Thursday, May 26, 2005

Can we call it Korangate? Or is that wrong?

Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice, who has been wonderfully supportive of my blogging and kind enough to link to The Reaction, has an excellent overview of the hyperactive (if predictable) blogospheric reaction to Korangate -- you know, Newsweek's much-maligned (because unsubstantiated) story about the flushing of the Koran at Guantanamo.

To be honest, I'm not sure what to make of the story. Did it happen? Maybe. I mean, look what else has happened, look what else passes for accepted interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere. Would it really surprise anyone that it happened? Newsweek (a well-respected publication) and the author of the story, Michael Isikoff (a well-respected journalist -- who, by the way, once went after Clinton on Monicagate), may not have been able to back up their story, but there's a good deal more complexity here than can be gleaned from the usual left-right potshots (some on the left want it to be true so as to tarnish Bush yet further; some on the right want it to be false so as to tarnish the "liberal" media). According to the Post, the Pentagon "has not received any specific, credible allegations of willful desecration of the Koran by interrogators at" Guantanamo (see here). But "[d]etainees told FBI interrogators as early as April 2002 that mistreatment of the Koran was widespread" there (see here), even though "[m]ore than two years ago, the Pentagon issued detailed rules for handling the Koran" -- including keeping it away from "offensive areas" and showing it "respect and reverence" (see here). For now, then, it's something of a we-said-they-said controversy. I'm inclined to believe the Pentagon more than the detainees, many of whom are al Qaeda or Taliban, but it's also clear that U.S. security and military personnel have hardly shown themselves to be above truly reprehensible behaviour.

On Korangate, I tend to agree with TNR's Michelle Cottle (see here):
Conservative activists and pundits... have been loudly insisting that Newsweek's screw up is some morally debased, unpatriotic, politically motivated attempt to damage the Bush administration--nay, the Armed Forces themselves--in the eyes of the world. And though less vitriolic, even the White House is proclaiming a little too much self-righteous astonishment that anyone anywhere could have possibly contemplated running such an obviously untrue, unfounded story based on the word of one measly government source. (This is, after all, the same administration that swore Saddam Hussein had a bioweapons program based on the word of a single Iraqi defector, nicknamed Curveball, whom the CIA had been warned was crazy and most likely a liar. So if the Bushies really want to have a debate about poor sourcing and inaccurate claims that have contributed to massive bloodshed, I'd say Newsweek still holds the high ground.)

That said, it's hardly surprising that conservatives are scrambling to paint Newsweek as an evil actor. Destroying the credibility of the entire mainstream media would be just fine with most Republicans, especially those in this White House. (Hell, these days the Bushies don't think a story is credible unless they've actually paid a journalist or news outlet to disseminate it.) From the perspective of many conservatives, they are at war with a liberal, elitist mainstream press.

Newsweek is now the easy target, and, once more, the right is trying to deflect attention away from the real story, that is, from what's really going on at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere (just as they tried to deflect attention away from the records of Bush's extremist judicial nominees by focusing on process -- i.e., the filibuster). It's a strategy that works, clearly, but more and more the weight of the evidence, Koran-flushing or not, is building. And that does not, by the way, make me happy. I don't much care for Bush, as must be clear by now, but I do not wish ignominy on the United States. I may disagree with the conduct of the so-called war on terror, including the occupation of Iraq, but I do not hope for America's failure. But with power comes responsibility, and, no matter the pathetic attempts by both sides to score political points, that's precisely what's missing.

May the truth win out.

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  • Well, the point is that, regardless of whether the specific incident happened, it's not incredible, given everything else that has occurred, that this or something similar would. The Administration continually splits hairs as a way to discredit the MSM, but the fact is it's certainly not beyond the realm of credibility that someone defaced the Koran. It's obviously a lot more politically palatable for the conservatives to assume that Newsweek has it in for Bush than to examine why stories like this are coming out.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:14 PM  

  • Frankly,I don't think anyone but a Moslem should be required to treat a Koran the way a Moslem would,or anyone but a Catholic treat a Communion wafer the way a Catholic would,et cetera.You can't treat all faiths as true.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:17 PM  

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