Voice in the Wilderness

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

Friday, May 27, 2005

Documents Support Newsweek; Where Is the Outrage?

Where, oh where, have our little watchdogs gone? Oh where, oh where can they be . . . even as the evidence continues to mount that the error in journalism allegedly committed by one of America's most respected news organizations solely was not sticking to its guns?

On top of International Red Cross findings that detainees at Guantanamo alleged mistreatment of the Koran, the sacred texts of Islam, comes the release this week by the American Civil Liberties Union of documents obtained from the FBI detailing interviews with detainees at Guantanamo alleging . . . take a deep swig of coffee, now . . . exactly what Newsweek reported! Reports the ACLU in its release:
According to the FBI documents, a detainee interviewed in August 2002 said that guards had flushed the Qur'an in the toilet. Others reported the Qur'an being kicked, withheld as punishment, and thrown on the floor, and said they were mocked during prayers.
In one document we see the following:
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 remarks are prefaced by the following statement: All of the answers [name redacted] has given in previous interviews have been truthful (emphasis added).

So let's see if we poor, clueless schmucks in the wilderness understand this. Newsweek reports that according to a source, which it does not identify, detainees accused prison guards at Guantanamo of abusing Korans and even flushing one in the toilet. The ACLU releases official-looking documents stamped "SECRET" that appear to be records of interviews with detainees at Gitmo. One document says that a detainee reports a Koran was "flushed . . . in the toilet."

Uh . . . the story appears to be accurate, no?

The ACLU news release about the documents is typically calm and rational:
"The United States government’s own documents show that it has known of numerous allegations of Qur'an desecration for a significant period of time," said Amrit Singh, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
But even though the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, among other newspapers, have reported the ACLU's findings, and even though earlier this week the International Red Cross also confirmed that detainees at Gitmo reported allegations that guards had mistreated copies of the Koran, the spin on this story seems to remain the same: Newsweek screwed up! Liberal media gone berserk again!

In the interests of reporting the news that seldom finds its way into most American media outlets, we in the wilderness have steadfastly abstained from citing opinion and analysis, despite the credibility of the source. But this wholesale distortion of factual reporting begs otherwise. As E.J. Dionne, the respected moderate syndicated columnist, puts it:
Let's be clear: Newsweek originally reported that an internal military investigation had "confirmed" infractions alleged in "internal FBI e-mails," including the Quran incident. The new documents made public Wednesday include only an allegation from a prisoner. And the Pentagon insisted that the same prisoner, reinterviewed on May 14, "did not corroborate" his earlier claim about the Quran in the toilet.

Personally, I hope all the Quran abuse claims are proved false. But those claims were in wide circulation before the Newsweek report and demanded investigation. In the meantime, let's also be clear about why the administration and its apologists went bonkers over the Newsweek story.

Not only did the war on Newsweek shift attention away from the issues of how prisoners at Guantanamo are treated, how that treatment was affecting the battle against terror and what American policies should be, Newsweek-bashing also furthered a so far successful campaign by the administration and the conservative movement to dismiss all negative reports about their side as the product of some entity they call "the liberal media."

At this point, I offer a disclaimer that my column runs in The Washington Post, whose parent company owns Newsweek.

I write about this because I fear that too many people in traditional journalism are becoming dangerously defensive in the face of a brilliantly conceived conservative attack on the independent media.

Conservative academics have long attacked "postmodernist" philosophies for claiming that what we take as "truths" are merely "narratives" woven around some ideological predisposition. Today's conservative activists have become the new postmodernists. They shift attention from the truth or falsity of specific facts and allegations and move the discussion to the motives of the journalists and media organizations putting them forward.

Newsweek has been admirably self-critical about what it sees as its own mistakes on the Guantanamo story. Anonymous sources are overused. Why quote a nameless conservative saying a particular columnist is "an idiot liberal" when many loyal right-wingers could be found to say the same thing even more colorfully on the record?

But this particular anti-press campaign is a sophisticated effort to demolish the idea of a press independent of political parties by way of discouraging scrutiny of conservative politicians in power. In the case of Guantanamo, the administration, for a while, cast its actions as less important than Newsweek's.

The Pentagon has admitted that these incidents occurred -- just as Newsweek reported! Whether the military mouthpieces choose to use words such as "mishandling" instead of "desecrating," and continues to report that their own investigators have found "no credible evidence" to corroborate the detainees' claims of the Koran flushed down the toilet -- that's all irrelevant! The point to make clearer and clearer is that, once again: Newsweek got it right, but they retracted the story under pressure, for the wrong reasons.

And friends, the "liberal media," your watchdogs, have rolled over on their backs yet again.


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