Saturday, June 04, 2005

THERE ARE FOUR ARTICLES at Memeorandum about the Pentagon's late Friday evening announcement that several incidents of Koran desecration had been confirmed at Guantanamo. I decided to check out some of the reaction from the wrong (i.e., the right) side of the blogosphere.

The comments fall along these lines:

  • Most of the confirmed incidents were either ambiguous or unintentional.
  • Everyone who treated the Koran disrespectfully was punished.
  • Most of the incidents of Koran desecration were committed by detainees, not U.S. soldiers. They flushed their own Korans down the toilet, tore out the pages from their own Korans, and urinated on their own Korans.
  • Most of the media coverage of the investigation results was biased and unfair, except for CNN, which correctly reported the Pentagon's findings that the detainees desecrated their own Korans.
  • The anti-military press coverage was caused by a desire for revenge: the media still has hurt feelings over Newsweek and also the reporters were pissed that the announcement was made on a Friday evening.
  • These incidents are isolated events done by a few bad apples. The military investigates every reported incident and firmly and swiftly punishes wrongdoers.
  • Anything our soldiers are doing is so insignificant compared with what the Muslim enemy is doing. They are savages. We are the good guys.
  • The Koran is only a book, for god's sake! That just shows how wonderful we Americans are. When we do wrong, the worst we can manage is to step on a silly old book; when they do wrong, they cut people's heads off with dull knives.

Here are some of the more interesting comments:

Captain Ed:

Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, dear readers, and friends, I submit to you that this week represents the nadir of responsible thought about the war on terror. We face Islamofascist lunatics who wish to establish Taliban-like tyrannies throughout the Middle East -- and eventually the world -- and who commit real atrocities in their efforts to bring those twisted dreams to fruition. We have seen their videos showing the beheadings of helpless hostages with dull knives, literally sawing off the heads of these victims while alive. They slaughter women and children as indiscriminately as possible. They even blow up Islamic mosques to kill Muslims at prayer.

Now we have had two weeks of debate over whether we have mistreated six hundred or so of these terrorists captured on the battlefield, out of uniform, bearing arms against us. What has been the focus of this controversy? Cattle prods and bullwhips for interrogation? Beatings? Naked pyramids and leashes?

No. It's whether or not we abused a book.

This has been front-page news for two or three weeks now, ever since Newsweek decided to run a poorly-sourced item about Gitmo guards flushing a Qu'ran down a toilet. Now we have the Pentagon report detailing five supposed events where guards mistreated copies of the Muslim scripture, and the media and the blogosphere have reacted like this is another My Lai.

Guess what, people? This is a book. It's not the Ark of the Covenant or Mohammed's horse or a splinter of the True Cross.

If American servicemen at Gitmo have beaten or tortured prisoners, we need to know about it and put a stop to it. However, all of this hue and cry over how we treat printed material -- and even the steps that the Pentagon put in place to treat it "respectfully", such as requiring gloves and such -- demonstrate a complete lack of perspective about who and what our enemy is. These are the same people that put grenades in dolls so that children get maimed and killed when they pick them up, a favorite Taliban tactic in Afghanistan. They fought for the same lunatic leaders who now kill Americans and Iraqis in the Sunni Triangle with carbombs and perhaps-not-volunteer suicide bombers.

They fought for the same people who ordered the massacre of 2900 American citizens on 9/11. And we have our panties in a twist over whether we may have hurt their feelings about how we treated ... a book.

If Saturday Night Live wrote a parody of American hypersensitivity in fighting a war on terror, I doubt they could create something more ridiculous than this. Can you imagine our grandparents having this kind of debate had an American guard pissed on Mein Kampf at a POW camp for German POWs?

Cori Dauber at Ranting Profs:

You know, I hate to be cynical (oh, right, you've met me) but as I look at all these stories that don't exactly put the emphasis where the Pentagon would want it, listen to broadcast stories (on Fox) that don't mention detainee bad behavior, I can't help but notice how many of them take pains to point out that this information was released after regular business hours on Friday.

Boy, is the press ticked about that.

Ticked enough that if they thought that was a Pentagon attempt to bury this they might, er, send a little message of their own back about who controls the frame of the news?

Someone called TL Myers, commenting on Outside the Beltway:

They’re prisoners of war, and are instructed to lie, steal, cheat, and do everything they can to make life hell for our troops.

