Piling on the "MSM"

|

Salon (annoying ad firewall) hits roughly what I've been thinking about the Newsweek flap:

On the first question, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann makes the point as clearly as anyone: Given everything else that's happened at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, is it really possible that some interrogator hasn't tossed a Quran into a toilet? "Everybody in the prosecution of the so-called 'war on terror' has done something dumb, dating back to the President's worst-possible-word-selection ("crusade") on Sept. 16, 2001," Olbermann writes. "So why wouldn't some mid-level interrogator stuck in Cuba think it would be a good idea to desecrate a holy book?" Seriously, how could anyone think otherwise? Imagine the conversation: "Hmm, we can waterboard these guys. We can put collars around their necks and make them walk like dogs; we can make them wear panties and let them think we're smearing menstrual blood on their faces; we can force them to pretend to masturbate for the camera. But no, flushing the Koran, that's definitely off limits."

You don't want to take detainees at their words, obviously, but there was nothing intrinsically implausible about reports of this sort of stuff when they aired previously. Now it's outrageous that Newsweek ran one more report because their source thinks he might have read about it in this document rather than that one? Give me a fucking break. Olberman also points to this briefing:

GEN. MYERS: It's the—it's a judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eikenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran—and I'll get to that in just a minute—but more tied up in the political process and the reconciliation process that President Karzai and his Cabinet is conducting in Afghanistan. So that's—that was his judgment today in an after-action of that violence. He didn't—he thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.

If I see one more irate toddler whining about how journalists are insufficiently patriotic because they're not willing to be ideological hacks, I'm going to be ill.

Addendum: I should clarify that I don't want to imply Newsweek shouldn't catch flak for shoddy sourcing. What's galling is the speed and enthusiasm with which people want to leap on this in an attempt to shift blame for violence to the media rather than (1) a pattern of actual abuses that make reports like this one highly credible and more inflammatory around the world, and (2) fanatics who think flushing a book is an excuse to kill people become violent.

NEXT: Do Butterflies Have Stronger Wings?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. a. the story was demonstrably false.
    b. it immediately caused loss of life and irreparable damage.
    c. olberman has been, is now, and will be tomorrow, a muttonhead

    hilarious to watch the effort to distract attention from Newsweek’s utter defenselessness. “O! but it MUST be true! But it MUST!”

    the wistfulness, it just seems excruciating

  2. But, but…Newsweek lied, people died!

  3. I agree. Enough with the “bias” accusations. If you think CNN is too left-wing for your tastes, watch the Fox News Channel.

    I think the underlying nature of the right’s complaint, as someone has already expressed eloquently on a different post, isn’t that the mainstream media (I got sick of typing “MSM”) is willing to be ideological hacks. It’s that they are unwilling to be ideological hacks for the right. Haven’t these individuals been introduced to Limbaugh, Drudge and O’Reilly?

    There are plenty of lies to be had on both sides. Just pick which set of lies you feel most comfortable with.

  4. So then General Meyers was lying and the Newsweek article was solely responsible for the violence? To think is just, well, as muttonheaded as Keith Olbermann is said to be. And don’t forget that this story has already been published a few times before. Oh, and the the government hasn’t needed Newsweeks help in weakening our image; it has done a fine job itself.

  5. That should read ‘To think THAT is as muttonheaded as…’ Typos. :/

  6. Shame on Newsweek for giving the Bush Administration a way to scapegoat everything.

    Its amazing how much blame Newsweek is getting for this article. I remember reading months ago about toilet flushed Korans, but like the unnamed source, I cant put my finger on exactly where.

    The line from the Bush Admin. seems to be, everything was great untill Newsweek came along, now look. Total BS

  7. Do I believe that somewhere in this whole mess we call the War on Terror that someone has flushed a Koran down the toilet? Sure.

    Do I believe that Newsweek totally bungled a story, which may or may not be provable, and that their mistake cost lives? Sure.

    I don’t know what conclusions to draw from the above statements, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with patriotism or journalism.

  8. a. the story was demonstrably false.

    This “demonstrably false” story has been aired previously.

    b. it immediately caused loss of life and irreparable damage.

    So, it seems that you, all-knowing toddler, know more about the situation than General Meyers. Hell, why are you commenting on some blog? Why not get a job consulting for the military/intel community? You obviously are right, while the joint chiefs are obviously wrong. Don’t waste your wisdom here!

    c. olberman has been, is now, and will be tomorrow, a muttonhead

    You surely present a convincing argument! Forget that it has nothing to do with the actual merits of the argument…just call the issuer a “muttonhead”, and you’re off the hook.

  9. Rule #1: The more potentially harmful or inflamatory a story is, the more carefully it should be verified. Looks like Newsweek forgot that.

    Still, when I heard the story, I must admit that it didn’t occur to me to doubt that it happened. In fact, I agree with Julian that something similar probably did happen. That does not excuse running with a poorly verified story.

  10. I think a previous commenter has it right. The real problem is that both sides of the debate (left and right) in their struggle to discredit the other – lend tacit, and actual, credence to the ridiculous notion that it’s ok to riot and kill people because a book, a symbol of a religion might have gotten wet.

    A pox on both their houses. Oh, and Keith Olberman is a huge idiot regardless of his political stance. The fact that he is on television constantly amazes and aggravates me.

  11. “If I see one more irate toddler whining about how journalists are insufficiently patriotic because they’re not willing to be ideological hacks”

    I think of Ernie Pyle. Then I think of the 85% Democratic-voting press and people who characterize its critics as being irate toddlers. Then I realize we aren’t really at war; this is just politics with lip service of “supporting the troops” thrown in as a fig leaf.

  12. Because it may be true doesn’t mean that Newsweek should be reporting it as fact.

    Using Julian/Keithlogic, we now have to assume that because weird stuff happens every day, all that is in the Weekly World News must be true.

