The FBI blundered badly Monday in its attempt to withhold portions of a transcript of the four 911 calls by Orlando nightclub assassin Omar Mateen.
Eventually, the decision to redact some of Mateen’s words was reversed, and the nation learned that the shooter had professed his loyalty to the Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, when he called the emergency number during the June 12 attack. The FBI’s rationale for its decision was to protect the victims’ families and “to prevent future attacks.” We doubt that knowing Mateen sympathized with ISIS really increased the suffering of the grieving families burying their dead.
And since eyewitnesses, local police and the FBI said from the start that this psychopath mentioned ISIS, how exactly would blacking out those words from the 911 transcript protect us from terror attacks? Attorney General Loretta Lynch put it this way: “What we’re not going to do is further proclaim this man’s pledges of allegiance to terrorist groups and further his propaganda.” Trying to shield Americans from the truth, and undermining their confidence in what the federal government is telling them, might be a more dangerous action. In reversing the decision to redact, the FBI and Justice Department said they wanted to avoid unnecessary distractions.
That’s missing the point.
The nation needs to know as much as it can about the mindset of people like Mateen. Information that helps us understand his motivation might prevent the next atrocity. Some details of the calls are still being withheld. The only legitimate reason for the FBI not to release the full transcript of the 911 calls is to protect its ongoing investigation.
We hope that is now the case. — The editorial board