Tuesday, May 17, 2005

DOES ANYONE REMEMBER Gen. Myers's statement when the protests and demonstrations spread from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Gaza, and Indonesia, following Newsweek's publication of the Koran desecration story? -- before the Bush administration declared the article to be wrong? Here it is, from the official USINFO site:

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff says a report from Afghanistan suggests that rioting in Jalalabad on May 11 was not necessarily connected to press reports that the Quran might have been desecrated in the presence of Muslim prisoners held in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Air Force General Richard Myers told reporters at the Pentagon May 12 that he has been told that the Jalalabad, Afghanistan, rioting was related more to the ongoing political reconciliation process in Afghanistan than anything else.

According to initial reports, the situation in Jalalabad began on May 10 with peaceful student protests reacting to a report in Newsweek magazine that U.S. military interrogators questioning Muslim detainees at the Guantanamo detention center “had placed Quran s on toilets, and in at least one case flushed a holy book.” By the following day the protests in the city had turned violent with reports of several individuals killed, dozens wounded, and widespread looting of government, diplomatic and nongovernmental assets.

However, Myers said an after-action report provided by U.S. Army Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, commander of the Combined Forces in Afghanistan, indicated that the political violence was not, in fact, connected to the magazine report.

This was the White House's response after military investigators found no immediate confirmation of Koran desecration reports, and after Newsweek's main source for the allegations said the Koran incidents might have been from another set of documents:

Mr. McClellan and other administration officials blamed the Newsweek article for setting off the anti-American violence that swept Afghanistan and Pakistan. "The report had real consequences," Mr. McClellan said. "People have lost their lives. Our image abroad has been damaged."

This nakedly cynical switch from saying the Koran incident had nothing to do with the protests, to blaming Newsweek for sparking violence that "cost people their lives" did not go unnoticed even in the MSM. USA Today noted:

The Bush administration's critical tone was a change from its response when the story was published. The administration did not challenge it and launched an investigation .Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, had said "the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran."

On Monday, after testifying at a congressional hearing on base closings, Myers told reporters, "We can't find anything to substantiate the allegation" that interrogators desecrated the Koran. "People lost their lives, and that's unfortunate."

USA Today also allowed Mark Whitaker's voice to be heard on an obvious truth: that any number of horrific incidents of abuse and mistreatment, including religious humiliation, have been reported in the mainstream media here in the United States as well as in international news sources; and although taken as a whole they have certainly contributed to increasing levels of anger against the U.S., no single one of these reports has generated worldwide outrage as intense and focused as the six-word mention of the Koran being flushed down the toilet did. And no one could have reasonably expected Newsweek to anticipate such a response.

In an interview with USA TODAY, Whitaker said, "Honestly we feel terrible (about the violence), but I don't think anybody could have anticipated what all this would lead to. Numerous other news organizations have printed allegations of prisoner abuse. For some reason, those did not get picked up by activists and insurgents and radical in the region trying to stir up trouble. Ours did."
Neither can anyone explain why those six words about disrespectful treatment of the Koran should have ignited so much more controversy than the equally revolting abuses detailed in the rest of the Newsweek piece, as Whitaker told PBS (quoted on CNN.com):

In an interview on the PBS "Newshour" Monday night, Whitaker said the problem stemmed from "one detail."

"There were other elements in this story that people are not concerned about," he told PBS. "This is the one detail everyone is concerned about, and we are prepared to retract that."

But all these facts don't add up to the slightest inconvenience for the Bush administration's plans. In a country with a strong, free, independent press and a skeptical, questioning public willing to challenge government leaders, all of this stuff would discredit the White House so thoroughly that Scott McClellan wouldn't be able to show his face at a press conference again. But we don't live in that mythical America. We live in an America where government manufactures truth to fit its own agenda, and very few journalists seriously question it.

And it's not over yet. The Bush administration is out for blood. When Newsweek backed off its original article in response to White House pressure, Scott McClellan pushed for a full retraction. Now that Newsweek has given in on that point too and issued the retraction, it's still not enough.

Senior White House officials applauded Newsweek's decision to retract the story but said the magazine will have to do more to repair the damage done.

"It's a good first step," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.

McClellan said the magazine now has a responsibility to spread the word to the Muslim world that U.S. interrogators "treat the Quran with great care and respect."

Another official said it will take a sustained effort by Newsweek to "mitigate the fallout," also calling on the magazine to take steps to spread the word about its retraction to Muslims worldwide.

In other words, Bush wants Newsweek to become its disinformation slave, propagandizing for the White House to atone for its sins.

Will Newsweek cave on this as it has on everything else and actually publish glowing stories about the U.S. military's complete respect for and kid-glove treatment of the Koran?

Stay tuned.

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