    Why anyone reads major media anymore is a puzzle to me. Excepting, of course, the Christian Science Monitor, probably the most unbiased source for reporting. The opeds are obviously slanted 😉

  13. I usually read the print copy of Reason in the bathroom. Make fun of my reading habits if you wish. One time I accidentally dropped it in the toilet. Could it be the sme thing happened in Guantamano? Some U.S. solider may have done the same thing, tried understadning Islam with a little bathroom reading of the Koran and knocked the thing into the shitter by accident.

  14. Them’s not irate toddlers, them’s the the Wall Street Journal — http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110006700

  15. Allow me to make a trite but relavent observation here: The myths we believe often reveal much about ourselves. It is a fair question to ask why the story encountered so much credulence.

    Nevertheless, I should point out that the person who wrote the item and their supervisor should be imediately escorted out of the building by armed security.

    Negligence + people killed = your ass is fired. We need a few priciples here.

  16. Interesting that – and this is typical of bureaucratic minds – truth is not at issue. Verification is.

    Many have already heard of flushed korans, few doubted it could be true under the circumstances, the only source claimed it was in unreleased documents and has since backed away from the story (*surprise*) AFTER all the mayhem.

    But is the story TRUE? Lack of ‘official’ verification does not make it false. And any one but a right-wing schill would at least pause to consider it’s apparent veracity before declaring it “yet another reason NOT to trust the mainstream media”.

    Nah…in my book, this was a simple mistake being used to whip up more anti-liberal lather.

  17. A big question in my mind is this, considering the verifiable, actionable, and currently in court documented abuses at Gitmo, Abu Garib etc. all being reported by every major International news agencies, why is this one flushing incident such a big deal? Seriously, if the Bush Admin. wants to pin violence because of this ONE article and overlook the fact that dozens upon doznes of thier armed forces personnel are currently on trial, or have already been tried for far worse just reaks of political bullshit.

  18. I think it’s a planted source/story.

    Bush-ite plants the story and backs away from it after getting the right wing whacko pundits in on the fray.

    It’s a setup. Turdblossom scores another one for the home team.

  19. Now, a glance back at the original news stories out of Jalalabad reveals that Afghan government forces and U.S. troops did the actual killing in question in the riot that Newsweek supposedly started.

    Hmmm …

  20. TPG:
    Using Julian/Keithlogic, we now have to assume that because weird stuff happens every day, all that is in the Weekly World News must be true.

    NO, thats not quite it. No, in fact, the Jerry Springer reality in parts of this war (ie Graner and his sex triangle at Abu Graib and all that surrounds it, bad WMD and terrorism connection intel, oil for food fraud, etc, etc) causes one to be not entirely suprised at new revelations, regardless of how wacky it may seem. Actually, we’ve come to expect them.

    Sadly, the truth lies out there somewhere. We just need to find it before its thrusted into the opposing spin machines, which, will likely never happen.

  21. Once again, this brouhaha is useful only in that it provides a way of weeding out partisan hacks for both sides. Namely:

    If you’re calling for the censoring/firing/castration of the Newsweek staff involved in this story, you should be equally critical of the current administration’s reliance on sources that were equally, if not more so, incredible when pitching the plans for this war.

    If you aren’t, then you are a partisan hack who has nothing important to add to the discussion.

    The same goes in reverse for those who chant “Bush lied, people died” but have no problem with Newsweek’s story. A failure to be consistent demonstrates that the party line is the only truth that matters to you.

  22. Apologies to Mr. Foxworthy:

    You just might be one species of blithering, mindless partisan if you assume Newsweek made up a story in order to harm GWB, American foreign policy, and America itself.

    You just might be one species of blithering, mindless partisan if you think anything broadcast or printed by a non-Fox outlet is carefully crafted to advance the Liberal Agenda.

    You just might be another species of yammering, brainless partisan if you continue to preach that you just know a story has to be true – because you read it, um, somewhere – even though the news outlet in question has (now) formally retracted it.

    You just might be another species of yammering, brainless partisan if you really think that the extremely skewed political makeup of the “MSM” doesn’t in any way whatsoever detract from its judgement and reporting. You certainly are if you think the extremely skewed political makeup enhances its judgement and reporting.

  23. It’s not Newsweek’s fault that people died. Try a counterfactual: Say the story was true (it was certainly plausible). Would you irate toddlers blame Newsweek for the fact that people died on the basis of a true newsstory?

    False newsstories don’t kill people; people kill people.

  24. Quasibill:

    Excellent point. I guess soon we may learn whether Newsweek’s sole source was nicknamed “Curveball” and had a drinking problem.

  25. MSM are all ideological hacks. They see themselves as heroes, giant-killers who have the guts to go up against the most powerful nation in the world and Speak Truth To Power. Why? Compassion for the weak and downtrodden of the earth. And if the weak and downtrodden happen to be carrying knives, then the MSM must explain to Power why it should gratefully bare its throat…

  26. Eric,

    I accept your apology. My lawyers, however, do not.

    See You In Court,

  27. Interesting that – and this is typical of bureaucratic minds – truth is not at issue. Verification is.

    Mad,

    I disagree whole-heartedly. Truth is the central issue, verification is the issue matters to the two sides that can claim “victory” in this, and this is now a major problem when it comes to discovering facts. One side suppresses the truth at all costs, the other exacerbates the truth with fantasies that fit their worldview. Both sides take both roles.

    It’s left to the rest of us to determine where the facts reside in the shit that stuck to the wall. Yes, it’s been reported that Korans have been flushed. It was also reported that 100,000 Iraqis have died since hostilities commenced. It was reported that Pat Tillman was killed by enemy fire. “Reports” are so slanted, and so biased that I don’t believe any of them any more.

    It makes me extremely suspicious that Newsweek backed down so quickly from this, and furthers my suspicion that major media outlets now report gossip as fact so as to get scoops.

    After having said that…why in the hell does it matter if Korans were flushed? I hope that they were. I hope bibles were used as toilet paper. I hope that Torah’s were used as snotrags.

