Conjecture vs. Fact Drives Vancouver Sun Reporting on Assassination (March 2, 2010)

March 2, 2010


Conjecture vs. Fact Drives Vancouver Sun Reporting on Assassination
Dear HonestReporting Canada Subscriber,

The death of senior Hamas terrorist Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai in January has generated a huge amount of media interest. Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency stands accused (despite, at best, only circumstantial evidence) of using forged European passports to carry out an assassination.The story reads like something straight from a spy movie. But is that because the media have failed to report it accurately and avoid sensationalism? Have some media outlets simply taken the story and turned it into another stick to beat Israel?

Case in point, a Jonathan Manthorpe column published in the Vancouver Sun on February 24 unfairly implicated Israel directly, finding it guilty of involvement despite the fact that this is a matter of dispute. While Israel continues to neither deny nor confirm any involvement under their policy known as “ambiguity,” Manthorpe stated the following despite a lack of evidence and using only conjecture at his disposal:

However, the killing on the night of Jan. 19 in a hotel in Dubai of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior military commander of the Palestinian radical group Hamas and its chief arms buyer, has been documented in far too much detail to be ignored.”

And this was clearly a Mossad operation… Even though the Mossad team was clearly aware of the dangers of Dubai’s CCTV — members frequently changed clothes, wigs and hotels — the entire sequence of events was caught from the time the squad arrived from various European centres the day before al-Mabhouh arrived from Syria on Jan. 19.”

Manthorpe’s contention that this “was clearly a Mossad operation” and that a “Mossad team” was clearly in Dubai, is again based on circumstantial, not verifiable evidence. Had Mr. Manthorpe responsibility stated that these were just his contentions and not matters of fact, then there wouldn’t have been a problem here, however he didn’t responsibly state his argument in this manner.


It’s worth considering the prospect that Israel has been set up to take the fall. Mideast analyst and commentator Tom Gross expounded on this possibility:

“Airlines keep detailed passenger records these days and anyone could have got the flight manifestos of British and other passport holders who have flown to Israel in the past and then used these names in a deliberate attempt to point the finger of blame at Israel.

The Dubai authorities have provided no forensic evidence that points to Israel, only a series of photos and videos of random hotel guests who may or may not all know each other. In any event, the persons shown in these photos and videos are not shown committing any crime. It would be very easy to frame Israel, using the identities of six randomly-chosen Israelis based on flight manifestos. This could have been done by anyone – and especially by persons who wanted to avoid being suspected of this action by blaming the Israelis and diverting attention from the real perpetrators.”

Gross also points out that in the global battle against terror, many other actors could have been behind the assassination, stating: the intelligence agencies of many countries have created data banks of identities using flight lists and other sources. Persons with longstanding familiarity with intelligence matters tell me that many governments – and not just the European ones – use European operatives to carry out their killings, including in the cases of other previous assassinations in Dubai.

As demonstrated above, to claim by some unknown veracity that “this was clearly a Mossad operation,” without any incontrovertible evidence is quite misleading and erroneous. While Mr. Manthorpe has a right to a fair opinion, with that said, he must maintain a semblance of factual accuracy in his columns.

HonestReporting Canada (HRC) shared these concerns with the Vancouver Sun’s Editorial Pages Editor, Fazil Mihlar, who in a conversation with HRC conceded that Mr. Manthorpe’s statement could be interpreted as an unfair presentation of fact, as opposed to a personal opinion, thereby regretting this error and the false impression that it had created.

In a means of remedying this oversight, the Vancouver Sun commendably printed a letter to the editor from HonestReporting Canada in today’s edition, along with amending the online version of this column by removing the statements which unfairly implicated Israel directly in the assassination of this Hamas operative. (Click the following links to see exclusive before and after versions of this column)

As it stands, we currently do not know whether Mossad or any other foreign intelligence agency is responsible for the Dubai assassination, nor does the international or Canadian media for that matter. What we do know, however, is that the media has a responsibility to report on this story without prejudice and based on the limited circumstantial evidence that is available.

With that said, it’s heartening to note that the Vancouver Sun acted promptly and responsibly when informed about this matter.

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