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'Al-Qaeda' Falsely Added to Statement Transcript by US Government

Liberty Forum/CNN| May 12 2004

Aired on CNN May 12, 2004 - 12:59 ET

O'BRIEN: Responses throughout the Middle East are reflected, of course, in Arab TV coverage. Our senior editor of Arab affairs, Octavia Nasr, who watches Arab the Arab television assiduously, is here to give us a little sense of what's being said and perhaps more important in this story, what is being shown and not shown. The big question is, of course, on this tape, just horrific tape, which is available on the Web, obviously. Are places like Al-Arabiya, Al Jazeera, are they showing it in its entirety?

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN SR. EDITOR FOR ARAB AFFAIRS: No. Arab viewers of the big networks, as well as the local TV stations did not see the actual execution. They did see at the beginning of this tape, just like we saw here on CNN and most Western networks, you saw the beginning of the tape right before the beheading. They reported on it, and as a side story. It certainly isn't playing as a big story or as the story.

O'BRIEN: That's very interesting. When we hearken back to Danny Pearl, "The Wall Street Journal" reporter who was killed in Pakistan in 2002, the entirety of that, which included a beheading, was shown on these outlets. What happened? What changed?

NASR: What changed is the learning. And also the reaction to showing gruesome pictures and atrocities and the reaction from viewers and authorities alike. Also, it has been a few years since then. Back then, there was no Al-Arabiya. Al-Arabiya is brand new. It started a few weeks before the war last year.

Again, it's a learning process. It seems that the networks are responding to their viewers. Remember, Al Jazeera is seen all over the world, the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia, all over the world. And viewers there are not accepting of these images as people in the Arab world are.

O'BRIEN: Well, let me ask you this. You've had a chance to really listen to this tape and get a sense who might be responsible, just by deciphering, say, accents. And certainly, there in the Arab world, they're very attuned to that. And given the fact of who this may or may not be, does that have some effect on how it is being played?

NASR: Yes, and if you listen to these voices that we're hearing on Arab networks, Iraqis are condemning this execution. And they're saying these are foreigners. These are not Iraqis. They do not represent us and so forth.

Now, of course, the original claim was that Zarqawi is the actual man who performed this execution. Our experts listened to the accent, as you said, and they determined the accent is not Jordanian...

O'BRIEN: He is a Jordanian who is working supposedly, allegedly, at the behest of al Qaeda in Iraq. So go ahead.

NASR: Right, he is very close to bin Laden, and works, you're right, as an agent of al Qaeda in Iraq. Now, the accent is not Jordanian so that takes the Jordanian element out of the story immediately.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right, now one final thought here. You did a very careful translation of your own, of the statement. And in it, you see no reference to al Qaeda. And yet the official U.S. government translation does. Explain how that happened.

NASR: Oh, I find it very interesting, because out of the blue, there is a mention of al Qaeda on the U.S. government translation. It says: "Does al Qaeda need any further excuses?" Any speaker of the Arabic language is going to notice a difference between the word al Qaeda, which means "the base," and al qaed, which means "the one sitting, doing nothing."

My translation says: "Is there any excuse for the one who sits down and does nothing?" Basically they're telling people, you have no excuse for not doing anything, for not acting and defending Islam and so forth. Whereas the U.S. government translation has this factual error, I'm sure it's an honest mistake, but basically it sort of adds al Qaeda to the statement, which is not on the statement.

O'BRIEN: All right, Octavia Nasr, we don't know exactly how that got in there. We'll try to get more on that. We appreciate you bringing that all to light and appreciate your insights, of course.

NASR: You bet.