The controversial release of terrorist Samir Kuntar as part of a recent prisoner exchange between Israel and Hizballah has been accompanied by attempts to whitewash his actions. Kuntar, who is being greeted as a hero in Lebanon, was convicted of several grisly murders including the bludgeoning of a 4-year-old. Yet this has not stopped some of the media from trying to sanitize his image.
Take, for example, an article by Craig Smith published in the July 16 edition of the New York Times and its sister publication, the International Herald Tribune. A complete whitewash of terrorism, it gives equal credence to the killer's courtroom denials as it does to the court's verdict of guilt based on eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence.
The New York Times' headline,"Hero's Welcome Expected in Lebanon for Captive of Israel," transfers the focus of wrongdoing from Kuntar onto Israel, with Kuntar instantly transformed from a terrorist/murderer into a "captive of Israel" (with its connotation of enslavement). His vicious, cold-blooded attack is introduced mildly as a "raid [that] went horribly wrong." Danny Haran whom Kuntar shot in the back and drowned, and his daughter Einat, whom Kuntar bludgeoned to death in a grisly manner, are no longer the victims of a brutal terrorist but are merely among five people left dead in a botched raid. Throughout the article, there runs an implied question, "Is Kuntar really a child killer, as Israel claims, or a courageous fighter against Israel?" Both possiblities are given equal weight.
The International Herald Tribune version goes so far as to label the convicted killer a commando:
On April 22, 1979, Kuntar led a band of teenage commandos to the sleepy coastal town, intent on taking hostages to exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Commando is a word applied to elite, special operations military forces. Connotations of bravery and even rescue of hostages as opposed to the taking of hostages and the killing of children are implied. One who kidnaps and murders children for political aims is a terrorist, not a commando. But apparently unwilling to use that label, Smith deftly reverses Kuntar's role. (The New York Times version omits this description of Kuntar.)
After a long account of the terrorist's sad childhood and deprivation with a quote about how Kuntar was "deeply affected by the deaths he witnessed" after Israel's invasion of Lebanon Smith presents the case against Kuntar as a claim by Israel to be weighed against Kuntar's claim of innocence. Of course, Smith does not deny the kidnapping charge, which Kuntar has not contested, but casts the brutality and the killings into doubt. But in presenting the evidence for and against Kuntar, based on recently published transcripts of the trial in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, Smith cherry-picks what to present and what to ignore. For example, he makes no mention of Kuntar's own confession, which Yediot had described. According to the Israeli daily:
Immediately following his capture, when his remand was extended, Kuntar confessed that he had bludgeoned Einat to death with the butt of his rifle. Later, however, when testifying in court, Kuntar denied the charges.
The New York Times version also neglects to say that Kuntar commanded the group of terrorists. Both versions omit mention of key forensic evidence (a photo of which is posted on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site) showing Einat Haran's brain tissue on the butt of Kuntar's rifle. By ignoring these key facts, the article is able to recast a solid verdict based on substantive evidence into a questionable claim, thus diminishing the terrorist act and the extent of its brutality. In the end, Kuntar is no longer necessarily guilty of a heinous murder, only of a kidnapping. "Whatever the truth," Smith leniently concludes, "the kidnapping of a child clouds Mr. Kuntars supposed heroism." (For further analysis of the New York Times piece, see here.)
CNN similarly devotes an article on its Web site to the contention that Samir Kuntar is innocent. "Brother of Convicted Killer Says He's Innocent" by Octavio Nasr provides a platform for Samir's brother, Bassam, and a terrorist who claims he was the "mastermind of the plot", to deny Kuntar's guilt. The CNN journalist never refers to Kuntar as a "terrorist" and describes the ruthless attack merely as an "incursion [that] left a policeman, a young father and his 4-year-old daughter dead."
The majority of the article is given to Bassam Kuntar's claim that "Danny Haran, 28, and his daughter did not die at Kuntar's hands." Repeating his brother's courtroom denial, Bassam claims that Haran was actually killed by Israeli police in a shootout with the terrorists, and to the supposed "mastermind's" claim that Samir had only wanted only to take Haran hostage because he was a "nuclear scientist", but had never intended to kill him. Why CNN would consider claims by a family member and terrorist to be credible and newsworthy is uncertain. Moreover, there is no mention of Samir's confession, the forensic evidence linking him to the murders, or the eyewitness testimony that negated Samir's last-minute, courtroom denial. In fact, much of Nasr's article is taken from an interview given by Bassam on Lebanese TV, where Samir is regarded as a national hero for murdering Israelis. It is disturbing that CNN has followed suit.
Greeted with a hero's welcome in Lebanon on July 17, Kuntar defiantly proclaimed:
I haven't for even one day regretted what I did. On the contrary I remain committed to my political convictions. I feel enormous joy because I have returned to the ranks of the resistance and to my family. (AFP, July 17, 2007 "Lebanon's Kantar says no regrets over killings in Israel")
Kuntar then visited the grave of Hizballah leader Imad Mughniyeh, who masterminded terrorist bombings in Israel during the 1980's and 90's and was killed in a car blast in Syria last February, pledging to continue in Maghniyeh's footsteps. He stated:
We swear by God...to continue on your same path and not to retreat until we achieve the same stature that Allah bestowed on you. This is our great wish. We envy you and we will achieve it, God willing. (Associated Press, July 17, 2007 "Kuntar: I'll continue Mughniyeh's legacy")
When will the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, and CNN stop whitewashing terrorism?