I don't really know who Rachel Motte is or why she suddenly has become an expert on Malaysia in the past year. But I do know that she wrote an article about me recently, saying that I am "a pet" of Anwar Ibrahim, who - according to her - has "direct connections to terrorist organizations" and a long history of being an anti-Semite.
I also know that - to her credit - when I contacted Rachel on Feb 12 and told her that I believed that her article was inaccurate and potentially libelous, she immediately took it down for review. It no longer is on her website, and I thank her for that.
But I also know that Utusan Malaysia has reported her article verbatim - and even went to the trouble of translating it into Malay. And thanks to blogger Din Merican, now I know that the New Straits Times has chosen to print it as well.
Here are the problems with the article, and why I believe that I would be well within my rights to sue the NST, Utusan Malaysia, and others for libel. As someone who has been in public life for over 40 years, I know very well that anything I do, say, or write is open to examination. So that is why I am always very careful to have documentation for everything I say. We can disagree on the analysis, but not on the facts.
When I took a look at Rachel's article, I had two major areas of concern. First, Rachel characterized my relationship with Anwar as being his "pet." This is offensive to me, as I served my nation for over 30 years as an ambassador, deputy assistant secretary of state, and consul general under seven presidents. It would be like me calling (NST columnist) Johan Jaffar the lapdog of Umno. I am Nobody's pet.
Second, there were many statements that to my mind are libelous:
(a) that I am defending "a man with direct ties to terrorist organizations, and a man whose anti-Semitic comments and conspiracy theories are too long to discuss;"
(b) that "rational thinking men and women are able to discern the difference between good and bad individuals, people you should support, versus those you should distance yourself from," implying that I am not a rational thinking person; and
(c) that I am "blinded by [my] support of an anti-Semite with clear and undeniable ties to an organization that supports terrorism."
As a former ambassador to Malaysia, I had access to intelligence reports, and I can say categorically that Anwar does not have ties to any terrorist organizations. Furthermore, Anwar continues to be a friend of former vice president Al Gore, former secretary of defense William ‘Bill' Cohen, and former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz.
None of these gentlemen would continue their relationship with Anwar if he had ties to terrorists. Furthermore, Anwar would not be admitted to the US if he had such a connection (and he was here last week). Furthermore, Paul Wolfowitz (who is Jewish) would not be Anwar's friend if Anwar were anti-Semitic.
In a libel case, the burden of proof will be on NST and the others to prove that Anwar has terrorist ties and that he has a long history of anti-Semitic comments. By publishing Rachel's article, after she removed it from her website, the NST has asserted something that it cannot prove. It has claimed that I am defending a terrorist and an anti-Semite.
These former senior US government officials would support and defend me, based on their knowledge and access to official US government records. The only "evidence" that Rachel and the NST will have will be blog postings that have circulated over the past few years, as part of a campaign to smear Anwar and discredit his reputation and standing in the United States.
For example, the efforts of Jack Abramoff and others to smear Anwar - a multi-million campaign funded by the Malaysian government - were well-documented in US Senate hearings conducted by Senator John McCain. We also know, according to The Washington Post newspaper, that Apco was engaged in a similar effort last year, paid for by the Malaysian government, according to Apco's official filings.
Rachel says that Anwar's connections to terrorist organizations are because he was a founder of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), which is based in Virginia. Like many other Islamic/Muslim groups, the IIIT was raided by the FBI after 9/11 and was investigated thoroughly.
The US government never filed any charges against IIIT. The US government has never listed it as a terrorist organization, and the US government has never closed it down. Yet the charges of an IIIT connection to the Muslim Brotherhood continue to circulate, without evidence, on various right-wing blogs.
What do these bloggers know that the US government does not? Does the NST take the word of unknown bloggers over the US government? What evidence can the NST present in court in a libel case?
Rachel's other claim was what she called Anwar's long record of anti-Semitism. She said that I am supporting an anti-Semite. The reality is, there is no long list of anti-Semitic comments by Anwar Ibrahim. Indeed, throughout his political career, Anwar often has been accused of being close to Jews. For example, Ian Buruma recounts two stories in his New Yorker article on Anwar.
The first is that when Anwar was kicked out of the cabinet in 1998, Mahathir - who had accused George Soros and the Jews of causing the 1997 Asian financial crisis - briefed the cabinet on Anwar's Jewish connections, pointing out that his friends were people like Robert (Bob) Rubin, Bill Cohen, James (Jim) Wolfensohn, Paul Wolfowitz, and so on. All American Jews. The second Buruma story is Mahathir's famous comment that Anwar would make a "good Prime Minister of Israel."
Rachel wrote an article, 'The Reversal of Anwar Ibrahim', claiming that Anwar had become an anti-Semite, in the New Ledger blog on April 29, 2010.
But two months later Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin undercut her thesis and his own government's efforts to portray Anwar as anti-Semitic when he said on July 1, "We know for a fact his ties with pro-Zionist groups."
According to The Washington Post, the Malaysian embassy and Apco worked hard last year to publicize Anwar's comments on "Zionist aggression," after the May 31 Israeli action against the relief ship Mavi Marmara.
But for reasons that are very understandable, the Malaysian government did not want to call attention to Najib's own remarks, which were even stronger, accusing the Israelis of terrorism. Najib called the Israeli actions a "blatant act of aggression and terrorism" committed by the "Zionist regime." He also referred to "Zionist atrocities." His remarks are on the official website of the Prime Minister's office.
Najib also said that, "The Israeli commandos shot the activists point blank and even from the back, and this is an act of a coward which cannot be forgiven. These blatant acts occurred because the world gangsters, Israel, feel they are protected by a world power." The latter reference, of course, is to the United States.
Anwar's comments last year caused a lot of problems, but to say that he has a long history of anti-Semitism, and that I therefore am linked to an anti-Semite, is wrong. I know that the NST has been running op-eds attacking me everyday. But they need to be careful about crossing the line into libel.
The author is former US ambassador to Malaysia. The above article first appeared in Din Merican's blog.