Do you trust Biden or ISIS, Psaki asks skeptical reporter
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki mocked the idea that the US administration may provide journalists inaccurate information about its military operations abroad.
When asked if Washington would be giving any proof that the target of a US commando raid in Syria blew himself up along with members of his family, Psaki asked whether skeptics would rather trust terrorists.
She was confronted by a journalist on Air Force One over an account of events that President Joe Biden gave to the public.
Speaking a few hours after the raid was confirmed by the Pentagon, the president said Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), detonated a suicide vest when his compund in northwestern Syria was assaulted by US forces.
“As our troops approached to capture the terrorist, in a final act of desperate cowardice, with no regard to the lives of his own family or others in the building, he chose to blow himself up,” Biden said.
Sources on the ground in the border town of Atmeh, where the nighttime US operation took place, told the media that at least 12 civilians were killed. UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, confirmed six deaths of minors in the area.
NPR White House Correspondent Ayesha Rascoe asked Psaki on Thursday whether the US would be releasing any evidence to support its account of what had happened in Syria. “There may be people that are skeptical of the events that took place and what happened to the civilians,” she pointed out.
Psaki to reporter asking about those "skeptical" about civilians killed in raid: "Skeptical of the U.S. military's assessment when they went and took out... the leader of ISIS, that they are not providing accurate information, and ISIS is providing accurate information?" pic.twitter.com/7g90mc1x1U— Tommy moderna-vaX-Topher (@tommyxtopher) February 3, 2022
The official appeared to find the idea ridiculous, reframing the question as if skeptics were siding with IS against the US.
Skeptical of the US military’s assessment when they went and took out… the leader of ISIS? That they are not providing accurate information and ISIS is providing accurate information?
Rascoe wouldn’t vouch for the trustworthiness of the jihadists, but pointed out that “the US has not always been straightforward about what happens with civilians.”
“And I mean, that is a fact,” she added.
In late August, amid the chaotic pullout from Kabul, Afghanistan, the US launched a drone strike on a vehicle they claimed was rigged with explosives and on its way to conduct a second suicide attack against troops guarding the city’s international airport. There were claims from anonymous US officials that a secondary blast proved that the target was indeed a car bomb.
The assessment was proven to be false, with The New York Times revealing that the airstrike actually killed 10 civilians, including seven children. The Pentagon investigated its decision-making process and decided not to punish anyone for what it called a tragic mistake.
After dismissing the notion that people can be legitimately skeptical about Washington’s words, Psaki assured the journalistic corps that it was President Biden’s priority to do “everything possible to avoid civilian casualties.”
The exchange onboard the presidential plane coincided with a similar debate over the reliability of information provided by the US government at the State Department. Spokesman Ned Price announced on Thursday that Russia was fabricating a casus belli – a justification for a military attack against Ukraine.
Veteran Associated Press correspondent Matt Lee asked if any proof of the claim would be given. Price insisted that his statement was good enough and that the underlying intelligence will not be disclosed “to protect sources and methods.”
“You know that we declassify information only when we are confident in that information,” he said, referring to the claim he made. “If you doubt the credibility of the US government, or the British government, or other governments and want to solace in information the Russians are putting out, that is for you to do.”