Has Newsweek Retracted Update

Has Newsweek Retracted?
Update: Riverbend weighs in with an Iraqi nationalist point of view on the allegations of Koran desecration in US military prisons. She points out that many Iraqis will find them plausible, given that we know that the interrogators have not shown respect for basic human dignity. Occasional US mosque invasions likewise lend credence to the charges, especially to Sunni Iraqis.

It is being yet again alleged that Newsweek has formally retracted the Guantanamo Koran desecration story, under enormous pressure from the White House. But here is what exactly the magazine’s statement said:

“Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Koran abuse at Guantanamo Bay,” Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker said in a statement issued here.’

So far this is the same “retraction” as Sunday’s, which is that they were wrong to source the story of Koran desecration to a forthcoming Southern Command white paper on Guantanamo. It says nothing about whether the Koran desecration occurred, or whether their government source accurately reported seeing a US government text documenting it.

But then there is this:

‘ As it turned out, Newsweek now says, there was one source. And Whitaker said that because that source had “backed away” from his original account, the magazine could “no longer stand by” it. “I did not want to be in the position of splitting hairs,” Whitaker said, “to look like we were being evasive or not fully forthcoming.” ‘

Well, I find this still not fully forthcoming. What account is Whitaker backing away from? That there was Koran desecration? Or that the SouthCom report would mention it?

Jamaat-i Islami leader Qazi Husain Ahmad expressed skepticism Tuesday about the Newsweek clarification issued on Sunday concerning. His skepticism was widely shared. (Even the now generally pro-American al-Arabiya satellite news channel ran a segment in which two analysts both declined to take the Newsweek statements too seriously.

The Political Teen Video Blog links to an interesting overview of the unfolding of the Koran story at MSNBC. Tony Maciulis of Coast to Coast focused on Imran Khan and the blogs that covered the building protests, including this one. He credits Will Femia with much of the research. This was one of the better television reports about an issue in the blogosphere I have seen.

Martin Longman and Susan Hu point out that although it is now often being said in the press that only former detainees at Guantanamo have made the allegation of Koran desecration, there is in fact evidence from interrogators as well. They cite the New York Times for May 17:

“Last month, a former American interrogator confirmed to The New York Times an account given in an interview by a former Kuwaiti detainee, Nasser Nijer Naser al-Mutairi, who said that mishandling of the Koran once led to a major hunger strike. The strike ended only after a senior officer expressed regret over the camp’s loudspeaker system, which was simultaneously translated by linguists at the end of each cell block, the former interrogator said. In that case, the accusations were of copies of the Koran being tossed on the floor in a pile and treated roughly, but there was no assertion that any had been put in the toilet.”

I don’t think the crowds protesting in Afghanistan and Pakistan would be less outraged by US soldiers stomping on the Koran on the floor. That something was at least occasonally done to religiously humiliate Muslim detainees seems now unassailable.

Personally, I don’t think the Bush White House approach to this whole issue has been politically useful. The Karl Rove technique of just denying things may work in the Red States, but that is because Republicans don’t want to believe their party leader is outright lying to them. When Gen. Richard Myers says that 25,000 pages of reports on US military interrogations have been reviewed and no such Koran desecration incident has been found, he must think Muslims are complete idiots. Why in the world would any interrogator write down, “I desecrated the Koran to break this guy, in direct contravention of US military policy”? Muslim publics begin by assuming that Bush would lie to them, so simple denials won’t defuse their anger, especially ones that depend on clumsy sleight-of-hand like assuming US military intelligence documents its own excesses for the perusal of generals.

Wellstoner at Atrios’s Eschaton discussion has a useful set of clippings. I hope he won’t mind if I mirror it here, since it is hard to find in the original format:

Wellstoner writes

This from a Lexis-Nexis search-

The Denver Post, January 9

HEADLINE: Nightmare of Guantanamo…. U.S. prison camp in Cuba has become legal black hole, reporter says:

“They were punched, slapped, denied sleep, had seen other prisoners sexually humiliated, hooded and forced to watch copies of the Koran being flushed down toilets. Eventually the pressure proved too much – they gave false confessions that the British intelligence service, MI5, later showed to be untrue. Upon their return to the United Kingdom they were released without being charged.”

Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia), January 3, 2005
HEADLINE: Koran prayer torture claim

LONDON — A British detainee claims he was tortured at Guantanamo Bay for reciting the Koran when talking was banned.

Moazzam Begg told lawyers he was tortured using the strappado, in which a prisoner is suspended from a bar with handcuffs, Britain’s Observer newspaper said.

Mr Begg alleged he had been shaven several times against his will and a guard had said on one such occasion: “This is the part that really gets to you Muslims isn’t it?””

Financial Times (London, England), Oct 28, 2004
HEADLINE: Four Britons held at Guantanamo sue US government

In August Mr Ahmed, Mr Rasul and Mr Iqbal issued a 115-page dossier accusing the US of abuse, including allegations that they were beaten and had their Korans thrown into toilets.

USA TODAY, October 18, 2004
HEADLINE: Spy case was a ‘life-altering experience’ for airman

Al Halabi says he did not witness any treatment of prisoners that has now been called into question as abusive. But he says he saw things at Guantanamo that disturbed him. He says guards would purposely mishandle the Koran “just to see the detainees’ reaction.”

Daily News (New York), August 5, 2004

“They would kick the Koran, throw it into the toilet and generally disrespect it,” Asif Iqbal wrote.

The Independent (London), August 5, 2004

In the report, released in New York, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul – the so-called Tipton Three – said one inmate was threatened after being shown a video in which hooded inmates were forced to sodomise each other. Guards allegedly threw prisoners’ Korans into toilets, while others were injected with drugs, it was claimed.

The San Francisco Chronicle, JUNE 20, 2004

Prisoners have been forced to strip naked — nudity is a violation of Muslim principles; forced to commit actual or simulated sex acts; prevented from sleeping; threatened with dogs; hooded; given electric shocks; beaten with fists, chains, boots and other objects; forced to maintain painful positions for hours; kept in frigid isolation rooms; subjected to loud music, strobe lights and diets of bread and water; urinated on and prevented from praying or reading the Koran.

The Observer, May 16, 2004
HEADLINE: Inside Guantanamo Bay

‘THEY HAD already searched me and my cell twice that day, gone through my stuff, touched my Koran, felt my body around my private parts. And now they wanted to do it again, just to provoke me, but I said no, because if you submit to everything you turn into a zombie.

The Guardian (London) – Final Edition, May 14, 2004
HEADLINE: Guantanamo abuse same as Abu Ghraib, say Britons

According to a source, who has interviewed them in secret since their release, they were initially too ashamed to talk about it, and are only now starting to give details. The source said: “They are embarrassed about talking about it because they feel humiliated. We have had an account that their religion was used against them, that a copy of the Koran was brought in front of them and pages torn out.”

The Observer, March 14, 2004
HEADLINE: World Exclusive: Inside Guantanamo: How we survived jail hell

As Muslims, they were shocked when in repeated ‘shakedown’ searches of the sleeping tents, copies of the Koran would be trampled on by soldiers and, on one occasion, thrown into a toilet bucket. Throughout their stay at Kandahar the guards carried out head-counts every hour at night to keep the prisoners awake.

The Washington Post, March 26, 2003
HEADLINE: Returning Afghans Talk of Guantanamo; Out of Legal Limbo, Some Tell of Mistreatment

The men, the largest single group of Afghans to be released after months of detainment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, gave varying accounts of how American forces treated them during interrogation and detainment. Some displayed medical records showing extensive care by American military doctors, while others complained that American soldiers insulted Islam by sitting on the Koran or dumping their sacred text into a toilet to taunt them.
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