I do not believe what they say and consider their actions attempts to undermine the authorities in charge, and to discredit coalition forces.

That being said, there are military reports that state that the Quran was kicked and mishandeled by guards. So what? I’ll bet if Nick Berg and the other unfortunate civilians had their drathers they would have rather had a Bible sawed through instead of their necks.

Michelle Malkin writes, under the headline "Gitmo Detainees Desecrate Quran":

That's the headline you won't be reading over this AP story filed tonight on investigative findings released by Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, the commander of the detention center in Cuba.

Buried down in the AP story about Quran abuses at Gitmo, we learn:

[Hood] said his investigation found 15 cases of detainees mishandling their own Qurans. "These included using a Quran as a pillow, ripping pages out of the Quran, attempting to flush a Quran down the toilet and urinating on the Quran," Hood's report said. It offered no possible explanation for those alleged abuses.

In the most recent of those 15 cases, a detainee on Feb. 18, 2005, allegedly ripped up his Quran and handed it to a guard, stating that he had given up on being a Muslim. Several of the guards witnessed this, Hood reported.

Charles Krauthammer (quoted by Malkin):

Does the Koran deserve special respect? Of course it does. As do the Bibles destroyed by the religious police in Saudi Arabia and the Torahs blown up in various synagogues from Tunisia to Turkey.

Should the United States apologize? If there were mishandlings of the Koran, we should say so and express regret. And that should be in the context of our remarkably humane and tolerant treatment of the Guantanamo prisoners, and in the context of a global war on terrorism (for example, the campaign in Afghanistan) conducted with a discrimination and a concern for civilian safety rarely seen in the annals of warfare.

Then we should get over it, stop whimpering and start defending ourselves.

An MP at Guantanamo who e-mailed Malkin:

Your article describing the treatment of detainees and their access to books other than the Koran is accurate. The detainees also have their own medical facility and an exercise yard where they run, play soccer and engage in other physical activities.

I know these things because I was a guard there from Dec. 2002 to Sept. 2003. I was in a National Guard infantry unit assigned to man the towers inside and the checkpoints around Camp Delta. I have seen these things firsthand.

I will never forget seeing an MP waiting at Guantanamo Bay Naval Hospital after being splattered by a detainees bodily fluids. You never hear about these incidents in the media and you never hear about MP's having to be tested for hepatitis and other infections due to these incidents.

Gitmo, like most detention facilities, will never approach any state of perfection. However, from what I have observed, most injuries to detainees were self-inflicted, such as attempted suicides.

That notwithstanding, the general atmosphere is not threatening. I cannot count the number of times a detainee would look up at me in one of the towers and give me a friendly smile and wave.
1.The international media makes regular visits (almost every week when I was stationed there).
2. The IRC is there all the time. They don't just make occasional visits.

3. The FBI is there all the time. Not just to make inspections.

Tom at Scared Monkeys:

Ah, the joy of the media in self defense mode. After taking another pummeling by the blogosphere over false stories at Newsweek, the mainstream media rounded up the wagons and decided above all else they were going to be correct on the Gitmo story.

So when the Pentagon released their report on the Guantanamo Bay prison, they had 5 examples of “I told you so”. At the bottom of the articles they finally got around to mentioning that the suspects held there were even more disrespectful to the Koran, and they were the ones who tried to flush the Koran down the toilet. But when you are in self defense mode, nothing else matters.

The press in this instance reminds me of my young boys when we catch them doing something wrong. They know it is wrong, but come up with excuse after excuse trying to get out of trouble, and provide many examples of how their brother did much more wrong. And if we had done anything within 5 orders of magnitude wrong along the same lines in the last 6 months, they are very quick to bring it up.

There were mistakes made at the Guantanamo Bay prison, no doubt. But the scrutiny and passion directed at the guards there has been intense. When instances of wrong doing have been found, the judgments have been swift and effective.

However, when the media makes mistakes that create a hostile environment for these soldiers and our soldiers overseas, there is nothing done.&NBS;If Micheal Isak off&NBS;was treated at the same level as the guards of the Guantanamo Bay prison, would he still be writing a column for Newsweek?

I think not.

