Shooting the Messenger

On May 16, 2005, rather than lose its press pass, Newsweek fell on its sword and retracted its story about U.S. investigators confirming the desecration of the Koran by U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo. Following the story’s publication on May 9, 2005, anti-American riots erupted in Afghanistan and throughout the Muslim world and anti-Newsweek riots erupted throughout the White House and Pentagon.

Bush & Co. blame Newsweek for damaging the image of the U.S., as well as for causing the deaths of at least sixteen Muslims outraged by the allegations. The damage to the image of the U.S., however, was accomplished long before the Newsweek story came out and it was done by the very people trying to pin the blame on Newsweek. Those same people caused the deaths of thousands of Muslims by way of smart bombs and precision strikes.

But I digress.

Whatever the inaccuracies of the Newsweek story, the fact of the matter is that numerous sources have independently alleged that the U.S. has desecrated the Koran as an interrogation technique in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and other detention facilities.

Former prisoners at Guantanamo have alleged, in statements compiled by the Center for Constitutional Rights, that guards and interrogators abused the Koran as part of the interrogation process. As part of the composite statement obtained by CCR, former detainee Asif Iqbal claimed that guards at Guantanamo “would kick the Koran, throw it into the toilet and generally disrespect it.”

Likewise, in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of individuals formerly detained by the U.S., the plaintiffs also alleged intentional desecration of the Koran by U.S. forces. For instance, the plaintiffs accused U.S. forces of “Repeatedly desecrating the Quran in the presence of Plaintiff Arkan M. Ali and other detainees to demean and degrade them, including having a military dog pick up the Quran in its mouth.” U.S. forces are also accused of “Desecrating the Quran in the presence of Plaintiff Sabbar and other detainees to demean and degrade them, including throwing the book to the floor and stepping on it.”

Furthermore, in an April 11, 2005, interview with the Moroccan newspaper La Gazette du Maroc, former Guantanamo detainee Mohamed Mazouz described desecration of the Koran by U.S. forces. According to Mazouz, “They urinated over it, they ripped it; they cut it with scissors in front of us. They defecated on it and painted our faces with it.”

In October 2003, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross met with Defense Department officials regarding the detention practices and facilities at Guantanamo. During that meeting, the ICRC expressed its “serious concern with the treatment of the Koran in the camps.” Despite denials by Defense Department officials that any mistreatment of the Koran ever took place, the ICRC remained concerned.

Perhaps most damning, however, is the sworn statement from June 2004, obtained by the ACLU, of a civilian member of the Mobile Training Team from Ft. Huachuca who assessed the interrogation operations at Abu Ghraib. In his statement, the civilian recounts a conversation he had with a “motivated and enthusiastic interrogator” at Abu Ghraib. According to the civilian’s statement, “On one occasion, I had a conversation with [REDACTED] concerning the [Intelligence Rules of Engagement] and interrogation approaches. I gave him examples of approaches including the Pride and Ego Down where and (sic) interrogator took a Koran, threw it on the floor and stepped on it ….”

According to the statement, “The conversation was meant to explain why these activities were prohibited or restricted.” Nonetheless, the very fact that the conversation took place and that the civilian felt it necessary to advise the interrogator against stomping on the Koran as an interrogation technique, would seem to indicate that such techniques had been previously employed. The civilian assessor did not pull out of thin air the”Pride and Ego Down” technique of stomping on the Koran; he was aware of its use, as well as its offensive nature.

Inasmuch as Newsweek is being blamed by Bush & Co. for tarnishing the pristine image of the U.S., perhaps it is worth examining exactly what Newsweek reported then later retracted. In its very brief (320 words) story of May 9, 2005, Newsweek reported that U.S. investigations of interrogation abuses at Guantanamo “have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year.” In one such unreported case, “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.”

There was really nothing new about Newsweek’s story, other than the fact that it reported that U.S. investigations confirmed prior allegations of Koran desecration. Not surprisingly, the White House and Pentagon were and are unwilling to admit that the U.S. would stoop to the desecration of the Koran. Indeed, the U.S. vehemently denies that it has ever and would ever do such a thing. Unfortunately, the U.S. has zero credibility on the matter in light of its initial attempts to deny the rampant abuse and torture perpetrated by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib. Therefore, the dismissals by the White House and Pentagon of Koran-desecration allegations as “not credible” are themselves not credible.

Maybe Newsweek screwed up. That screw up, however, was not the cause of the riots and deaths throughout the Muslim world. Rather, the all-too-well-documented abuse, torture, and disrespect by U.S. authorities of Muslim detainees was the cause. Newsweek was merely the messenger (one of many). Bush & Co., however, created the message. And while Newsweek may be guilty of getting some details wrong, Bush & Co. are responsible for the message and all of its bloody ramifications.

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