  28. Sadly, the truth lies out there somewhere. We just need to find it before its thrusted into the opposing spin machines, which, will likely never happen.

    I agree. This is what happens when there are “sides” to facts.

  29. “Would you irate toddlers blame Newsweek for the fact that people died on the basis of a true newsstory?”

    Actually, the irate toddler known as John Podhoretz would: http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/46603.htm

    And so what if the item had been true? Journalists routinely withhold the truth from their readers for all sorts of reasons.

    * * *

    So Newsweek went and told one such horrid tale. And the world has reaped the whirlwind. The fact that the tale in question is a cock-and-bull story is almost beside the point. No matter what degree of certainty the editors and reporters had about the item’s veracity, moral responsibility for the fallout from it falls squarely on their shoulders. The magazine has blood on its pages regardless. The magazine caused a geopolitical storm injurious to the countrymen of its own editors and reporters regardless.

  30. post abu g, is tossing a book in the loo really that difficult to believe?

  31. I really don’t see what the big deal is. I toss at least 5 or 6 Korans in the toilet on a daily basis.

  32. post abu g, is tossing a book in the loo really that difficult to believe?

    No, and it’s probably true. But if you’re going to report gossip, note it as such.

  33. i’m just asking in light of mr. pod and others who seem to find the idea simply ludicrous.

  34. MSM are all ideological hacks. They see themselves as heroes, giant-killers who have the guts to go up against the most powerful nation in the world and Speak Truth To Power. Why?

    Jojo, are you suggesting that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rest of the Right Wing ideological hacks DON’T see themselves as heroes and giant killers…especially when their out there on the airwaves claiming victim status for “having the guts to tell it like it really is”?

    Wake up, dude.

  35. madpad, I think any opinionated person with an audience sees himself as a hero.

  36. Can’t the U.S. just offer to toss a Bible in the shitter and call it even?

  37. Jojo-I agree that many reporters do, in fact, see themselves that way. I’d suggest that that’s not a bad thing. Unchecked power, whether it is held by a government, a corporation, or the local dog-catcher, is a bad thing. The threat of public exposure of malfeasance can act as a check on that power.

    The tone of your post leaves me wondering what you think the alternative is. Should the media just shut up and get in line?

  38. Can’t the U.S. just offer to toss a Bible in the shitter and call it even?

    Robert Byrd might even burn a cross, just to smooth things over! 😉

  39. The tone of your post leaves me wondering what you think the alternative is. Should the media just shut up and get in line?

    The alternative is that journalists distinguish between fact and gossip and report as such.

  40. It’s left to the rest of us to determine where the facts reside in the shit that stuck to the wall. Yes, it’s been reported that Korans have been flushed. It was also reported that 100,000 Iraqis have died since hostilities commenced. It was reported that Pat Tillman was killed by enemy fire. “Reports” are so slanted, and so biased that I don’t believe any of them any more.

    It was also reported that Private Lynch was bayoneted and shot, after killing multiple Iraqi soldiers. None of which was true.

    How did this “deception” come about? Well, I really don’t know, but it does appear that the idea was origionally based upon intercepted Iraqi radio messages that may have been mistranslated. Sources within the military then leaked the story, while other military sources denied the story, but the tale of a heroic Pvt. Lynch took a life of its own.

    Point being, stories can come about from a number of sources. They might not be true, yet they might not be fabrications. Getting down to the facts later on can be difficult.

    The Lynch saga went on to the hospital rescue, and the conflicting BBC/US military stories. The BBC stories, based upon Iraqi accounts, don’t make much sense, but I guess the BBC types know as much about military ops as our CBS types do.

  41. “Robert Byrd might even burn a cross, just to smooth things over!”

    Crap, then Birmingham will riot!
    O! Stop the madness!

  42. Can’t the U.S. just offer to toss a Bible in the shitter and call it even?

    Worst. Fail-Safe remake. Ever.

  43. It was also reported that Private Lynch was bayoneted and shot, after killing multiple Iraqi soldiers. None of which was true.

    This is my point. “Reports” are getting less and less factual.

    As a great sage once rhymed:

    Don’t believe the hype.

  44. The alternative is that journalists distinguish between fact and gossip and report as such.

    I never suggested otherwise. I did suggest that skepticism about institutions with power is a good thing in a journalist. That does not preclude fact-checking.

  45. As for the argument that reporting is getting less factual: ever hear the term “yellow journalism”? Even mainstream papers in the early part of this century wrote with a distinct agenda. If anything, the problem is that even print news has become more like TV news. You get a lead paragraph’s worth of information, and that’s about it. Reporters also need to be willing to fly the bullshit flag when people are clearly spewing crap.

  46. As for the argument that reporting is getting less factual: ever hear the term “yellow journalism”? Even mainstream papers in the early part of this century wrote with a distinct agenda.

    Yes, but back then people knew what the agenda was (or I should say, the papers were clear on their agenda), and there were papers with opposing views. Nowdays there is much more claim of unbiased reporting, etc.

  47. Don-that’s a fair statement, but the idea that reporting is less factual now than then is still silly.

  48. After having said that…why in the hell does it matter if Korans were flushed? I hope that they were. I hope bibles were used as toilet paper. I hope that Torah’s were used as snotrags.

    Gee, TPG, how do you really feel about religion? 🙂

    (As an aside, I think 24-packs (or a 12-pack double ply) of the Koran are on sale this week at the Food Lion. I prefer the double ply. Chafes my bottom less.)

  49. fanatics who think flushing a book is an excuse to kill people

    Julian, I was under the impression that those who died were protesters (or rioters if you prefer) that were fired upon. Are you saying that the victims were killed by the rioters?

  50. Gee, TPG, how do you really feel about religion? 🙂

    If not for religion and women, war would always be fought over logical things.

  51. Like property, or which end of a soft boiled egg should be opened.

  52. “…a glance back at the original news stories out of Jalalabad reveals that Afghan government forces and U.S. troops did the actual killing in question in the riot that Newsweek supposedly started.”

