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Newsweek’s ‘lasting damage’

Anybody who follows the news will know that Newsweek recently made the slightly absurd claim that a soldier at Guantanamo Bay had flushed the Koran down the toilet. Clearly, they didn’t think through the physics of the situation, and evidently later had to retract the story. The official White House line was that Newsweek had done ‘lasting damage’ to the US image in the Muslim world. Given that the Pentagon have now released details of incidents at Guantanamo Bay where guards kicked, wrote obscenities in, and threw water and splashed urine on copies of the Koran, this frankly makes the White House look plainly and openly vindictive.

Before condemning Newsweek, the White House must surely have looked into the case to confirm it wasn’t true. And in the course of that investigation, these other incidents must surely have cropped up. And yet the White House has the audacity to condemn not the soldiers who have abused the Koran, and by association the Muslim world as a whole, but Newsweek. Even though the central message of the story – that the Koran was being mishandled – was effectively true. It’s not even that difficult to see that the ideas of covering something in urine and that of flushing it down the toilet are not that far removed from each other, and could easily become confused in translation.

The Newsweek story caused riots across the Muslim world, and thus indirectly led to the deaths of at least fifteen people in Afghanistan. Does the White House really believe that these people were protesting because of the particular details of the Newsweek story, or does it believe that the riots were caused by the US’s lack of respect for other cultures? Or does the White House no longer hold any true beliefs, other than belief in the supremacy of the US and US citizens?

Of course, this action is not a million miles removed from our own Andrew Gilligan incident, whereby he reported that the Dodgy Dossier had been ‘sexed up’. Effectively, it had. And yet, for tripping up on the details – in this case, misrepresenting the position of David Kelly – Gilligan and the Beeb were condemned. Yet the story was basically true.

Is it right that administrations should cover their embarrassments by ridiculing the relatively minor errors of others? The argument can be made that the media are forever condemning politicians for minor slips and lexical errors. But, in my mind at least, this does not mean that they can do the same to the media. Politicians, whether they like it or not, are quite rightly held to a higher standard. They have to prove to us that they are worthy of leading the country, and that they have the moral standing necessary to lead a country morally. To refuse to admit to a wider problem because of small errors in accusations – indeed, to ridicule the person who made those accusations – is neither moral nor open.

And to think, politicians wonder why the public don’t trust them.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

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Comment from Omphaloskepsis

    02.03, 04/06/2005

U.S. jailers splashed Koran with urine – Pentagon

Sat Jun 4, 2005 12:46 AM BST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – American jailers at the Guantanamo prison for foreign terrorism suspects splashed a Koran with urine, kicked and stepped on the Islamic holy book and soaked it with water, the U.S. military said on Friday.

U.S. Southern Command, responsible for the prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, described for the first time five cases of “mishandling” of a Koran by U.S. personnel confirmed by a newly completed military inquiry, officials said in a statement.

In the incident involving urine, which took place this past March, Southern Command said a guard left his post and urinated near an air vent and “the wind blew his urine through the vent” and into a cell block.

It said a detainee told guards the urine “splashed on him and his Koran.” The statement said the detainee was given a new prison uniform and Koran, and that the guard was reprimanded and given duty in which he had no contact with prisoners.

Southern Command said a civilian contractor interrogator, who was later fired, apologized in July 2003 to a detainee for stepping on his Koran. In August 2003, prisoners’ Korans became wet when night-shift guards had thrown water balloons in a cell block, the statement said. In February 2002, guards kicked a prisoner’s Koran, it added.

In the fifth “confirmed incident” of mishandling a Koran, Southern Command said a prisoner in August 2003 complained that “a two-word obscenity” had been written in English in his Koran. Southern Command said it was “possible” a guard had written the words but “equally possible” the prisoner himself had done it.

Southern Command released its findings on a Friday night.

http://today.reuters.co.uk/news/newsarticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyid=2005-06- 03T234554Z_01_BOW384997_RTRUKOC_0_SECURITY-GUANTANAMO-KORAN.xml

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