In what is clearly a coordinated campaign of deliberate defamation, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, White House spokesman Scott McClellan (citing George W. Bush), State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher and Pentagon spokespeople Lawrence DiRita and Bryan Whitman have all sought to blame Newsweek magazine for the deaths of Afghan citizens killed in weeks of anti-American rioting. The charge is intellectually insupportable and morally indefensible. Muslims, worldwide, did not require any new information to heed the jihadists’ call to demonstrate against America. Newsweek‘s mistaken report of official confirmation of a Koran having been flushed down a toilet inside what Amnesty International has termed “the American gulag” in Guantánamo follows years of confirmed reports of officially sanctioned torture, both physical and psychological, some of it specifically designed to offend Muslim sensibilities. A Pew Research Center poll taken in early 2004 found that large majorities in four Muslim countries held deeply negative views of the United States. In Jordan, one of our closest Arab allies, our approval rating hovered at a mere 5 percent.
As those in a position to know have pointed out, the connection between the riots and the tiny item in the American newsweekly is tenuous at best. Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the senior commander in Afghanistan believed the protests stemmed from that country’s reconciliation process. “He thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine,” Myers explained. Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirmed this view. “Those demonstrations were in reality not related to the Newsweek story,” he said. “They were more against the elections in Afghanistan…. They were more against the strategic partnership with the United States.” A cartoon in the conservative Moonie-owned Washington Times depicting Pakistan as America’s puppy was also exploited in these same demonstrations. What’s more, the FBI has documented detainee complaints at Guantánamo of Koran mistreatment, including an allegation that guards had “flushed a Koran in the toilet.” The Pentagon confirmed five such incidents, though not the toilet-flushing one. (In Afghanistan, a Pentagon employee did report that an interrogator “took a Koran, threw it on the floor and stepped on it.”) This all must be viewed against a backdrop of an Administration that repeatedly manipulated intelligence data to mislead the nation into war–next to which Newsweek‘s mistake, while not insignificant, pales.
The Administration’s anti-Newsweek campaign is part of its relentless war on the press–and more generally on democratic accountability–in this instance eagerly abetted by its allies in the right-wing media and even some members of the SCLM (so-called liberal media). In a case where the age-old (and much overused) slogan “Which Side Are You On?” really does apply, we should hardly be surprised to find Rush Limbaugh playing for the other team. He explained–apparently on the basis of mass mental telepathy–that Newsweek “wanted the story to be true” because the media “have an adversarial relationship with America” and “end up siding with the bad guys.” His ideological bunkmate, Bill O’Reilly, added the calumny that Newsweek “magnif[ies] every mistake the military makes in order to hammer the Bush administration.” The Wall Street Journal editorial page professed to detect “a basic media mistrust of the military that goes back to Vietnam.”