In his conference speech this week, David Cameron said this - “ Thousands of words have been written about the new Labour leader. But you only really need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a “tragedy”.”
Cameron then went on to use this “fact” to launch a searing personal attack on Jeremy Corbyn: “we cannot let that man inflict his security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology on the country we love.”
The crowd in the hall were rapturous.
But Cameron had knowingly quoted Corbyn out of context. He had twisted his words to give a false impression of what he had said.
Cameron took Corbyn’s words from an interview Corbyn gave to an Iranian TV station in 2011.
This is what Corbyn said: - “There was no attempt whatsoever that I can see to arrest [bin Laden], to put him on trial, to go through that process….This was an assassination attempt, and is yet another tragedy, upon a tragedy, upon a tragedy…The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy. Tens of thousands of people have died….”
Corbyn went on to say:- ”the solution has got to be law not war”.
Corbyn’s view is hardly extreme - let alone “security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating”.
Barack Obama is quoted by Mark Bowden who wrote a book about the killing of Bin Laden as saying to him: - "Frankly, my belief was if we had captured him, that I would be in a pretty strong position, politically, here, to argue that displaying due process and rule of law would be our best weapon against al-Qaida, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr….the full rights of criminal defendants would showcase America’s commitment to justice for even the worst of the worst.”
And in December 2001 Boris Johnson, wrote in the Telegraph that a trial of Bin Laden would assert “reason over madness and revenge….He should be put on trial, because a trial would be the profoundest and most eloquent statement of the difference between our values and his. He wanted to kill as many innocent people as he could. We want justice.”
Cameron’s cynical and malicious twisting of Corbyn’s words is bad enough.
But even worse are all those media outlets that repeated - often gleefully -Cameron’s attack without properly explaining what Corbyn had actually said. A properly functioning democracy requires a media that has basic standards of decency and honesty. I worry about our democracy.