-Raston: “That he was specifically trained by Awlaki with others, as many as ten others.”
Greenwald: “Uh-huh . . . ”
Temple-Raston: “I mean, it’s not what you, you don’t do national security for a living.”
Greenwald: “Actually, I kind of do, I kind of do, actually.”
The audience laughed again.
Greenwald: “So you saw Abdulmutallab’s statement and he said that Awlaki trained him as a terrorist operative?”
Temple-Raston: “Well now you are putting words in his mouth. He trained him as an operative with ten others.”
Greenwald: “So then we ought to be able to— that’s really good evidence; we ought to be able to indict Anwar Al-Awlaki then as a terrorist. That’s great evidence.”
The audience applauded in response to Greenwald’s point.
“We probably should, but that’s not. . . ” Temple-Raston pressed, “but anyway, the other point is that, whether you believe my sources or not, or whether I believe my sources or not, you have said that they never publicly said that Awlaki had an operational role, and it was specifically said in Newsweek by Michael Leiter.”
“Oh no,” Greenwald acknowledged, “lots of, Leon Panetta went on ABC and said that he thinks that Anwar Al-Awlaki is a terrorist. There’s just never anything specified about what it is that they claim that he did, so I think that the way the United States sort of is supposed to work is that the way that we determine guilt is not by people whispering to reporters certain things or showing them little pieces of documents that nobody can show anybody else that can be examined. I think the way we are supposed to have it is with due process in which you go into a court and present this evidence and convince a jury that somebody is actually guilty and then punish them.”
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