Wednesday, May 25, 2005

What's the news, what's the truth

When I heard about Newsweek's allegations about guards at Gitmo flushing Qur'ans down the toilet, I didn't think much of it. Sounded like the usual games to me.

And then there was the backpeddling. The latest at Newsweek:
In the week since our Periscope item about alleged abuse of the Qur'an at Guantanamo Bay became a heated topic of national conversation, it will come as no surprise to you that we have been engaged in a great deal of soul-searching and reflection....

As most of you know, we have unequivocally retracted our story. In the light of the Pentagon's denials and our source's changing position on the allegation, the only responsible course was to say that we no longer stand by our story.
The folded, plain and simple.

Part of the problem, and it is something of a problem, Newsweek relied on an anonymous source. They say now,
When information provided by a source wishing to remain anonymous is essential to a sensitive story—alleging misconduct or reflecting a highly contentious point of view, for example—we pledge a renewed effort to seek a second independent source or other corroborating evidence.
Huh? Some of the most important stories -- Watergate, Iran/Contra, Monica & Bill -- came from anonymous sources.

But that's not all... sometimes anonymous sources are right. Newsweek reports
The International Committee of the Red Cross announced that it had provided the Pentagon with confidential reports about U.S. personnel disrespecting or mishandling Qur'ans at Gitmo in 2002 and 2003. Simon Schorno, an ICRC spokesman, said the Red Cross had provided "several" instances that it believed were "credible." The ICRC report included three specific allegations of offensive treatment of the Qur'an by guards. Defense Department spokesman Lawrence Di Rita would not comment on these allegations except to say that the Gitmo commanders routinely followed up ICRC reports, including these, and could not substantiate them.
Hmmm... and Newsweek still thinks their source was wrong?

Molly Ivins reports
There seems to be a bit of a campaign on the right to blame Newsweek for the anti-American riots in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Islamic countries. Uh, people, I hate to tell you this, but the story about Americans abusing the Quran in order to enrage prisoners has been out there for quite some time. The first mention I found of it is March 17, 2004, when the Independent of London interviewed the first British citizen released from Guantanamo Bay. The prisoner said he had been physically beaten but did not consider that as bad as the psychological torture, which he described extensively. Jamal al-Harith, a computer programmer from Manchester, said 70 percent of the inmates had gone on a hunger strike after a guard kicked a copy of the Quran. The strike was ended by force-feeding.

Then came the report, widely covered in American media last December, by the International Red Cross concerning torture at Gitmo. I wrote at the time: "Why are people representing our government, paid by us, writing filth on the Qurans of helpless prisoners? Is this American? Is this Christian? What are our moral values?"

The reports kept coming: Dec. 30, "Released Moroccan Guantanamo Detainee Tells Islamist Paper of His Ordeal," reported the Financial Times. "They watched you each time you went to the toilet; the American soldiers used to tear up copies of Koran and throw them in the toilet," said the released prisoner.
But it's not just the liberal media. Try this on for size: FBI memo reports Guantanamo guards flushing Koran...
An FBI agent wrote in a 2002 document made public on Wednesday that a detainee held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had accused American jailers there of flushing the Koran down a toilet.

The release of the declassified document came the week after the Bush administration denounced as wrong a May 9 Newsweek article that stated U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo had flushed a Koran down a toilet to try to make detainees talk.

The magazine retracted the article, which had triggered protests in
Afghanistan in which 16 people died.

The newly released document, dated Aug. 1, 2002, contained a summary of statements made days earlier by a detainee, whose name was redacted, in two interviews with an FBI special agent, whose name also was withheld, at the Guantanamo prison for foreign terrorism suspects.

The American Civil Liberties Union released the memo and a series of other FBI documents it obtained from the government under court order through the Freedom of Information Act.

"Personally, he has nothing against the United States. The guards in the detention facility do not treat him well. Their behavior is bad. About five months ago, the guards beat the detainees. They flushed a Koran in the toilet," the FBI agent wrote.

"The guards dance around when the detainees are trying to pray. The guards still do these things," the FBI agent wrote.

The Pentagon stated last week it had received "no credible and specific allegations" that U.S. personnel at Guantanamo had put a Koran in the toilet.
I'm guessing that a special agent of the FBI just isn't a credible source for the civilian and military leadership at the Pentagon.

Yeh, right.

A colleague of mine talks about "setting the conditions." Leaders set conditions; they don't just do it with words, they do it with actions; they do it with connotation and intonation; they do it by what they don't say; they do it by what they allow.

Anthony Romero of the ALCU recently wrote,
"If we are to truly repair America's standing in the world, the Bush administration must hold accountable high-ranking officials who allow the continuing abuse and torture of detainees."
Ah, that would be the "setting of the conditions."

I'm wondering if holding accountable those who have set the condition includes the Commander-in-Chief?

And in the mean time, it's time for me to sign off; I have to go plunge the tiolet. We've got something plugging it up.


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