Monday, May 16, 2005


Earlier today, as you have surely read elsewhere, the White House demanded and received a retraction from Newsweek, which last week reported that an internal military investigation had uncovered cases in which interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Quran. Within the Bush administration, various abettors of torture and mass murder leapt to blame the story, rather fancifully, for riots that killed 16 (or 17) people in Afghanistan:
"The report had real consequences," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday. "People have lost their lives. Our image abroad has been damaged. There are some who are opposed to the United States and what we stand for who have sought to exploit this allegation. It will take work to undo what can be undone."

McClellan said a retraction was only "a good first step" and said Newsweek should try to set the record straight by "clearly explaining what happened and how they got it wrong, particularly to the Muslim world, and pointing out the policies and practices of our military."

The Pentagon looked into the allegations initially and found nothing to substantiate them. "They continue to look into it," McClellan said . . . .

"I do think it's done a lot of harm," [Condoleezza] Rice said. "Of course, 16 people died but it's also done a lot of harm to America's efforts" to demonstrate tolerance and breed goodwill in the Muslim world.

"The sad thing was that there was a lot of anger that got stirred by a story that was not very well founded," Rice said . . . .

"We've not found any wrongdoing on the part of U.S. service members," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of Joint Chiefs. He said the Pentagon has investigated the claims, but he did not indicate whether the investigation was complete.

"People lost their lives. People are dead," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said. "People need to be very careful about what they say, just as they need to be careful about what they do" . . . .

"Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay," [Newsweek editor Mark] Whitaker said.
Note the phrasing of the retraction: Newsweek does not say that abuse of the Quran did not occur, only that a military investigation did not uncover it (you will undoubtedly recall another recent military investigation that uncovered no culpability by higher-ups at Abu Ghraib). Nor has the military denied that Quran abuse took place. Allegations of religious desecration at Gitmo are neither new nor scarce, as you will see here. With that in mind we would like to propose a simple test.

Roughly two weeks ago the following allegations appeared in the New York Times:
Mr. al-Mutairi said there were three major hunger strikes in his more than three years of imprisonment at Guantánamo. He said that after one of them, a protest of guards' handling of copies of the Koran, which had been tossed into a pile and stepped on, a senior officer delivered an apology over the camp's loudspeaker system, pledging that such abuses would stop. Interpreters, standing outside each prison block, translated the officer's apology.

A former interrogator at Guantánamo, in an interview with The Times, confirmed the accounts of the hunger strikes, including the public expression of regret over the treatment of the Korans.
The Bush administration has just collected Newsweek's scalp, on the grounds that Newsweek's flawed reportage enraged our enemies, resulted in the deaths of 16 (or 17) people, and damaged the hitherto-unblemished reputation for tolerance and goodwill that America, according to Condoleezza Rice, enjoys in the Muslim world. If, however, we assume (as seems inarguable) that the Muslim world is offended less by dubious sourcing than by desecration of its holy book, then, based on the single passage above, the NYT is plainly guilty of the same crimes as Newsweek -- and the Times, needless to say, boasts an even more impressive scalp. Therefore:

A) either the Bush administration will demand, and receive, a retraction from the New York Times, or

B) the stories are true.

While you're waiting to see how things pan out, have a look at Juan Cole (who prints a letter describing a psy-ops training camp in which the Bible was trashed) and Arthur Silber. (And thanks to our stouthearted colleagues at Cursor, as well as Two-Blog Avedon, for the links.)

UPDATE: Whoops! Too late!
"We will not be deceived by this [retraction]," said Mullah Sadullah Abu Aman, one of a group of clerics who threatened on Sunday to wage a holy war against the US for the alleged abuse.

"This [decision] comes because of American pressure. Even an ordinary illiterate peasant understands that and won't accept it," he told Reuters.

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