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Monday, May 16, 2005

 

credibility gap


newsweek last week ran a michael isikoff story which led to widespread violence in the central east, including attacks on american soldiers in country.

the story centers on allegations of american interrogators desecrating the quran during sessions with muslim detainees at the nefarious american room 101 at guantanamo bay.

"We can understand torturing prisoners, no matter how repulsive," says computer teacher Muhammad Archad, interviewed last week by NEWSWEEK in Peshawar, Pakistan, where one of last week's protests took place. "But insulting the Qur'an is like deliberately torturing all Muslims. This we cannot tolerate."
the pentagon has elicited an apology from newsweek for the article. but read the apology closely, however, and you'll find that very little has changed except the spin and blame.

Last Friday, a top Pentagon spokesman told us that a review of the probe cited in our story showed that it was never meant to look into charges of Qur'an desecration. The spokesman also said the Pentagon had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them "not credible." Our original source later said he couldn't be certain about reading of the alleged Qur'an incident in the report we cited, and said it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts. Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we. But we regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst.
so the reaction to the story -- not the story, but the reaction to it -- provoked the white house and pentagon to lean on newsweek and its source in an effort at damage control, with which newsweek is complying by saying that it might well be right.

did interrogators actually desecrate the quran? perhaps unsurprisingly, nowhere in this lot does anyone say that they didn't. it's been previously reported elsewhere that they did in other ways desecrate the quran; internal sources do not deny the discovery of such evidence as would support the conclusion, only now question the investigation which revealed it; and the pentagon itself does not deny these particular charges -- only other unspecified charges, which were found to be "not credible".

newsweek does have something to apologize for here. factchecking is a very difficult business, but must be pursued with great diligence to maintain credibility.

in the end, however, it's all somewhat beside the point. pakistanis and afghanis are not rioting because of a newsweek factchecking error but because the story is utterly believable. this administration authorized and pursued a well-evidenced and publicly exposed policy of torture which included smearing menstrual blood on muslim detainees to defile them before their god and then refusing them the facility to cleanse themselves in order to atone. what is below them? denials from the administration ring absolutely hollow and self-serving in light of these facts. in short, we have returned to the nixonian credibility gap.

this is a problem which will haunt this administration for the duration -- and very likely american government in toto for years to come -- as a result of their consistent attack on the high standards of civility and the rule of law designed for our benefit -- a benefit that the administration has savagely refused and continues to refuse to acknowledge and understand, obsessed as it is with the narcissistic emancipation of power alone.

UPDATE: the white house is now calling for a retraction.

"It's puzzling. While Newsweek now acknowledges that they got the facts wrong, they refuse to retract the story," said presidential spokesman Scott McClellan. "I think there's a certain journalistic standard that should be met. In this instance it was not.

"This was a report based on a single anonymous source that could not substantiate the allegation that was made," McClellan added. "The report has had serious consequences. People have lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged. I just find it puzzling."
except, of course, that newsweek really may not have the salient facts wrong, certainly hasn't acknowledged that they have, and their source maintains that he did in fact read such allegations but "could not be sure he read about the alleged Quran incident in the report Newsweek cited, and that it might have been in another document." this is how we play the game in washington nowadays.

more from the arabist and informed comment.


It's time to amend the Constitution in order to end flag burning and Koran flushing.

 
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