Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Assault on the Media

Here in the wilderness, there's no harsher critic of the mainstream media. From the elite Washington press corps that hobnobs with the cognoscenti at more parties than the Playboy Mansion, to the undertrained pseudo-gatekeepers employed by local advertising billboards, the news process has devolved so far from the days of Watergate that Darwin couldn't see it with an electron microscope.

Still, for most of us the mainstream media is all we've got to deliver what should be accurate information to the largest number of people in the shortest time possible. That's why the Newsweek retraction of its assertion last week, that U.S. military interrogators abused copies of the Quran and might even have flushed one copy down a toilet in full view of Muslim prisoners, is, as Alice said down in Wonderland, "curiouser and curiouser."

Maybe reporter Mike Isikoff screwed up when he drew on what he called a trusted source. Maybe he screwed up when he went to the Pentagon with the report and the Pentagon didn't deny it. Maybe his editors screwed up when they trusted a veteran reporter. And maybe not.

A little history. During the Watergate investigations of the Seventies by The Washington Post, reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein reported that Nixon White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman was one of the kingpins of the dirty tricks that were exposed when burglars under the employ of the Committee to Re-Elect the President broke into Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate office complex in western D.C. Because of miscommunication, the reporters thought, mistakenly, that a source confirmed the story. He didn't, he denied saying he said it, and the White House righteously jumped all over the Post.

But Woodward and Bernstein weren't wrong. Haldeman was responsible for a great deal that went on in that citadel of paranoia. And there are more than a few knowledgeable insiders who believe that Isikoff wasn't wrong either.

James Rupert of Newsday notes that
many Muslims found the report believable because of what has already been widely reported: that many Americans, including the armed forces, have at best an ignorance of the sacredness of the Quran, and at worst, naked disrespect.

U.S. soldiers, like most Americans, are generally unaware of the extraordinary reverence with which traditional Muslims treat their holy book. Rituals and rules on how to touch, carry, store and read a Quran are comparable to those used by Jews for the Torah and more elaborate than the practices of most American Christians for the Bible.

Tradition forbids Muslims even from touching a Quran unless they have purified themselves with ritual ablutions. The exception is that they may do so in an emergency to save the book from being damaged or desecrated.

In a traditional Afghan household, a Quran is stored wrapped in a cloth on a specially built shelf mounted high on a wall, so no other book in the room might inadvertently be given a higher place of honor. The faithful will not toss or drop the holy book and will kiss it if it falls to the floor.

Prisoners awaiting trial at Guantanamo prison have also complained about alleged disrespect for the holiest of Islamic texts, reports Frank Davies of the Philadelphia Inquirer, as noted by the blog The Daily Kos:

Some detainees complained of religious humiliation, saying guards had defaced their copies of the Koran and, in one case, had thrown it in a toilet, said Kristine Huskey, who interviewed clients late last month. Others said that pills were hidden in their food and that people came to their cells claiming to be their attorneys, to gain information.
The blog reports other similar accounts, including a report issued by Human Rights Watch:
They brought pictures of naked women and dirty magazines and put them on the floor. One of the interrogators brought a cup holder for four cups with two coffees in the cup holder. He then deliberately placed the Quran on top of the coffee. He put his folder on the desk and then grabbed the Quran with his feet up on the table and read it like he was reading a magazine. He made jokes about the Quran? (source: 37 David Rose, ?They tied me up like a beast and began kicking me,? The Observer, London, May 16, 2004, available online at: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1217969,00.html, accessed on May 18, 2004.)
And this:
Detainees also complained about the interference with their ability to pray and the lack of respect given to their religion. For example, the British detainees state that they were never given prayer mats and initially were not provided Korans. They also complained that when the Korans were provided, the guards ?would kick the Koran, throw it into the toilet and generally disrespect it.?(source: Statement of Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed, ?Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay,? released publicly on August 4, 2004, para. 72, 74, available online at: http://www.ccr-ny.org/v2/reports/docs/Gitmo-compositestatementFINAL23july04.pdf, accessed on August 19, 2004. The disrespect of the Koran by guards at Camp X-Ray was one of the factors prompting a hunger strike. Ibid., para. 111-117.)
Whether Michael Isikoff and his editors were lax in their quality-control efforts or set up to take a fall, no one here in the wilderness can tell. But amid all the slings and arrows led by the bowmen firing from behind the White House walls, consider this: He wasn't wrong.


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