Published Wednesday, December 10, 2003
BY STEPHEN BUTLER
A visiting Yale Law Professor is considering legal action against an Egyptian publication that recently published a fabricated inflammatory interview. Khaled M. Abou El Fadl '86 said he may sue the Egyptian governmental weekly "October," which quoted him as seriously questioning the United States' foreign policy in the Middle East.
The fabricated interview, which was translated into English and published on the Internet by the Middle East Media Research Institute on Nov. 26, quoted Abou El Fadl as calling Bush a "religious fundamentalist," claiming that 20 percent of American soldiers in Iraq suffer from "mental conditions," and saying he had predicted Iraqi resistance to an American occupation force.
Abou El Fadl, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles who is teaching at Yale Law for the 2003-2004 academic year, said he thinks the interview was probably derived from a conversation he had in Egypt recently with a man who did not identify himself as a journalist for "October." The man did not use a tape recorder or take any written notes during the conversation, Abou El Fadl said.
"I chose my words very carefully," Abou El Fadl said. "If you're not taking notes and you're not tape recording and you don't have a very nuanced mind, you'll remember [the conversation] through your own biases."
Abou El Fadl said his comments were "sensationalized" and made "very inaccurate" in the interview.
"It obfuscated my attempt to have a rich and nuanced discussion about what's going on in the Middle East," Abou El Fadl said.
Anne Johnson, director of communications for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a group to which Abou El Fadl was appointed by President George W. Bush '68 in May, said the commission believed the publication of the interview was intended to discredit Bush.
"Our sense was that [the interview] was an effort by the Egyptian Government to attack President Bush through one of his appointees," Johnson said.
The interview quoted Abou El Fadl as saying he had told White House officials they were "misled by the situation in Afghanistan" when they planned for war in Iraq.
"But the resistance will increase and if you intervene in Syria and Iran, even double the sum you are requesting [from Congress] will not meet your needs, and the Shi'ites will rise up against you," Abou El Fadl was quoted as saying he told White House officials.
In a written quote-by-quote response to the interview, Abou El Fadl said such quotes are "childish" and "have no basis in truth."
"I am disheartened by the lack of ethical journalism in the Egyptian media," Abou El Fadl said in the response.
After the publication and circulation of the interview's text, Abou El Fadl said he received numerous angry e-mails. The tone of the e-mails ranged from simple criticism to religiously-motivated attacks and death threats.
USCIRF Chair Michael K. Young said in a press release that Abou El Fadl has the commission's support.
"We value the contribution Commissioner El Fadl is making to the work of the commission and look forward to his contributions in the future," Young said in the release.
Abou El Fadl said he has spoken to an Egyptian attorney and is considering filing a suit in Egyptian court against "October." He said the attorney told him that he would have a good chance of winning a suit, but that it might take a significant period of time to complete the Egyptian legal process.