Nov
23
2010

NYT and the Fake Taliban Talks

If you had concluded that the Afghan War was in disarray, the front page of the New York Times today probably didn't do much to change your mind:

Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor

By DEXTER FILKINS and CARLOTTA GALL

KABUL, Afghanistan â┚¬” For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

More interesting to me was the acknowledgment that the Times was holding back information about the identity of the Taliban impostor at the request of U.S. officials:

Last month, White House officials asked The New York Times to withhold Mr. Mansour's name from an article about the peace talks, expressing concern that the talks would be jeopardized â┚¬” and Mr. Mansour's life put at risk â┚¬” if his involvement were publicized. The Times agreed to withhold Mr. Mansour's name, along with the names of two other Taliban leaders said to be involved in the discussions. The status of the other two Taliban leaders said to be involved is not clear.

Of course it's impossible to say for sure what may have happened if the Times had reported these details, but it's at least plausible that the the whole fraud could have been exposed sooner.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.