Why would the NY Times publish an uncorroborated allegation from the son of a top Hamas official?

 A Palestinian teenager says that Israeli soldiers detained him for five days last month, forcing him to sleep blindfolded and handcuffed in his underwear and to search and dig for tunnels in Khuza’a, his village near Gaza’s eastern border, which was all but destroyed in the fighting.

The teenager, Ahmed Jamal Abu Raida, said the soldiers assumed he was connected to Hamas, the militant Islamist group that dominates Gaza, insulted him and Allah and threatened to sic a dog on him.

“My life was in danger,” Ahmed, 17, said in one of two lengthy interviews on Thursday and Friday. As soldiers made him walk in front of them through the neighborhood and check houses for tunnels, he added, “In every second, I was going to the unknown.”

His assertions, of actions that would violate both international law and a 2005 Israeli Supreme Court ruling, could not be independently corroborated; Ahmed’s father, Jamal Abu Raida, who held a senior position in Gaza’s Tourism Ministry under the Hamas-controlled government, said the family forgot to take photographs documenting any abuse in its happiness over the youth’s return, and disposed of the clothing he was given upon his release.

Surely, it’s not an impossible story to believe, though, as Elder of Ziyon points out, some of the details don’t make much sense. Meanwhile, as the authors themselves acknowledge,  (a)  there is no corroborating evidence; (b) the father is a high-level Hamas official, so the family has a very obvious motive for lying.  Most telling, Israeli soldiers are alleged to have beaten Abu Raida repeatedly, yet he can’t he show the Times’s reporters any evidence of his injuries, whether photographic or lingering scars/scabs/welts/wounds.

If the Times’s reporters could actually corroborate the story, more power to them in publishing it.  But at this point, they are just repeating unconfirmed allegations from a dubious source, in other words, passing along wartime propaganda as news.

Richard Behar recently noted that the co-author of the story, Gaza correspondent Fares Akram, is hardly an objective observer, happily also working for Al Jazeera and taking its pro-Hamas line. But why would Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren put her name on this dreck, and how did it get past the Times’s editors?

David Bernstein is the George Mason University Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, VA. His latest book, Lawless: The Obama Administration's Unprecedented Assault on the Constitution and the Rule of Law, will be published in November.

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Eugene Volokh · August 24, 2014