In no particular order, here are my thoughts:

  • The media has not created a hostile environment for U.S. soldiers at Guantanamo or U.S. soldiers overseas. The invasion of Iraq created the hostile environment. Tom at Scared Monkeys apparently does not realize or has forgotten that war IS a hostile environment. Add to the invasion the insurgency that the United States completely failed to anticipate or prepare for; the now 2-year-long occupation, which shows no signs of ending and is bitterly resented; the revelations of torture, terror tactics, and even murder against detainees at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and elsewhere in the U.S.-run gulag; the C.I.A.'s "renditions" policy, approved by Bush, under which detainees are abducted and taken to countries that practice torture; the specific sanctioning of torture as an official tool of U.S. policy, as spelled out in Alberto Gonzales's notorious memo to Pres. Bush; the Bush administration's unilateral decision that detainees in the war on terror are "enemy combatants," not prisoners of war, and so the Geneva Conventions do not apply to them (in violation of international legal procedures for making such a determination); and the indefinite detention, with no legal rights whatsoever, of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Arabs and Muslims in interrogation centers that span the globe -- and you will have the true causes of the hostile environment faced by U.S. soldiers, at Guantanamo and overseas.
  • Conservatives have traditionally accused liberals of placing too much trust in government. But it's not liberals who accept every claim made by the military at face value. It's not liberals who believe everything their government tells them about Guantanamo, or Abu Ghraib, or the occupation, or the war on terror in general, even if the government is telling them something that makes no sense at all and that should set off alarms in the minds of any reasonably intelligent adult. Remember that last sentence in the paragraph from the AP article that Malkin quoted, about all the desecrations Muslim detainees committed against their own sacred book? It went, "It [the military report] offered no possible explanation for those alleged abuses." Malkin apparently misses the irony in that sentence. There IS no possible explanation for Muslim detainees urinating on, stepping on, tearing pages from, or flushing down the toilet, their own Korans. It's not credible, not even one tiny bit. It's laughable, in fact. Just as laughable as it would be if thousands of evangelical Christians were being detained in Islamic countries, and the governments of those countries claimed that people like James Dobson and Pat Robertson were urinating on their Bibles, tearing the pages out, or flushing them down the toilet. The writers of the Pentagon report take their readers for fools, and it seems they are right to do so.
  • Does it not seem just a wee bit like a conflict of interest for the military to be investigating itself? Is there any other area of life in which a group, or organization, or agency, or company, would be permitted to investigate itself if accused of wrongdoing? And how can conservative bloggers have such complete and unquestioning faith in the accuracy of an investigation conducted by people who have a vested interest in reaching the conclusion that nothing really bad happened?
  • The Koran is not "just a book" to devout Muslims. It has a meaning to Muslims that is different in kind, not just in degree, from the meaning the Bible has even to religious Christians. The Koran for Muslims is tantamount to the "divine manifestation of God," and it's more accurately compared to the Eucharist in Christian belief than to the Bible. I'm not saying that the average American should know this. I'm saying that any American who demands respect for his or her own religious beliefs should be willing to make the effort to learn what the Koran means to Muslims -- instead of assuming they know, and making ignorant, offensive statements like "It's [just] a book."
  • Furthermore, the parallel Captain Ed draws between Koran desecration and the beheading of hostages in Iraq (to make his point that we are good guys who make innocent mistakes and they are inhuman savages) is a false one. The fact is that the first beheading of an American -- Nick Berg -- came soon after the reports of Muslim detainees being humiliated, tortured, raped, beaten, terrorized, and in some cases killed, at Abu Ghraib. The individuals who murdered Berg said it was retaliation for Abu Ghraib. And just to forestall the loony wingnuts out there -- no, I am not saying or implying that the people who beheaded Nick Berg were justified in doing it because of Abu Ghraib. I'm not saying or implying that it was the Bush administration's fault that Nick Berg was killed. What I am saying is that events do not happen in a vacuum, especially in war; and it's dishonest to condemn the savagery of those who beheaded Nick Berg (and it WAS savagery) without acknowledging the acts of savagery that were committed at Abu Ghraib -- all the more so because many of the torture techniques were chosen very deliberately and consciously, in the knowledge that they would be much more emotionally and psychologically devastating to Muslims than they would be to Americans. It's also dishonest to justify the invasion of Iraq by saying that "sometimes war is necessary" and ignore the truth that atrocities always happen in war, and that each atrocity, on each side, ups the ante and escalates the level of savagery. Americans have to take responsibility for our part in that process.

There is much more to be said, but given the length of this, I will leave it at that for now.

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