    Such glance also reveals that targets of rioters attacks were UN offices, International Aid organizations and Pakistan embassy. Also, riots coincided with Karzai visit to Europe, where he was trying to get support and investment, only to be told that his country is not safe enough, as riots prove. (I think US troops were called in one case only to protect UN office somewhere and I don’t think they shot anybody.)

  53. Not much in the way of religion, women, or logic in the War on Drugs, but I get yer idea.

  54. Can’t the U.S. just offer to toss a Bible in the shitter and call it even?

    I onced used part of a page from a Gideon’s Bible to roll a joint when I was out of cigarette papers — does that count?

  55. “If I see one more irate toddler whining about how journalists are insufficiently patriotic because they’re not willing to be ideological hacks, I’m going to be ill.”

    I don’t see the clamor to make journalists into “ideological hacks.” But then I don’t think asking them not to parrot enemy propaganda themes without thorough fact-checking is all that high a standard. I’d hope they were at least somewhat partial to the US when it came to warfighting.

    It’s worth pointing out that most in the Muslim world tend to see the Newsweek account of Koran-flushing as an “admission against interest,” and presume it to be truthful. It wouldn’t occur to them that the reporters in question were more interested in harming the Administration than supporting their countrymen in war. That might help explain why the several earlier claims of desecration got little traction, yet this one sparked riots.

  56. And not to put too fine a point on it, the quoted Salon piece fits exactly into the mold of the MSM advancing enemy propaganda. Have there been abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo? Sure. Any time you get more than a thousand soldiers together in close proximity to enemy combatants, some will step over the line.

    But is Guantanamo a blight on the national conscience? Hardly. Reading Isikoff’s work in particular, one would be hard-pressed to find references to the specific requirements for POW status (for irregulars):

    (a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
    (b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
    (c) That of carrying arms openly;
    (d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

    It should be obvious that Al Qaeda and Taliban types do not meet these requirements, and that they’re not entitled to the “hands off” treatment reserved for prisoners of war. And I find it somewhat laughable that “waterboarding” (which we considered “training” at SERE school) is now considered “torture.” The fact that this is now received wisdom is further evidence of our media’s slanted coverage of the war.

  57. I guess the question here is why people including the protestors believed the story. Was it because it was in the “reliable” media or because it fits into the context of what they *know* to be true? Was it a bit of both?

    The Bush administration and it’s abhorant policies have certainly created the context in which such stories are easily believable. They have certainly made thier bed … and we can’t take their complaints very seriously if they now don’t want to lie in it.

    Still, that said, newsweek still shouldn’t have printed the story without adequate fact checking of course. That mistake may not have been partisan it may just have been economic (desire for a scoop).

  58. Have there been abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo? Sure. Any time you get more than a thousand soldiers together in close proximity to enemy combatants, some will step over the line.

    There were abuses by American soldiers at Nuremburg as well.

    The Bush administration and it’s abhorant policies

    Abhorant policies?

  59. Fake But Accurate — the new journalism standard! Who needs facts, just “report” stuff that’s plausible!

    The US has “abused” these jihadists so brutally, imagine having someone put panties on your head! The horror! What do Daniel Pearl, Paul Johnson, Nicholas Berg, Fabrizio Quattrochi, and Lyubomir Kostov think about such “abuse”?

    That’s the big question.

  60. The US has “abused” these jihadists so brutally, imagine having someone put panties on your head!

    The usual line among the Abu Ghraib apologists is that the torture there was really just “abuse.” I take it from your scare-quotes that you don’t think it even rises to that level.

    Does putting panties on people’s heads qualify as abuse? Well, there’s worse things that can happen — like getting beaten to death, getting sodomized with a lightstick, and the other well-documented tortures that have taken place in those prisons.

    But God forbid that you acknowledge that — after all, there’s a sourcing error in Newsweek to attack! Rally the troops!

  61. “The usual line among the Abu Ghraib apologists is that the torture there was really just “abuse.””

    I thought the usual line was that Graner, et al, had been convicted at court-martial and imprisoned.

    “Does putting panties on people’s head qualify as abuse? Maybe not, when you compare it to getting beaten to death, getting sodomized with a lightstick, and the other well-documented tortures that have taken place in those prisons.”

    Excepting the Abu Ghraib mess, the “well-documented tortures” seem mostly to be allegations by those who have every incentive to lie about it. Sure there are some abuses (as there are in every prison in the US). But the contention that Guantanamo is a legal abomination, or that the detainees are entitled to preferential treatment under the Geneva Conventions is bogus nonsense. Nor do any of the approved interrogation methods rise to my definition of “torture.” YMMV.

  62. Excepting the Abu Ghraib mess, the “well-documented tortures” seem mostly to be allegations by those who have every incentive to lie about it.

    They don’t “seem” that way to me. Indeed, the abuses I listed were all documented by the U.S. government.

    the contention that Guantanamo is a legal abomination, or that the detainees are entitled to preferential treatment under the Geneva Conventions is bogus nonsense.

    I don’t know what “preferential” treatment you have in mind. But you might want to consult with the Pentagon — they’ve suddenly decided the Geneva Conventions apply after all. But only selectively.

  63. “They don’t “seem” that way to me. Indeed, the abuses I listed were all documented by the U.S. government.”

    If you have documentation, trot it out, please. (Though I’m familiar with the taguba report’s allegations of sodomy with light sticks at Abu Ghraib.)

    “I don’t know what “preferential” treatment you have in mind. But you might want to consult with the Pentagon — they’ve suddenly decided the Geneva Conventions apply after all. But only selectively.”

    I note you reply to a discussion of Guanatanamo with a cite about Abu Ghraib, which is usual for those who conflate the two. It should be obvious the situations are different (and the GCs applied in Iraq from the get-go).

