Newsweek reported NEWSWEEK was not the first to report allegations of desecrating the Qur'an. As early as last spring and summer, similar reports from released detainees started surfacing in British and Russian news reports, and in the Arab news agency Al-Jazeera; claims by other released detainees have been covered in other media since then.
And of course released detainees would have no reason to lie, would they?But the NEWSWEEK report arrived at a particularly delicate moment in Afghan politics. Opponents of the Karzai government, including remnants of the deposed Taliban regime, have been looking for ways to exploit public discontent. The Afghan economy is weak, and the government (pressed by the United States) has alienated farmers by trying to eradicate their poppy crops, used to make heroin in the global drug trade. Afghan men are sometimes rounded up during ongoing U.S. military operations, and innocents can sit in jail for months. When they are released, many complain of abuse. President Karzai is still largely respected, but many Afghans regard him as too dependent on and too obsequious to the United States. With Karzai scheduled to come to Washington next week, this is a good time for his enemies to make trouble.
That does not quite explain, however, why the protest and rioting over Qur'an desecration spread throughout the Islamic region. After so many gruesome reports of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, the vehemence of feeling around this case came as something of a surprise. Extremist agitators are at least partly to blame, but obviously the reports of Qur'anic desecration touch a particular nerve in the Islamic world. U.S. officials, including President George W. Bush, are uneasily watching, and last week Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pointedly remarked that any desecration of the Qur'an would not be "tolerated" by the United States. (As a legal matter, U.S. citizens are free to deface the Qur'an as an exercise of free speech, just as they are free to burn the American flag or tear up a Bible; but government employees can be punished for violating government rules.)
While certainly true, is Newsweek trying to spark even more trouble.After the rioting began last week, the Pentagon attempted to determine the veracity of the NEWSWEEK story. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers told reporters that so far no allegations had been proven. He did appear to cryptically refer to two mentions found in the logs of prison guards in Gitmo: a report that a detainee had used pages of the Qur'an to stop up a crude toilet as a form of protest, and a complaint from a detainee that a prison guard had knocked down a Qur'an hanging in a bag in his cell.
On Friday night, Pentagon spokesman DiRita called NEWSWEEK to complain about the original PERISCOPE item. He said, "We pursue all credible allegations" of prisoner abuse, but insisted that the investigators had found none involving Qur'an desecration. DiRita sent NEWSWEEK a copy of rules issued to the guards (after the incidents mentioned by General Myers) to guarantee respect for Islamic worship. On Saturday, Isikoff spoke to his original source, the senior government official, who said that he clearly recalled reading investigative reports about mishandling the Qur'an, including a toilet incident. But the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the SouthCom report. Told of what the NEWSWEEK source said, DiRita exploded, "People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. How could he be credible now?"
In the meantime, as part of his ongoing reporting on the detainee-abuse story, Isikoff had contacted a New York defense lawyer, Marc Falkoff, who is representing 13 Yemeni detainees at Guantánamo. According to Falkoff's declassified notes, a mass-suicide attempt—when 23 detainees tried to hang or strangle themselves in August 2003—was triggered by a guard's dropping a Qur'an and stomping on it. One of Falkoff's clients told him, "Another detainee tried to kill himself after the guard took his Qur'an and threw it in the toilet." A U.S. military spokesman, Army Col. Brad Blackner, dismissed the claims as unbelievable. "If you read the Al Qaeda training manual, they are trained to make allegations against the infidels," he said.
More allegations, credible or not, are sure to come. Bader Zaman Bader, a 35-year-old former editor of a fundamentalist English-language magazine in Peshawar, was released from more than two years' lockup in Guantánamo seven months ago. Arrested by Pakistani security as a suspected Qaeda militant in November 2001, he was handed over to the U.S. military and held at a tent at the Kandahar airfield. One day, Bader claims, as the inmates' latrines were being emptied, a U.S. soldier threw in a Qur'an. After the inmates screamed and protested, a U.S. commander apologized. Bader says he still has nightmares about the incident. Such stories may spark more trouble. Though decrepit and still run largely by warlords, Afghanistan was not considered by U.S. officials to be a candidate for serious anti-American riots. But Westerners, including those at NEWSWEEK, may underestimate how severely Muslims resent the American presence, especially when it in any way interferes with Islamic religious faith.
Roger L. Simon blogged Evan Thomas of Newsweek has moved swiftly to control the damage to his publication caused by the rioting and carnage engendered in Afghanistan by Newsweek's anonymously sourced report of Koran flushing. There is some acknowledgement of culpability, but the article concludes with the kind of liberal cant that reminds former leftys like me why I have no home to return to, even if I wanted to. But more importantly, Thomas and Co. do not deal with the real problem, the anonymous sourcing that should be the instrument of a totalitarian press, not a free one. They seem to blame the problem on Michael Isikoff having misjudged his source. But who is that "son of a bitch"? 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.
PJ commented And now the media are pumping the aftermath story, giving credibility to a couple of clerics who demanding the "culprits" to be turned over to them or they will start a holy war...wait, another holy war. BTW I'm reading about the growth of newspapers during the Civil War. The MSM today are proudly carrying on their tradition of lying, fabricating controversies, and reviling the President and his war policy (Lincoln was more hated than Bush) all for their partisan aims. The AP was formed to help streamline reportage during that war as print circulation exploded. Blogs and Pajamas Media represent the organized revolt, if you will, against the print jihad against truth that began 150 years go. Bravo!
Terrye commented Yes, I saw on Reuters that clerics want the culprits so that they can punish them. I say we give them management from newsweek for human sacrifice or whatever.
Ron commented As much as I'm annoyed that Newsweek lied about this so called 'source' what is very revealing is the reaction by the Moslems. Are these people completely crazy? Riots and deaths because of a goofy news article? These religious zealots are becoming very scary and I hope that our citizenry are taking notice. This is not a religion of peace and reconciliation, there is insanity here and its not going away, its getting worse.
Scott @PowerLine blogged Yesterday's London Times reports on the rioting and deaths triggered by Michael Isikoff's Periscope item in Newsweek on alleged abuse of the Koran at Guantanomo:
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.So Isikoff relied on a telephone call with an anonymous government official paraphrasing a forthcoming report, confirmed by placing a draft of the Periscope item before another anonymous government official. Isikoff never saw the underlying report or even had it read to him.