Tuesday, May 17, 2005

An Unedifying Spectacle

The events of the last few days have proven that the final nails have been driven into the coffin of American freedom. President Caligula and his minions now have complete and total control over an abject, slavering press:

After a drumbeat of criticism from the Bush administration and others, Newsweek magazine yesterday went beyond an apology it issued Sunday and retracted an article published May 1 that stated that American interrogators at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had tried to rattle Muslim detainees by flushing a Koran down a toilet.

The original article was blamed for inciting widespread protests and riots in the Muslim world, where desecration of the Koran is viewed as an incendiary act, and where at least 17 people were killed in the ensuing violence.

"Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Koran abuse at Guantánamo Bay," the statement from Newsweek said.

Ordered to retract a story by the White House that was true. There have been reports all along of Koran desecration being SOP at Gitmo, as the NYT article has the courage to point out, at least until Scott "Josef Goebbels" McClellan tells them to retract, presumably later today:

In fact, complaints from released inmates that the Koran had been thrown into a toilet go back at least two years.

Among the more detailed accounts of United States soldiers mishandling copies of the Koran were depositions from three Britons who were released from Guantánamo in the summer of 2004. Asif Iqbal, one of the men, who were from Tipton, England, and had been captured in Afghanistan, said that guards "would kick the Koran, throw it in the toilet and generally disrespect it."
...
The official accounts of Guantánamo began fraying in later months, as the International Committee of the Red Cross charged in a confidential report in November that the procedures at Guantánamo amounted to torture, and F.B.I. memorandums disclosed in December portrayed harsh and abusive treatment by interrogators. The F.B.I. memorandums, disclosed in a lawsuit, did not mention any mishandling of the Koran.

Last month, a former American interrogator confirmed to The New York Times an account given in an interview by a former Kuwaiti detainee, Nasser Nijer Naser al-Mutairi, who said that mishandling of the Koran once led to a major hunger strike. The strike ended only after a senior officer expressed regret over the camp's loudspeaker system, which was simultaneously translated by linguists at the end of each cell block, the former interrogator said.

We should face facts; a little over 225 years, and the American experiment is officially over. When the government tells the press to play dead and they not only do so but dig their own graves, democracy is finished.

Keith Olbermann is a little more hopeful:

Last Thursday, General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Donald Rumsfeld’s go-to guy whenever the situation calls for the kind of gravitas the Secretary himself can’t supply, told reporters at the Pentagon that rioting in Afghanistan was related more to the on-going political reconciliation process there, than it was to a controversial note buried in the pages of Newsweek claiming that the government was investigating whether or not some nitwit interrogator at Gitmo really had desecrated a Muslim holy book.

But Monday afternoon, while offering himself up to the networks for a series of rare, almost unprecedented sit-down interviews on the White House lawn, Press Secretary McClellan said, in effect, that General Myers, and the head of the after-action report following the disturbances in Jalalabad, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, were dead wrong. The Newsweek story, McClellan said, “has done damage to our image abroad and it has done damage to the credibility of the media and Newsweek in particular. People have lost lives. This report has had serious consequences.”

Whenever I hear Scott McClellan talking about ‘media credibility,’ I strain to remember who it was who admitted Jeff Gannon to the White House press room and called on him all those times.

Whenever I hear this White House talking about ‘doing to damage to our image abroad’ and how ‘people have lost lives,’ I strain to remember who it was who went traipsing into Iraq looking for WMD that will apparently turn up just after the Holy Grail will - and at what human cost.

Newsweek’s version of this story has varied from the others over the last two years - ones in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, and British and Russian news organizations - only in that it quoted a government source who now says he didn’t have firsthand knowledge of whether or not the investigation took place (oops, sorry, shoulda mentioned that, buh-bye). All of its other government connections - the ones past which it ran the story - have gone from saying nothing like ‘don’t print this, it ain’t true’ or ‘don’t print this, it may be true but it’ll start riots,’ to looking slightly confused and symbolically saying ‘Newsweek? Newsweek who?’

Whatever I smell comes from this odd sequence of events: Newsweek gets blasted by the White House, apologizes over the weekend but doesn't retract its story. Then McClellan offers his Journalism 101 outdoor seminar and blasts the magazine further. Finally, just before 5 PM Monday, the Dan Rather drama replaying itself in its collective corporate mind, Newsweek retracts.
...
this one went similarly to the way the Killian Memos story evolved at the White House. The news organization turns to the administration for a denial. The administration says nothing. The news organization runs the story. The administration jumps on the necks of the news organization with both feet - or has its proxies do it for them.

That’s beyond shameful. It’s treasonous.

True, and Olbermann thinks McClellan should resign. But I'm not as optimistic. In spite of the fact that Newsweek printed the truth, in spite of the fact that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has been hung out to dry and made to look a fool, I suspect the Bushies will win this one too. Which means we all lose.

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