  64. Jessee,

    Think about what Oberman is saying. Its believable that the U.S. military will do anything to detainees, Newsweek was justified in running the story based on what a governement source claimed that he had seen something about it in a report. Not an eyewitness or anything concrete, just something someone thought they saw in a second hand source. That and the fact that the military didn’t know anything about it and would not confirm or deny it, was enough to print. Basically Oberman is saying that since we can always assume the worst about the military, Newweek should be completely absolved for making the false report and in fact George Bush is a traitor for telling them to more forcfully retract it. And you wonder why people think the media is on the other side? During every war up until Vietnam, the media did not print stories that they felt would hurt the U.S. war effort.

    Exactly why was that such a bad thing? Did the First Amendment disapear because of it? Its not like the government wasn’t held accountable for the handling of the war. There were numorous and brutal Congressional investigations over military blunders, treatment of soldiers you name it. But the government was held accountable in ways that did not help enemy propaganda or hurt the war effort. Why can’t we do that now? What would have been wrong with Newsweek, informing the Military and giving them a full chance to investigate, see if it was true and punish those responsible. As long as that happened, what is the point of publishing it? It would be one thing if the military did nothing about the problem and were in fact encouraging it, then Newsweek would owe it to the country to publish it to stop the abuse. But why hurt the war effort by publishing the actions of one sadist who is being punished?

    You wouldn’t publish such a story? You wouldn’t if you really not only wanted the US to win but wanted to contribute to the war effort. You would publish it, if you either didn’t care about the U.S. war effort or wanted to sabatage it. If you wanted to sabatage it you go with every bad story you can find based on any evidence no matter how flimsy because as Oberman tells us, the military is capable of anything. In short, I and most Americans expect the media to be on the U.S. side and use their editorial judgement with that in mind. They do not do this. The MSM lives in 1969 where the sole purpose of journalism is get a scoop that if you are lucky discredits the U.S. and the entire war effort. If you don’t agree with the war and want the Saddamists and the Islamists to win and think that the United States is nasty horrible country that deserves it comupance, then I suppose the MSM is doing a great service. If you believe in the war, you don’t look at it that way. Its their right to be on the other side. I just wish they and their would be honest enough to admit it.

  65. If you have documentation, trot it out, please. (Though I’m familiar with the taguba report’s allegations of sodomy with light sticks at Abu Ghraib.)

    I won’t link to the Taguba report, then. On the matter of deaths in custody, I’ll link to this.

    I note you reply to a discussion of Guanatanamo with a cite about Abu Ghraib, which is usual for those who conflate the two. It should be obvious the situations are different (and the GCs applied in Iraq from the get-go).

    You’re right; I did jump to Iraq. More exactly, I had been writing about Iraq in the first place and didn’t notice that you had jumped to Guantanamo. That was sloppy reading on my part; I apologize.

    They may be separate issues legally — I don’t want to get into that — but the abuses in the different locations are closely linked. The reason for the “conflation” is the likelihood that the interrogation rules designed for Guantanamo and Afghanistan migrated to Iraq, and that this is among the causes of the Iraqi torture scandal.

  66. John: I’m heading to bed, so you’ll have to forgive me for not getting into a detailed debate over this. I’ll just comment that I haven’t read the Oberman article, except for the parts quoted in Julian’s post, so I don’t know if I would defend his larger argument or not.

  67. One more thing. I keep hearing on these posts how pro military the media is. Give me a break. Does anyone remember the endless stories about Afghanistan was a quagmire. How it was going to kill 10s of thousands of civilains. How bogus civilian casualty numbers were reprinted in the media as gospel. How because we failed to take Kanduhar in a manner quick enough for our MSM generals, the U.S. was destined to loose. How the 3rd ID was stuck at the gates of Baghdad. How the drive through Iraq was faltering because it hadn’t taken Baghdad in two weeks. How the Iraqi museum of antiquities was looted, a story which later turned out to be false. A few things were stolen by insiders not the lawless mobs reported by the media. How the election in Janruary should be postponed and was doomed to failure. How the fact that the Sunnis who had oppressed the country for decades and refused to participate in the electoral process must be included for any Iraqi government to be legimate. Like they would have cared had say white south Africans not voted in that elections. The list goes on and on. The MSM has taken the negative spin to every possible story over the last five years. Now they have the nerve to act shocked when people assume the worst of Newsweek after this.

  68. “I won’t link to the Taguba report, then. On the matter of deaths in custody, I’ll link to this.”

    The fact investigations are ongoing is a positive sign, not a negative one. We’ve got >100,000 servicemen in Iraq–armed, scared, and in harm’s way–inadvertent deaths will happen. Some of those will be criminal, and should be prosecuted. But they’re not evidence of wholesale prisoner abuse (a la the Nazi “commando order” or the Al Qaeda practice of cutting captives’ heads off).

    “The reason for the “conflation” is the likelihood that the interrogation rules designed for Guantanamo and Afghanistan migrated to Iraq, and that this is among the causes of the Iraqi torture scandal.”

    Nonsense. The Abu Ghraib photos don’t show pictures of “waterboarding,” they show pyramids, sexual humiliation, etc., which were never part of the interrogation rules. The conflation of the two is a construct (which the MSM perpetuates) . . . and reinforces enemy propaganda.

  69. I’m still not giving Olby any credit.

  70. “The MSM has taken the negative spin to every possible story over the last five years.”

    Oh please, you can’t be so stupid as to believe that. Every single solitary word uttered by a Bush administration hack on WMD was treated as absolute truth by the media.

  71. Cecil: You asked for evidence collected by the U.S. government of people being beated to death in custody. I gave it to you. It’s hardly fair to complain that evidence of that sort indicates that investigations are going on — of course it does. If there weren’t any investigations going on, we wouldn’t have any evidence from official sources.

    There’s also evidence from unofficial sources, which is a lot more distressing, though you seem to want to dismiss it all as “enemy propaganda.” But that’s not what I invoked earlier, and that’s not what you asked for.

    As for the Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib link, I can only suggest you read the Schlesinger report, which at one point invokes a more moderate version of the thesis, and Seymour Hersh’s articles (even if you think they’re “enemy propaganda”), which offer the more thoroughgoing and disturbing version.

