Newsweek Wimps Out
- Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
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?
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, youíll
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
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 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