Following major backlash after the Obama administration announced it would censor all references to Islam and ISIS from a released transcript of Orlando killer Omar Mateen’s 911 calls, the administration made an about-face, saying that FBI would release the uncensored transcript after all.
Mateen, who killed 49 and injured 53 at a gay bar on June 12 in the largest gun massacre in American history, had called 911 during the attack to reveal himself as the killer and proclaim his allegiance to the Islamic State. However, the Obama administration decided to edit out all mention of Islam or ISIS before releasing a “partial transcript” of his 911 calls, said Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Sunday.
“What we’re not going to do is further proclaim this individual’s pledges of allegiance to terrorist groups and further his propaganda,” Lynch told CNN in an interview. “We are not going to hear him make his assertions of allegiance [to the Islamic State].”
“We’re trying to get as much information about this investigation out as possible,” she added, somewhat incongruously.
FBI Agent Ron Hooper defended the redaction, telling reporters in Orlando, “Part of the redacting is meant not to give credence to individuals who have done terrorist acts in the past.”
“We’re not going to propagate their rhetoric, their violent rhetoric and we see no value in putting their names back out there,” he added.
In the edited version, Mateen’s words were recorded as follows: “I pledge allegiance to [omitted] may God protect him [in Arabic], on behalf of [omitted].”
GOP House Speaker Ryan Paul and a number of other lawmakers immediately slammed the decision to censor the transcript.
“Selectively editing this transcript is preposterous,” said Ryan. “We know the shooter was a radical Islamist extremist inspired by ISIS…The administration should release the full, unredacted transcript so the public is clear-eyed about who did this, and why.”
Florida governor Rick Scott echoed the sentiment, saying on Monday that he couldn’t understand the decision to edit the transcripts. “This seems like it is another example of not focusing on the evil here. This is evil. It’s ISIS. It’s radical Islam,” Scott told Fox News.
Despite Mateen’s open declaration of intention to carry out the attack in the name of ISIS, the White House has severely downplayed the attack’s connection to Islamic terror. Obama refused to associate the shooting with radical Islam, resulting in a smackdown by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Following Ryan’s sharp criticism, lots of media attention and widespread outrage on social media over the decision to redact the transcripts, the Obama administration relented, backtracking on the redaction and releasing a full, unedited transcript.
In a joint statement made after the transcript was released, the FBI and Department of Justice explained their original decision by saying that they had not wanted “to provide the killer or terrorist organizations with a publicity platform for hateful propaganda.”
The statement also took a potshot at critics, saying that the attention drawn by the redaction had “caused an unnecessary distraction from the hard work that the FBI and our law enforcement partners have been doing to investigate this heinous crime.”
In the full transcript, Mateen is revealed to have said, “I pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may God protect him [Arabic], on behalf of the Islamic State.”