Sunday, May 15, 2005

THE PENTAGON told Newsweek that their piece about the Koran being flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo was wrong, because:

  1. "A top Pentagon spokesman" said that "a review of the probe cited in [the Newsweek] story showed that it was never meant to look into charges of Qur'an desecration." The meaning of this seems to be that the Koran desecration story is false because the investigators were not looking for it. What sense does this make? Your guess is as good as mine.
  2. The military investigators who were sent to Guantanamo after the Newsweek piece was published found no evidence to confirm that the Koran was desecrated by U.S. interrogators. This apparently means the Koran was not desecrated. Why this conclusion inexorably follows from the claim that the military found, or says they found, no confirmation of the incidents is not clear to me.
  3. "[Newsweek's] original source later said he couldn't be certain about reading of the alleged Qur'an incident in the report we cited, and said it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts." In plain English, the original source had the full might of the White House and the Pentagon come down on him like a ton of bricks, and he or she recanted. (And what difference does it make which document the Koran incident was in, if it WAS in one of them? The point is that the incident might have happened, not whether it was in this document or that document.)

On the basis of this "new information" from the Pentagon, Mark Whitaker, Newsweek's editor-in-chief, has published an Editor's Note backing down from the report.

The right, of course, has jumped all over this "apology" with glee. Scott at Powerline calls Newsweek's retraction "pathetic"; and Michelle Malkin jumps for joy, proving in her unbridled enthusiasm that right-wing bloggers can be just as irresponsible and untruthful as they claim the so-called liberal media is. Under a banner headline reading "NEWSWEEK LIED. PEOPLE DIED." Malkin posts a dramatic photograph of protesters in Islamabad holding an American flag engulfed in flames. Then she writes:

You have the read the story [the incorrect repetition of "the" is Malkin's error] by now via the Times (UK) online and elsewhere: "At least nine people were killed yesterday as a wave of anti-American demonstrations swept the Islamic world from the Gaza Strip to the Java Sea, sparked by a single paragraph in a magazine alleging that US military interrogators had desecrated the Koran."

In a jaw-dropping editor's note, Newsweek's Mark Whitaker now admits that the deadly paragraph was wrong. ...

She then posts Whitaker's note in its entirety, and below that says:

Scott Johnson at Power Line said it best and tersely: "Pathetic."

Roger L. Simon wants to know who Isikoff's source was and sez: "Newsweek isn't saying. Until they report such things as that, I won't believe a word the magazine says. Why would anybody? BTW, am I the only one who finds Newsweek always referring to itself in UPPER CASE to be repellent? It reminds me of people who post in caps on the Internet. You're always suspicious they're lying."

Newsweek has blood on its hands. Blood on its desks. Isikoff should cough up his source.

Newsweek lied? Newsweek has blood on its hands and on its desks? Even the Pentagon is not saying Newsweek lied; and Whitaker certainly didn't say anything like that. He didn't even apologize, not really. What he did, in very carefully parsed language, was tell Newsweek's readers that the Pentagon had disputed the truth of the article. Let's take another look at the part of the note that Malkin considers the smoking gun for Newsweek's admission of guilt.

Last Friday, a top Pentagon spokesman told us that a review of the probe cited in our story showed that it was never meant to look into charges of Qur'an desecration. The spokesman also said the Pentagon had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them "not credible." Our original source later said he couldn't be certain about reading of the alleged Qur'an incident in the report we cited, and said it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts. [The emphasis is Malkin's.]

Allow me to paraphrase those approximately 80 words : "Pentagon officials contacted us last Friday and told us that our piece about the desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo was incorrect. They told us that they reviewed the probe we used as a source and the source was not supposed to investigate charges of Koran desecration at all. They also told us that the Pentagon had investigated other detainees' claims that the Koran had been desecrated and concluded that those claims were 'not credible.' In addition, our original source for this story is now saying he can't be sure that he actually did read anything about the desecration of the Koran in the report he told us about. He said he might be confusing that report with some other document."

In other words, he is doing nothing more than telling us that the Pentagon personally contacted him with objections to the story; and he tells us what those objections are. Not by the most generous stretch of meaning did Whitaker express agreement with the Pentagon's findings, much less apologize or "admit" Newsweek was wrong. Moreover, note that saying a report is "not credible" is not the same as saying it's wrong. When the Pentagon says they find the detainees' reports of Koran desecration "not credible," they are saying, "We don't believe it happened." Which is not the same as saying it didn't happen, and giving some credible evidence for saying it didn't happen.

Now let's take a second look at the last two sentences of Whitaker's note.

Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we. But we regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst.

To me, this is saying that Newsweek is not convinced the Koran desecration charges are untrue; and that they extracted a promise (worth about as much as fish wrap, I know) from Pentagon officials to keep investigating. Whitaker expresses regret for getting "any part" of the story wrong, which is his nod to the pressure he got from the Pentagon, no doubt. But even there he stops short of an apology, or even saying the magazine got the story wrong. They got "part" of the story wrong -- maybe. But the substance of the story was accurate. Whitaker says the editors "extend our sympathies" to the victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in the middle of it, but that's not an apology. And that cannot be an accident. If the editor-in-chief of Newsweek magazine expresses "sympathy" for the victims of a violent response to a Newsweek article, that is a deliberate word choice. He could have said "regret" or "apologies" but he did not.

I think Michelle Malkin should apologize for her irresponsible and mendacious use of language, but she won't because she's slime.

One more point I really have to make here. I think that neocon and hard right bloggers should ask themselves why a claim, in a tiny, two-paragraph article brief in Newsweek's Periscope section, that the Koran had been flushed down a toilet by U.S. interrogators ignited such a firestorm all over the Islamic world. Could it be because the Bush administration's actions over the last 4 years have given Muslims every reason to believe that the United States is engaged in a jihad against Islam? If the anger and resentment against the U.S. in the Islamic world were not already so deep and profound, I doubt that one unproven claim like this one could have ignited a match, much less worldwide protests and demonstrations.

Most of the article isn't even about the Koran incidents. It's about a ton of other horrors that internal FBI e-mails alleged were committed against Gitmo detainees by interrogators there. The part about the Koran took up exactly six words in a 302-word article. Here is the Periscope item, in full:

Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year. Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash. An Army spokesman confirms that 10 Gitmo interrogators have already been disciplined for mistreating prisoners, including one woman who took off her top, rubbed her finger through a detainee's hair and sat on the detainee's lap. (New details of sexual abuse—including an instance in which a female interrogator allegedly wiped her red-stained hand on a detainee's face, telling him it was her menstrual blood—are also in a new book to be published this week by a former Gitmo translator.)

These findings, expected in an upcoming report by the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, could put former Gitmo commander Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller in the hot seat. Two months ago a more senior general, Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, was placed in charge of the SouthCom probe, in part, so Miller could be questioned. The FBI e-mails indicate that FBI agents quarreled repeatedly with military commanders, including Miller and his predecessor, retired Gen. Michael Dunleavy, over the military's more aggressive techniques. "Both agreed the bureau has their way of doing business and DOD has their marching orders from the SecDef," one e-mail stated, referring to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Sources familiar with the SouthCom probe say investigators didn't find that Miller authorized abusive treatment. But given the complaints that were being raised, sources say, the report will provoke questions about whether Miller should have known what was happening—and acted to try to prevent it. An Army spokesman declined to comment.

-Michael Isikoff and John Barry

It's curious to me that the Pentagon only got on Newsweek's case about the Koran desecration charges, and then only when the Islamic world exploded in response to those charges. All those other abuses take up the bulk of the article, and the Pentagon doesn't seem to have any objection to them.

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