  72. “Cecil: You asked for evidence collected by the U.S. government of people being beated to death in custody. I gave it to you.”

    Not quite. You mentioned beating to death, and light-stick sodomy, then claimed: “Indeed, the abuses I listed were all documented by the U.S. government.” In fact, the light-stick sodomy incident in the Taguba report is an allegation by a detainee (which Taguba found credible–as do I–but the incident isn’t “documented by the U.S. government”). Similarly, your link of investigation into beating deaths says: “The military is investigating eight deaths as “suspicious.” The ubiquitous anonymous “high-ranking U.S. military official” is the only source who claims to’ve confirmed the deaths were caused by beatings.

    “It’s hardly fair to complain that evidence of that sort indicates that investigations are going on — of course it does. If there weren’t any investigations going on, we wouldn’t have any evidence from official sources.”

    The point is that you don’t have any information from official sources. And by implying that you do, you are pretending the information is more credible than it is . . . which is precisely what NEWSWEEK did with the Koran-flushing story.

  73. “As for the Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib link, I can only suggest you read the Schlesinger report, which at one point invokes a more moderate version of the thesis . . .”

    Again, nonsense. Nobody even claims the soldiers involved were following orders (not that the orders would have been legal in any event), only that the interrogation guidelines somehow led to an environment wherein abuse was tacitly condoned. Nobody with the first clue about military command structure and lawful orders would buy that silliness for a minute–which helps explain why Graner, et al, didn’t even try that defense–and are now serving hard time.

    The Taguba report still gives the best overall picture. BG Karpinski, stupidly misinterpreting “TACON” as giving the military intelligence types control of the prison, told her officers to “stay out of the towers.” It’s hardly surprising that discipline broke down as a result . . . nor is it terribly surprising it took the form of the Stanford Prison Study. Alternate theories based on Gitmo interrogation procedures are notable for their six degrees of separation analysis (not that it slows Sy Hersh down any).

  74. Then I realize we aren’t really at war; this is just politics with lip service of “supporting the troops” thrown in as a fig leaf.

    If a government launches a unilateral invasion of another state, applies a confused and ill-thought-out occupation policy, then finds out that its principal casus belli (WMD) was non-existent, it should expect some politcal fallout. I’d be fascinated to learn about the non-political wars of the US – every one I’ve studied, including WWII, had a huge political component, and WWII is the only one I know of that didn’t generate a sizable anti-war movement.

    Once again, John’s memories and mine differ sharply concerning war coverage. I don’t remember a single story about an Afghan “quagmire;” the operations in late 2001-02 had overwhelming media and public support, apart from the usual suspects in places like Berkeley. The number of US troops committed there was limited, the Northern Alliance was doing most of the fighting, and the Taliban were very clearly in cahoots with Al-Qaeda. In fact, a lot of Bush critics were irate because they felt that the Iraq War diverted resources from Afghanistan just as we were on the verge of crushing the Taliban completely.

    As for Iraq, there was some moaning and groaning, to be sure, but there were also lots of breathless accounts provided by embedded reporters, the overall rationale for the war was never seriously questioned, and the capture of Baghdad was presented as an undiluted triumph.

    You may not care for the Sunnis, but they do make up 26% of the Iraqi nation, and it’s very difficult to see how any viable governmental structure could exclude them, regardless of past history or electoral boycotts. For one thing, they are the wellspring of the insurgency, and politcal isolation will continue to feed the insurgents.

    BTW – I become more impressed with General Myers by the day; he’s a straight shooter, which is very rare in the world of Pentagon hacks. His recent comments on the Iraqi insurgency were honest and to-the-point, and should have been a dash of cold water in the faces of those who were whooping and hollering about the insurgency’s imminent demise. Likewise, his quote on the Jahalabad riots sounds like a man more interested in accurate analysis than political point-scoring. These riots make it clear that the “pro-American” attitudes glowingly reported were probably never more than skin-deep for much of the population, and that there are deep politcal fissures in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Musharaf’s policies have made him very unpopular with major elements of Pakistani society, and Karzai’s government, though popularly elected, remains weak and unable to extend control throughout much of the country.

  75. Remember when some left wingers said after 9/11 that perhaps some of the US’s policies– i.e., unconditional support of Israel, propping up brutal middle east dictators, doing anything and everything to keep our oil-fix flowing without regard for who we hurt in the process– had precipitated the anger and violence against us? Remember how they were called the “blame America first” crowd? How people said it wasn’t Americans who flew those planes into the World Trade Center, but instead was a bunch of batshit crazy murdering extremists? So, cut to 4 years later, and now it is all Newsweek’s fault for murdering a bunch of people by running a one-line squib about piss play with a Koran? Isn’t there an intervening cause in between the article and the killing? Namely, the very same kind of batshit crazy murderous extremists? Are the right wingnuts the “blame the 1st Amendment” crowd now?

  76. Cecil: I linked to that particular article because it was handy, but there’s plenty more on the subject, drawing on the same sorts of documentation — this Denver Post piece, for example, is worth reading as well. Here’s one notable passage: In June, at a “classified interrogation facility” in Baghdad, an Iraqi detainee was found dead after being restrained in a chair for questioning. “While in custody the detainee was subjected to both physical and psychological stress,” the report shows. An autopsy determined that he died of a “hard, fast blow” to the head. The investigation continues.

    The quoted report is a government document (or, if you prefer, an “official source”). The Taguba report is a government document too. I’m not sure what your objection here is, unless you’re reading more meaning into the phrase “documented by the U.S. government” than I intended.

    Re: Gitmo: The “more moderate version” I invoked is, to quote the Schlesinger report, that “Interrogators and lists of techniques circulated from Guantanamo and Afghanistan to Iraq. During July and August 2003, the 519th Military Intelligence Company was sent to the Abu Ghraib detention facility to conduct interrogation operations. Absent any explicit policy or guidance, other than [Field Manual] 34-52, the officer in charge prepared draft interrogation guidelines….It is important to note that techniques effective under carefully controlled conditions at Guantanamo became far more problematic when they migrated and were not adequately safeguarded.”

