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Newsweek Wimps Out

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com Scapegoating Newsweek By Robert Jensen and
    Message 1 of 1 , May 25, 2005
      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist

      Scapegoating Newsweek
      By Robert Jensen and Pat Youngblood, AlterNet
      Posted on May 17, 2005

      If there is a political playbook for right-wing conservatives these
      days, it no doubt begins, Step #1: Whenever possible, blame the news

      What to do if the U.S. invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and
      Iraq have sparked a persistent and bloody resistance that eats away
      at the president's political capital?

      Blame journalists.

      That's exactly what the Bush administration and its rhetorical
      attack dogs are doing with the "scandal" over Newsweek's story on
      the desecration of the Koran at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo.

      In a short item in its May 9 issue, Newsweek reported that U.S.
      military investigators had found evidence that U.S. guards had
      flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet to try to provoke
      prisoners. This week, the magazine retracted, saying not that
      editors knew for sure that such an incident didn't happen but
      that, "Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original
      story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Koran
      abuse at Guantanamo Bay." (emphasis added)

      Meanwhile, after the original story ran, Afghan and U.S. forces
      fired on demonstrators in Afghanistan, killing at least 14 and
      injuring many others.

      The conventional wisdom emerged quickly: Newsweek got it wrong, and
      Newsweek is to blame for the deaths. The first conclusion is
      premature; the second is wrong.

      First, it's not clear whether U.S. guards in Guantanamo or other
      prisons have placed copies of the Koran on a toilet or thrown pages
      (or a whole Koran) into a toilet. Detainees have made such claims,
      which have been reported by attorneys representing some of the men
      in custody and denied by U.S. officials. Newsweek's retraction is
      ambiguous, suggesting they believe the incident may have happened
      but no longer can demonstrate that it was cited in the specific U.S.
      government documents, as originally reported.

      Given the abuse and torture -- from sexual humiliation to beatings
      to criminal homicide -- that has gone on in various U.S. military
      prison facilities, it's not hard to believe that the Koran stories
      could be true. Given that last month U.S. officials pressured the
      United Nations to eliminate the job of its top human-rights
      investigator in Afghanistan after that official criticized
      violations by U.S. forces in the country, it's not hard to be
      skeptical about U.S. motives. And given that even the human-rights
      commission of the generally compliant Afghan government is blocked
      by U.S. forces from visiting the prisons, it's not hard to believe
      that the U.S. officials may have something to hide.

      Until we have more information, definitive conclusions are
      impossible. But if you go on a popular right-wing web site, youĂ­ll
      find the verdict that administration supporters are trying to make
      the final word: Newsweek lied, people died.

      Yes, people died during demonstrations, and political leaders in the
      Muslim world have cited the Koran stories to spark anti-U.S.
      feeling. But reporters outside the United States have pointed out
      that these demonstrations have not been spontaneous but were well-
      organized, often by groups of students. The frustration with U.S.
      policy that fuels these demonstrations isn't limited to the Koran
      incident, and to reduce the unrest to one magazine story is
      misleading. Indeed, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs
      of Staff, said at a news conference last week that the senior
      commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Carl Eichenberry, reported that
      the violence "was not at all tied to the article in the magazine."

      So, why the focus on the Newsweek story? It's part of the tried-and-
      true strategy of demonize, disguise, and divert. Demonize the news
      media to disguise the real causes of the resistance to occupation
      and divert attention from failed U.S. policies.

      The irony is that the U.S. corporate news media deserve harsh
      criticism for coverage of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq --
      not for possibly getting one fact wrong, but for failing to
      consistently challenge the illegality of both wars and the various
      distortions and lies that the Bush administration has used to
      mobilize support for those illegal wars.

      We should hold the news media accountable when they fail. But we
      should defend journalists when they are used by political partisans
      who are eager to obscure their own failures.

      Robert Jensen is on the board and Pat Youngblood is coordinator of
      the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin, Texas. They can
      be reached at rjensen@... and


      Don't Blame Newsweek
      By Molly Ivins, AlterNet
      Posted on May 17, 2005

      As Riley used to say on an ancient television sitcom, "This is a
      revoltin' development." There seems to be a bit of a campaign on the
      right to blame Newsweek for the anti-American riots in Afghanistan,
      Pakistan and other Islamic countries.

      Uh, people, I hate to tell you this, but the story about Americans
      abusing the Koran in order to enrage prisoners has been out there
      for quite some time. The first mention I found of it is March 17,
      2004, when the Independent of London interviewed the first British
      citizen released from Guantanamo Bay. The prisoner said he had been
      physically beaten but did not consider that as bad as the
      psychological torture, which he described extensively. Jamal al-
      Harith, a computer programmer from Manchester, said 70 percent of
      the inmates had gone on a hunger strike after a guard kicked a copy
      of the Koran. The strike was ended by force-feeding.

