Friday, May 13, 2005

TWO MONTHS AGO Pres. Bush nominated his old pal Karen Hughes to a newly created position in the State Department: Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Her mission? To "convince the world, especially Muslims, that the United States has their best interests at heart."

But recent events are proving what the Bush administration would already know, if they weren't so blinded by their own arrogance and delusions of superiority: that people cannot be "convinced" that something is true if daily reality demonstrates that it isn't.

One example of this daily reality is the significant spike in the level of violence in Iraq following the recent elections. At least 400 Iraqis have died in the last two weeks as the result of dozens of car bomb attacks, suicide bombings, and other forms of war-related violence.

Another example is the U.S. Marine attack on an area of western Iraq where the U.S. military claims that insurgents are hiding out. As I wrote in the post immediately preceding this one, hundreds of Iraqi civilians were made homeless by the fighting and have been forced to flee for their lives into the desert. And although the U.S. military claims no civilians died, local Iraqis and relief officials dispute that; and it's hard to see how civilian casualties could not occur when 1,000 members of the most powerful fighting force in the world descend on tiny villages in the Iraqi desert and engage in fierce battle there for 5 days.

Yet a third example of how actual events contradict the smooth assurances of someone like Karen Hughes about benign American intentions is last week's article in Newsweek reporting that U.S. investigators at the detention and interrogation center in Guantanamo, Cuba, tried to break prisoners by putting copies of the Koran on toilet seats and flushing the Muslim holy book down the toilet. The Pakistani government immediately expressed strong shock and concern, and students in Afghanistan demonstrated, with outbreaks of symbolic and actual violence.

You would think that, given Pres. Bush's frequent statements that the United States is at war with terrorists and not Islam; and given that he is concerned enough about anti-American feeling in the Muslim world to have appointed a public relations czar to address that negative feeling, he and others in his administration would jump right to the task of finding out if this desecration happened, and who was responsible. You would think the White House would condemn these actions, if they happened, in the strongest possible terms. You would think the perpetrators would be found asap and that the consequences for those individuals would be swift and severe.

But that is not what has happened. Instead, the Defense Department says it has found no evidence that the actions described in Newsweek are true, because, Defense says, investigators have looked at the interrogation logs and the interrogation logs don't have anything written in them saying the Koran was treated disrespectfully.

The U.S. Defense Department says an inquiry has so far not confirmed an incident reported by Newsweek magazine, in which an interrogator at the Guantanamo detention facility allegedly put a Koran into a toilet in order to upset some prisoners....

The top U.S. military officer, General Richard Myers, says the general in charge of all U.S. military operations in that part of the world went to Guantanamo himself two days ago to supervise the investigation into the alleged incident. General Myers reports the investigators began by looking through the interrogation logs for the period in question, in 2002, and could not find any incident listed that would confirm the Newsweek report.

"They have looked through the logs, the interrogation logs, and they can not confirm yet that there was ever the case of the toilet, except for one case, a log entry which they still have to confirm, where a detainee was reported by a guard to be ripping pages out of a Koran and putting them in the toilet to stop it up as a protest, but not where the U.S. did it," he explained.

Are you following this? Gen. Myers is saying that a Muslim detainee tore pages out of the Koran and threw them into the toilet to clog it up, as a protest. Can you actually, truly, really, even believe what your eyes are telling you, when the top-ranking U.S. military officer is so completely indifferent to and unconcerned about the sensibilities of Muslims -- not to mention the repercussions of this incident for U.S.-Muslim relations -- that he says, Hey, no one wrote this down in the logs, so it didn't happen; but actually what did happen was that a detainee who observes the Islamic faith ripped up the Koran and threw the pages down the toilet. He doesn't even make the shadow of an effort to pretend that he has any respect for his audience's intelligence.

But this is not the end of it. Myers also implied that it would not be possible to confirm the desecration reports because the responsible officers are not at Guantanamo anymore. They have "moved on to other assignments." And the detainees who were there have gone home anyway. So there's no way we can find these interrogators anymore and besides, it's all water over the bridge anyway.

But this, too, is not the end of it. Myers said he has it on good authority that the violent protests in Afghanistan and Pakistan had nothing to do with the reports about the Koran. Completely unrelated.

General Myers also told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday that the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Carl Eichenberry, disagrees with the reports that protests in the city of Jalalabad were caused by anger over the alleged Koran incident.

"It is the judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eichenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran, but more tied up in the political process and the reconciliation process that President Karzai and his cabinet are conducting in Afghanistan. He thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine," he explained.
Which means, I guess, that the spread of the violence from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Gaza to Indonesia, with statements condemning the disrespectful treatment of the Koran, and protesters holding up signs saying, "Protect our holy book!" also is completely unrelated to Guantanamo interrogators flushing the Koran down the toilet.

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