  77. “I’m not sure what your objection here is, unless you’re reading more meaning into the phrase “documented by the U.S. government” than I intended.”

    You claimed “abuses” were “documented by the U.S. government” (specifically to bolster the credibility of the abuse charges). To pick one (the light-stick sodomy), the Taguba report does not document “abuse” it documents an allegation of abuse by a detainee. That’s not the same thing.

    “”Interrogators and lists of techniques circulated from Guantanamo and Afghanistan to Iraq. During July and August 2003, the 519th Military Intelligence Company was sent to the Abu Ghraib detention facility to conduct interrogation operations. “

    The particular soldiers involved in the Abu Ghraib abuses were from the 800th MP Brigade. They did not take orders from the MI company soldiers, the draft interrogation guidelines had not been adopted (and wouldn’t apply to the MPs in any event), and the abuses noted were not congruent with those guidelines. The connection is tenuous at best. And again, the soldiers don’t claim they received orders to abuse the prisoners, and their commander specifically told their supervisors to stay out of the area in question. And they’ve already been court-martialed for it, several pleading guilty. Your preference for the convoluted theory would seem to run afoul of Occam’s Razor, and is unpersuasive. You are of course free to believe it, but believing it adds credibility to other abuse charges strikes me as piling assumptions on top of each other.

    Also, comparing two situations with completely different legal standing (Gitmo, where the detainees do not qualify for Geneva Convention POW status; and Iraq, where they do) tends to blur the issues. Your earlier statement about the Administration “suddenly decided the Geneva Conventions apply after all” is a case in point (referring to Iraq, where they always have).

  78. The bigger issue everyone seems to be forgetting is that desecration of holy books and icons is not news. Review the history of the world – it’s par for the course in the realm of competitive religion (of which nationalism is a part). Bibles, Korans, Talmuds, Bills Of Rights, and Constitutions get shat on everyday, often by people who purport to belive in them.

    It’s reported for the sole purpose of getting fundamentalists (on any side) in a lather. I say “Bravo, Newsweek! Job well done!”

  79. To pick one (the light-stick sodomy), the Taguba report does not document “abuse” it documents an allegation of abuse by a detainee. That’s not the same thing.

    Oh, for heaven’s sake. “Defcon 1” posted a comment that implied the worst thing that happened in Iraq’s prisons was that some people got panties stuck on their head. I pointed out that a lot worse happened. In response to your follow-up comment, I noted that the sources for my statement were U.S. government documents, as opposed to, say, anonymous allegations in The Guardian. That’s all I was getting at.

    If you want to be absolutely exact, Taguba says the rape is one of several allegations that he finds “credible based on the clarity of [the detainees’] statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses.”

    Your earlier statement about the Administration “suddenly decided the Geneva Conventions apply after all” is a case in point (referring to Iraq, where they always have).

    I did put that rather snarkily. Call me cynical, but I have a hard time believing the reason the U.S. government isn’t releasing those photos is its respect for the Geneva Conventions. It’s invoking them because it suddenly finds a (probably improper) interpretation of them useful.

    By the way, unless Washington’s official stance has changed while I wasn’t looking, the GC don’t “always” apply in Iraq. The U.S. position, as I understand it, is that they apply to Iraqi prisoners but not to non-Iraqis captured in the country. The argument for this is the same as the argument offered for not following the conventions in Gitmo.

  80. “Oh, for heaven’s sake . . . I noted that the sources for my statement were U.S. government documents, as opposed to, say, anonymous allegations in The Guardian. That’s all I was getting at.”

    Sorry to exasperate you, but I’d suggest an allegation from a detainee who is specifically trained to make false allegations is even less credible than an anonymous Guardian source. Which many of these statements are (though probably not the specific light-stick one). It’s helpful to be precise.

    “I have a hard time believing the reason the U.S. government isn’t releasing those photos is its respect for the Geneva Conventions.”

    It’s expressly forbidden by the GCs, and the Administration has already been chastised for releasing pictures in Iraq. However, I agree it’s probably not the only reason.

    “By the way, unless Washington’s official stance has changed while I wasn’t looking, the GC don’t “always” apply in Iraq. The U.S. position, as I understand it, is that they apply to Iraqi prisoners but not to non-Iraqis captured in the country.”

    Yes, I meant “always” as “from the beginning” (in response to your “suddenly” characterization). And I also should have been more precise.

  81. Re-reading this, I think you’re implying the Administration has no respect for the Geneva Conventions:

    “It’s invoking them because it suddenly finds a (probably improper) interpretation of them useful . . . The argument for this is the same as the argument offered for not following the conventions in Gitmo.”

    I know this has grown into a popular liberal meme, but the reality is that the executive (and military types in particular) have the most to lose from those who flout the conventions, and are most interested in enforcing them. And it seems to’ve escaped many of those who comment on this that providing POW status to all detainees–regardless of whether they follow the laws of war or not–removes any incentive for them to follow the rules. It is precisely this consideration that led FDR to hold tribunals for Nazi saboteurs in WWII and convict them of war crimes (upheld by the SCOTUS in Ex Parte Quirin). It’s not “not following the conventions” to refuse POW status for detainees in Gitmo . . . it’s enforcing the part that requires certain standards to be met in order to claim POW status.

  82. Jesse, you said above:

    I won’t link to the Taguba report, then. On the matter of deaths in custody, I’ll link to this.

    Interesting that the article is hosted at Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace, a Ward Churchill fan site — not that Ward Churchill is their only interest; and that the lead reporter on the story, Tom Squitieri, recently had to resign from USAToday because of unacceptably sloppy journalism in another military-bashing article.

    USAToday’s archive search is down tonight (“Unable to Complete Search – ProQuest Archiver is temporarily unavailable due to technical difficulties.”) So I can’t check the text of the article as hosted on CCMEP.org against the USAToday archive. But your source for “deaths in custody” seems less than gold-plated.

