Homeland Security

FBI Excuse for Redacting Orlando Shooter's ISIS Pledges: 'Ongoing Criminal Investigation'

Before Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured 53 others in a gay nightclub in Orlando in June, he made an infamous 911 call, declaring his religious intentions behind the attack and pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Just as infamously, when the FBI released a partial transcript of that call, the organization omitted crucial phrases linking Mateen to ISIS.

“My organization, Cause of Action Institute, has begun an investigation into the Obama administration’s decision to censor the facts of the Orlando shooting,” announced Alfred J. Lechner Jr., a former U.S. District Court judge and current president and CEO of Cause of Action Institute, a nonprofit law firm based in Washington, D.C. He recounted his organization’s investigation of the Obama administration’s editing in an op-ed published in The Daily Signal.

Lechner recalled that his firm filed requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Justice Department, “regarding the decision to redact the transcript as well as the administration’s policies on censoring law enforcement.”

The response Lechner received proved less than encouraging: “The FBI responded to our request, asserting broad law enforcement privileges, ostensibly to protect an ongoing criminal investigation.” This dodge could not be more blatant — as the Cause of Action president noted, “Our requests … relate only to the FBI’s censorship policies, not the investigation.”

Not only is Mateen already dead (killed in the shootout with police) — the hiding of information from the American people is a serious issue, not to be dismissed cavalierly. As Lechner put it, “Even when it relates to terrorism, the government must be careful not to hide the truth from the American public.”

Even worse, it seems that the Obama administration is hiding the truth “not to protect citizens’ national security interests, but rather to further the political preferences of those in power,” the Cause of Action president alleged.

When the FBI released the 911 call transcript more than a week after the shooting, it omitted key facts. When the 911 dispatcher asked Mateen for his name, the FBI’s transcript read: “My name is I pledge allegiance to [omitted]” and “I pledge alliance to [omitted] may God protect him [in Arabic], on behalf of [omitted].”

As Lechner noted, Mateen could hardly have been more explicit in declaring himself a soldier of the Islamic State.

My name is I pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State” and “I pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may God protect him [in Arabic], on behalf of the Islamic State.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch sought to justify the censorship, arguing it was necessary “to avoid revictimizing those people that went through this horror.” But that seems highly unlikely, given the Obama administration’s penchant for hiding key facts when it comes to terror motivated by certain interpretations of the Islamic faith.

Next Page: The Obama administration’s long record of terror censorship.

Since 2011, Lechner explained, “the administration has led a controversial effort to remove any and all mentions of Islamic ideology from training manuals for law enforcement.”

PJ Media covered this issue in depth in late June following a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about “Willful Blindness” on radical Islam. PJ Media’s own Andrew McCarthy testified on the issue, former Homeland Security officer Philip Haney recalled the “great purges” of documents relating to terror, and M. Zuhdi Jasser condemned the Obama administration’s refusal to use the words “radical Islamic terror” as an insult to Muslims.

Lechner also noted a June 6 Homeland Security report advising law enforcement to use “the right lexicon” for “issues of violent extremism.” It encouraged staff to eliminate “religiously charged terminology” and cautioned against using words like “jihad” and “sharia.”

Distressing as the use of such words may be to peaceful Muslims, it is important for the American people to understand the nature of the terror threat our nation faces. This is why patriotic Muslims like Jasser argue for the inclusion of such terms — if Americans know that Mateen was inspired by jihad and a certain understanding of Islam, that opens the door for Muslims who disagree to explain why they reject this version of Islam.

Jasser is fighting the battle of ideas, explaining why Muslims should not be inspired by ISIS. He argues for a separation of mosque and state, of sharia (Islamic law) and state law. This is a key American principle for people of all religions: while American legislators and activists must be free to use their religious understanding to inform their work, it is important to divide religious law from public law.

The FBI’s refusal to explain the reasoning behind the ISIS omission in the 911 transcript is disturbing, but their reasoning is even worse. After the sham decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for her private email server in early July, the bureau has taken a huge credibility hit, and this response to Cause of Action is likely to only worsen its reputation.

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