Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 26, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

AFGHANISTAN....The Washington Post writes today about newly released FBI documents that describe Koran desecration at Guantanamo:

The summaries of FBI interviews, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of an ongoing lawsuit, include a dozen allegations that the Koran was kicked, thrown to the floor or withheld as punishment. One prisoner said in August 2002 that guards had "flushed a Koran in the toilet" and had beaten some detainees.

But the Pentagon said yesterday that the same prisoner, who is still in custody, was reinterviewed on May 14 and "did not corroborate" his earlier claim about the Koran.

"We still have found no credible allegations that a Koran was flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in a statement last night.

So: kicked and thrown to the floor, yes, but not flushed down a toilet. Hooray for us! As for those riots that Newsweek supposedly started, here's aid worker Sarah Chayes in the New York Times:

Our unshakable conclusion has been that the adroit Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, is planting operatives in the student body. These students can also provoke agitation at Pakistani officials' behest, while affording the government in Islamabad plausible deniability.

In other words, it's a mistake to focus on the Newsweek article as the cause of the recent demonstrations in Afghanistan....What most Afghans have complained to me most consistently about is the inexplicable staying power of predatory, corrupt and abusive officials, on both the provincial and national level....By blindly allying themselves with some of the most destructive elements of Afghan society (over-armed, under-disciplined thugs), American forces paint themselves in the ugly colors of their Afghan proxies.

....Highhanded American behavior has also contributed fuel for the fire....But inconveniences are one thing, atrocities quite another. On their own, the fatal beatings of probably innocent detainees and the use of religiously based sexual humiliation at the prison on the American base in Bagram would be sufficient pretext for troublemakers to provoke a riot, never mind the Newsweek report about desecration of the Koran.

Such behavior is not only a disgrace but also a serious national security risk.

Quite right. The American media certainly has its share of problems these days, but the state of American media criticism is little short of buffoonish. How is it possible that our press critics have spent two weeks clucking nervously over the fact that Newsweek's source made a mistake about which report he saw the Koran allegations in, thus providing the White House with exactly the cover they needed to avoid responsibility for the fact that it's their disastrous policies that are responsible for what's happening in Afghanistan? Who needs Paris Hilton to distract attention from reality when America's media critics will do it for free?

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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