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NYT’s ‘Terrorist Recidivism’ Correction Only Half Correct

By Matt Duss

"NYT’s ‘Terrorist Recidivism’ Correction Only Half Correct"

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gitmoAs TPM’s Justin Miller reports, the New York Times yesterday implicitly walked back its sensationalist Pentagon stenography, noting that the NYT “changed the lead and headline of the Web version of the story to reflect the uncertainty.”

The new headline reads: “Later Terror Link Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees.” And the lead: “An unreleased Pentagon report concludes that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are engaged in terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.”

Compare that to the original version: “An unreleased Pentagon report provides new details concluding that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has returned to terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.”

The change is welcome — NYT Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet’s bizarre denial notwithstanding — but as a correction it’s incomplete. The article still contains references to “recidivism,” which still presumes that detainees were involved in terrorism before being detained, and, as we know from previous Pentagon reports, a “terror link” can be anything from planting bombs in markets to publishing anti-American op-eds. As Ken Gude noted yesterday, it’s not until the 17th paragraph of the article that we find out that:

The Pentagon has provided no way of authenticating its 45 unnamed recidivists, and only a few of the 29 people identified by name can be independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release. Many of the 29 are simply described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with almost no other details provided.

Which is a rather enormous caveat.

Frankly, I think any policy which results in Islamic extremists expressing their hatred of America through angry op-eds rather than through bombing marketplaces must be judged a success — it makes little sense to treat both as equally representative of a “terror link.” But, on the other hand, if your goal is not to actually gauge the effectiveness of a policy but rather to wage a policy battle through media leaks, then it makes sense to conflate the two.

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