      Then came the report, widely covered in American media last
      December, by the International Red Cross concerning torture at
      Gitmo. I wrote at the time: "In the name of Jesus Christ Almighty,
      why are people representing our government, paid by us, writing
      filth on the Korans of helpless prisoners? Is this American? Is this
      Christian? What are our moral values? Where are the clergymen on
      this? Speak up, speak out."

      The reports kept coming: Dec. 30, 2004, "Released Moroccan
      Guantanamo Detainee Tells Islamist Paper of His Ordeal," reported
      the Financial Times. "They watched you each time you went to the
      toilet; the American soldiers used to tear up copies of Koran and
      throw them in the toilet. ... " said the released prisoner.

      On Jan. 9, 2005, Andrew Sullivan, writing in The Sunday Times of
      London, said: "We now know a great deal about what has gone on in
      U.S. detention facilities under the Bush administration. Several
      government and Red Cross reports detail the way many detainees have
      been treated. We know for certain that the United States has
      tortured five inmates to death. We know that 23 others have died in
      U.S. custody under suspicious circumstances. We know that torture
      has been practiced by almost every branch of the U.S. military in
      sites all over the world -- from Abu Ghraib to Tikrit, Mosul, Basra,
      Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

      "We know that no incidents of abuse have been reported in regular
      internment facilities and that hundreds have occurred in prisons
      geared to getting intelligence. We know that thousands of men, women
      and children were grabbed almost at random from their homes in
      Baghdad, taken to Saddam's former torture palace and subjected to
      abuse, murder, beatings, semi-crucifixions and rape.

      "All of this is detailed in the official reports. What has been
      perpetrated in secret prisons to 'ghost detainees' hidden from Red
      Cross inspection, we do not know. We may never know.

      "This is America? While White House lawyers were arguing about what
      separates torture from legitimate 'coercive interrogation
      techniques,' the following was taking place: Prisoners were hanged
      for hours or days from bars or doors in semi-crucifixions; they were
      repeatedly beaten unconscious, woken and then beaten again for days
      on end; they were sodomized; they were urinated on, kicked in the
      head, had their ribs broken, and were subjected to electric shocks.

      "Some Muslims had pork or alcohol forced down their throats; they
      had tape placed over their mouths for reciting the Koran; many
      Muslims were forced to be naked in front of each other, members of
      the opposite sex and sometimes their own families. It was routine
      for the abuses to be photographed in order to threaten the showing
      of the humiliating footage to family members."

      The New York Times reported on May 1 on the same investigation
      Newsweek was writing about and interviewed a released Kuwaiti, who
      spoke of three major hunger strikes, one of them touched off
      by "guards' handling copies of the Koran, which had been tossed into
      a pile and stomped on. A senior officer delivered an apology over
      the camp's loudspeaker system, pledging that such abuses would stop.
      Interpreters, standing outside each prison block, translated the
      officer's apology. A former interrogator at Guantanamo, in an
      interview with the Times, confirmed the accounts of the hunger
      strikes, including the public expression of regret over the
      treatment of the Korans."

      So where does all this leave us? With a story that is not only true,
      but previously reported numerous times. So let's drop the "Lynch
      Newsweek" bull. Seventeen people have died in these riots. They
      didn't die because of anything Newsweek did -- the riots were caused
      by what our government has done.

      Get your minds around it. Our country is guilty of torture. To quote
      myself once more: "What are you going to do about this? It's your
      country, your money, your government. You own this country, you run
      it, you are the board of directors. They are doing this in your
      name. The people we elected to public office do what you want them
      to. Perhaps you should get in touch with them."

      Molly Ivins is a best-selling author and columnist who writes about
      politics, Texas and other bizarre happenings.


      Cowardice Award In Journalism Award To Newsweek
      And The Goebbels Award For Condi
      By Greg Palast

      "It's appalling that this story got out there," Secretary of State
      Condoleezza Rice said on her way back from Iraq.

      What's NOT appalling to Condi is that the US is holding prisoners at
      Guantanamo under conditions termed "torture" by the Red Cross.
      What's not appalling to Condi is that prisoners of the Afghan war
      are held in violation of international law after that conflict has
      supposedly ended. What is NOT appalling to Condi is that prisoner
      witnesses have reported several instances of the Koran's
      desecration. What is appalling to her is that these things were
      REPORTED. So to Condi goes to the Joseph Goebbels Ministry of
      Propaganda Iron Cross.

      But I don't want to leave out our President. His aides report that
      George Bush is "angry" about the report -- not the desecration of
      the Koran, but the REPORTING of it.

      And so long as George is angry and Condi appalled, Newsweek knows
      what to do: swiftly grab its corporate ankles and ask the White
      House for mercy.

      But there was no mercy. Donald Rumsfeld pointed the finger at
      Newsweek and said, "People lost their lives. People are dead." Maybe
      Rumsfeld was upset that Newsweek was taking away his job. After all,
      it's hard to beat Rummy when it comes to making people dead.

