White House staffers scurried this past week to souse the flames sparked by Newsweek’s recent story, which revealed that an internal US military investigation had found substantial evidence interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had desecrated th e Koran. Newsweek’s feature led to outrage against the US in Afghanistan and elsewhere where violent protests led to at least 15 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The White House damage control team has been successful, however, as Newsweek retracted their story on May 16.
But for what? The White House claims Newsweek’s story led to the preventable deaths that resulted from the protests. “People lost their lives. People are dead,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld groused. “People need to be very careful about what they say, just as they need to be careful about what they do.” Are we really supposed to believe that Rumsfeld suddenly cares about dead Muslims? Not exactly. Rumsfeld is just attempting to bury the truth.
Newsweek should have never retracted their story. In fact, Newsweek wasn’t the first media outlet to report on the trashing of the holy Islamic text by US military personal at Guantanamo.
Take the August 5, 2004 report by The Independent in London, which reported that ex-Guantanamo detainees “Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul … 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.”
Or how about a story by James Gordon Meek and Derek Rose for the Daily News in New York published the same day as The Independent’s story, where they reported that Asif Iqbal, writing of his time at Guantanamo, lamented: “They would kick the Koran, throw it into the toilet and generally disrespect it.”
On March 6, 2003, Marc Kaufman and April Witt, in an article entitled “Returning Afghans Talk of Guantanamo; Out of Legal Limbo, Some Tell of Mistreatment” in the Washington Post wrote, “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 … Ehsannullah, 29, said American soldiers who initially questioned him in Kandahar before shipping him to Guantanamo hit him and taunted him by dumping the Koran in a toilet.”
There is more. The Financial Times on June 28, 2004 also reported, “Former prisoner Airat Vakhitov told ORT about alleged mistreatment while he was at Guantanamo. ‘They tore the Koran to pieces in front of us, threw it into the toilet,’ Vakhitov said. ‘When people were praying, they forced their way in and put their feet on people’s heads and beat them.'”
So we shouldn’t think much of Newsweek’s cowardly retraction. They simply yanked their story after being pressured by the Bush administration. But as usual, it’s the White House’s tale that is choc full of deception and lies, not Newsweek’s.
JOSHUA FRANK is the author of the forthcoming book, Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, to be published by Common Courage Press. You can pre-order a copy at discounted rate at www.BrickBurner.org. Josh can be reached at: Joshua@BrickBurner.org.