The White House said on Monday “that an inaccurate Newsweek report based on an anonymous source had damaged the U.S. image overseas by claiming U.S. interrogators desecrated the Koran at Guantanamo Bay.” This after the editor of Newsweek admitted on Monday that there might be a problem with their report.
Two weeks ago in their issue dated May 9, Michael Isikoff and John Barry of Newsweek magazine reported that U.S. military investigators had found evidence that American guards at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had committed infractions in trying to get terror suspects to talk, including in one case flushing a Qur'an down a toilet. The story spawned protests in Afghanistan that left 15 dead and many others injured.
The White House jumped on this as if it were a story by Dan Rather. White House spokesman Scott McClellan was quoted as saying, “People have lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged.”
Let me make sure I heard that correctly . . . . “The image of the United States abroad has been damaged.”
Can you imagine McClellan saying that after the recent publication of the “Downing Street memo” that is nothing short of the smoking gun needed to confirm that the Bush administration cooked the books in order to wage an illegal war with Iraq that has ruined the lives of millions of people. This must be the image that McClellan thinks has been damaged. It seems that the Pentagon's “shock and awe” campaign pretty much destroyed that a long time ago.
It has been widely reported that Muslims in Afghanistan have been skeptical about the supposed turnaround in the story on Monday. And rightly so. It came on the heels of a recent report issued to the UN Commission on Human Rights that American military forces and independent contractors in Afghanistan allegedly acted above the law with “sexual abuse, beatings, torture, and use of force resulting in death.”
Former U.S. Army Sergeant Erik Saar was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from December, 2002 to June, 2003, and he has just written a new book: Inside the Wire: A Military Intelligence Soldier's Eyewitness Account of Life at Guantanamo. In this book are descriptions of a wide range of questionable practices and techniques that were used by the U.S. military. In an interview with Amy Goodman on May 4, Saar stated:
[A] technique was used in the interrogation booth where sex was used as a weapon to create a wedge between the detainee we were speaking with and his faith. For example, more specifically, the female interrogator I worked with that day sought to sexually entice the detainee. The logic behind that was that if he would be sexually attracted to her, he would feel unclean, and therefore, she believed, in Islam, he would be unable to go back to his cell and pray. One thing she additionally did in order to humiliate him and also to make him feel unclean was wipe what was red ink on his face, but it was done in a way that he believed it was menstrual blood. All of this again was in an attempt to create this wedge between himself and his religion . . . .
If U.S. interrogation practices went this far, what's the likelihood of a single copy of the Qur'an being flushed down a toilet?
It was also reported by a spokesman of Afghan President Hamid Karzai that he was displeased with Newsweek's acknowledgment of the error. But Newsweek did not acknowledge any error.
Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker stated: “Last Friday, a top Pentagon spokesman told us that a review of the probe cited in our story showed that it was never meant to look into charges of Qur'an desecration. The spokesman also said the Pentagon had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them “not credible.” Our original source later said he couldn't be certain about reading of the alleged Qur'an incident in the report we cited, and said it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts. Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we. But we regret that [emphasis mine] we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst.
That means if, because it is not certain whether this alleged incident was written down in one particular official report. Whether or not it happened is not the issue; the issue is whether or not an account of it was written down in a particular report. And considering the Pentagon's willingness in the past to ignore the Geneva Conventions, this story is quite credible regardless of whether or not a written report was generated. In fact, it would have been absolutely careless to leave such a report laying about.
Whitaker said, “Their information came from a knowledgeable U.S. government source, and before deciding whether to publish it we approached two separate Defense Department officials for comment. One declined to give us a response; the other challenged another aspect of the story but did not dispute the Qur'an charge [emphasis mine].”
McClellan later added, “It has certainly caused damage to the credibility of the media as well, and Newsweek itself.”
Sloppy journalism? Yes, unfortunately. But the story is quite plausible and may very well be true, which is more than can be said for the Bush administration's trumped-up case for going to war with Iraq that was presented to the United Nations -- especially now that we have the smoking gun that is the “Downing Street memo.”
Unfortunately world opinion cannot impeach a U.S. president.
* “Hypocracy” is not an accepted English word that means government by hypocrites.
Harold Williamson is a Chicago-based independent scholar. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2005 Harold Williamson.
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