  83. Jim: Squitieri was fired for shoddy sourcing, but it was the kind that borders on plagiarism, not on making things up. Anyway, if you Google ‘deaths custody iraq’ you’ll come up with several articles on the subject that came out around the same time. (And, again, I strongly recommend that Denver Post article. I have no idea what the CCMEP is, but if you don’t want to read the Post piece on the CCMEP site, go here. If you want to read the other article on the USA Today site, it’s here.)

    Nor do I accept that claim that the article that got him fired was “military-bashing.” From the point of view of the soldiers, as opposed to the institution, it was rather pro-military. (If he wrote an article about a school system that failed to deliver textbooks to its classrooms on time, would that be “teacher-bashing”?)

    Cecil: As far as the Geneva Conventions and the photos go, the ACLU has posted both the military’s brief and the ACLU’s response here.

  84. “From the point of view of the soldiers, as opposed to the institution, it was rather pro-military.”

    I recommend you not try that line of reasoning face-to-face with soldiers. You might not like the result.

    “Cecil: As far as the Geneva Conventions and the photos go, the ACLU has posted both the military’s brief and the ACLU’s response here.”

    Oh, and the ACLU is such an impartial source. [/sarcasm] I particularly like this bit:

    “Until now, this administration has shown only contempt for the Geneva Conventions, and it has built its policies dismissing the application of international humanitarian law,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU.

    The fact is, the Geneva Conventions are treaties designed to ameliorate the horrors of war by providing rules (commonly known as the “Law of Armed Conflict”), not merely a list of civil rights. When one side abrogates those rules systematically (as the Islamists have done), the answer is not to provide them additional privileges they clearly don’t rate under the Convention. Your uncritical acceptance of one side of the issue is common, wrong, and a large reason for the rising public contempt for the media (especially among military/former military personnel). Try reading that Quirin link, especially the part where the Supreme Court explains the applicability of civil rights to unlawful combatants. Here’s an example:

    Lawful combatants are subject to capture and detention as prisoners of war by opposing military forces. Unlawful combatants are likewise subject to capture and detention, but in addition they are subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals for acts which render their belligerency unlawful.

  85. I recommend you not try that line of reasoning face-to-face with soldiers. You might not like the result.

    I don’t want to defend the article on journalistic grounds, since the reporter obviously fucked up, but I can’t see anything in it that “bashes” the military. (Second-guesses the military? Yes. But this is an issue where enlisted men have rather famously second-guessed the brass as well.)

    Oh, and the ACLU is such an impartial source.

    What does partiality have to do with it? The ACLU link has pdfs of both the government’s brief and the ACLU’s response. If you want to see the competing arguments re: releasing the photos, it’s a good place to go.

    The debate isn’t really related to whether the GCs apply to any or all of the prisoners in Gitmo, and I’m not sure why you keep bringing that up. (You did the same thing at 3:22 yesterday, when you conflated a sentence I wrote about the first topic with a sentence related to the other. For that matter, you did the same thing the other day when you first raised the issue of whether “the detainees are entitled to preferential treatment under the Geneva Conventions.” If I hadn’t dashed off a too-quick snarky reply to that, I could have saved us both a lot of energy.)

    As for whether my alleged “uncritical acceptance of one side of the issue” is “a large reason for the rising public contempt for the media,” I really doubt that that many people read my articles.

    This thread has fallen off the front page. Is anyone still reading it besides you and me? Maybe you should e-mail me if you want to continue this.

  86. “The debate isn’t really related to whether the GCs apply to any or all of the prisoners in Gitmo, and I’m not sure why you keep bringing that up.”

    You suggest the Administration is not sincere in its desire to abide by the GCs, and bolstered it with:

    “The argument for this is the same as the argument offered for not following the conventions in Gitmo.”

    And then linked approvingly to a site which has as its first substantive paragraph:

    “Until now, this administration has shown only contempt for the Geneva Conventions, and it has built its policies dismissing the application of international humanitarian law.”

    If by “not following the conventions” you mean something other than denying Gitmo detainees combatant rights, I can’t figure it out.

    As to the “uncritical acceptance of one side of the issue,” I’m referring to the general tendency among the MSM (on whom we’re piling) to accept as holy writ the contention that Gitmo detainees are being mistreated by the fact that they’re being detained without trial and not afforded POW rights. Despite the well-established precedent that unlawful combatants are not entitled to either (and also do not rate certain constituional due process procedures such as a jury trial).

    If you prefer e-mail, I’ll follow up with one.

  87. Rereading the post now, I see why we’ve been talking past each other. When I said “not following the conventions,” what I meant, and what I should have said, was “not recognizing the conventions as applicable” (or, if you want to get absolutely precise, “not recognizing the captives as POWs, who have a particular set of rights under the conventions”). The sentence wasn’t there to bolster my views of the administration’s sincerity; it was there to elucidate, by comparison, its position on non-Iraqi captives in Iraq. I thought I had phrased it pretty neutrally — since, as I said much earlier, I didn’t and don’t want to get into debating the legal distinctions being drawn between the two classes of prisoners. Instead I was sloppy, not for the first time.

    The link, meanwhile, was offered in the separate context of whether it violates the Geneva Conventions to release the photos. I recognize that this was unclear the first time I posted it, for reasons we’ve already gone over, but the second time I think the meaning was pretty obvious: “As far as the Geneva Conventions and the photos go, the ACLU has posted both the military’s brief and the ACLU’s response here.”

    Anyway — yeah, you should e-mail me if you want to continue this. I almost forgot to check back here this time.

  88. “not recognizing the captives as POWs, who have a particular set of rights under the conventions”

    I think that’s the gist. My point is that they’re not POWs, under any rational reading of Third Geneva (article 4), and that by recognizing that fact, the President is upholding Geneva, rather than showing contempt for them. As to e-mail, my enthusiasm is flagging. Cheers.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.