      And just for the record: Newsweek, unlike Rumsfeld, did not kill
      anyone -- nor did its report cause killings. Afghans protested when
      they heard the Koran desecration story (as Christians have protested
      crucifix desecrations). The Muslim demonstrators were gunned down by
      the Afghan military police -- who operate under Rumsfeld's command.

      Our Secretary of Defense, in his darkest Big Brother voice, added a
      warning for journalists and citizens alike, "People need to be very
      careful about what they say." And Newsweek has now promised to be
      very, very good, and very, very careful not to offend Rumsfeld,
      appall Condi or anger George.

      For their good behavior, I'm giving Newsweek and its owner, the
      Washington Post, this week's Yellow Streak Award for Craven
      Cowardice in Journalism. As always, the competition is fierce, but
      Newsweek takes the honors by backing down on Mike Isakoff's expose
      of cruelity, racism and just plain bone-headed incompetence by the
      US military at the Guantanamo prison camp.

      Isakoff cited a reliable source that among the neat
      little "interrogation" techniques used to break down Muslim
      prisoners was putting a copy of the Koran into a toilet. In the old
      days, Isakoff's discovery would have led to Congressional
      investigations of the perpetrators of such official offence. The
      Koran-flushers would have been flushed from the military, panels
      would have been impaneled and Isakoff would have collected his

      No more. Instead of nailing the wrong-doers, the Bush Administration
      went after the guy who REPORTED the crime, Isakoff. Was there a
      problem with the story? Certainly. If you want to split hairs, the
      inside-government source of the Koran desecration story now says he
      can't confirm which military report it appeared in. But he saw it in
      one report and a witnesses has confirmed that the Koran was defiled.

      Of course, there's an easy way to get at the truth. RELEASE THE
      REPORTS NOW. Hand them over, Mr. Rumsfeld, and let's see for
      ourselves what's in them.

      But Newsweek and the Post are too polite to ask Rumsfeld to make the
      investigative reports public. Rather, the corporate babysitter for
      Newsweek, editor Mark Whitaker, said, "Top administration officials
      have promised to continue looking into the charges and so will we."
      In other words, we'll take the Bush Administration's word that there
      is no evidence of Koran-dunking in the draft reports on Guantanamo.

      It used to be that the Washington Post permitted journalism in its
      newsrooms. No more. But, frankly, that's an old story.

      Every time I say investigative reporting is dead or barely breathing
      in the USA, some little smartass will challenge me, "What about
      Watergate? Huh?" Hey, buddy, the Watergate investigation was 32
      years ago -- that means it's been nearly a third of a century since
      the Washington Post has printed a big investigative scoop. The Post
      today would never run the Watergate story: a hidden source versus
      official denial. Let's face it, Bob Woodward, now managing editor at
      the Post, has gone from "All the President's Men" to becoming the
      President's Man -- "Bush at War." Ugh!

      And now the Post company is considering further restrictions on the
      use of confidential sources -- no more "Deep Throats." Despite its
      supposed new concern for hidden sources, let's note that Newsweek
      and the Post have no trouble providing, even in the midst of this
      story, cover for secret Administration sources that are FAVORABLE to
      Bush. Editor Whitaker's retraction relies on "Administration
      officials" whose names he kindly withholds.

      In other words, unnamed sources are OK if they defend Bush,
      unacceptable if they expose the Administration's mendacity or evil.

      A lot of my readers don't like the Koran-story reporter Mike Isakoff
      because of his goofy fixation with Monica Lewinsky and Mr. Clinton's
      cigar. Have some sympathy for Isakoff: Mike's one darn good
      reporter, but as an inmate at the Post/Newsweek facilities, his
      ability to send out serious communications to the rest of the world
      are limited.

      A few years ago, while I was tracking the influence of the power
      industry on Washington, Isakoff gave me some hard, hot stuff on Bill
      Clinton -- not the cheap intern-under-the-desk gossip -- but an FBI
      report for me to publish in The Guardian of Britain. I asked Isakoff
      why he didn't put it in Newsweek or in the Post.

      He said, when it comes to issues of substance, "No one gives a sh--
      ," not the readers, and especially not the editors who assume that
      their US target audience is small-minded, ignorant and wants to stay
      that way.

      That doesn't leave a lot of time, money or courage for real
      reporting. And woe to those who practice investigative journalism.
      As with CBS's retraction of Dan Rather's report on Bush's draft-
      dodging, Newsweek's diving to the mat on Guantanamo acts as a
      warning to all journalists who step out of line.

      Newsweek has now publicly committed to having its reports vetted by
      Rumsfeld's Defense Department before publication. Why not just print
      Rumsfeld's press releases and eliminate the middleman, the reporter?

      However, not all of us poor scribblers will adhere to this New News
      Order. In the meantime, however, for my future security and comfort,
      I'm having myself measured for a custom-made orange suit.


      Greg Palast was awarded the 2005 George Orwell Prize for Courage in
      Journalism at the Sundance Film Festival for his investigative
      reports produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation. See those
      reports for BBC, Harper's, The Nation and others at
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