Monday, May 16, 2005

Newsweek Hits The Black Ice 

The implications of the Newsweek takeback on Michael Isikoff's article on the flushing of the Koran down a Gitmo toilet by an interrogator are troubling, if you care about knowing the truth, now or at any future time. What ran through my head as I watched this story come apart was that if ever the government needed an excuse for an information crackdown, this is it.

After the story broke and spread, Newsweek suddenly couldn't confirm the allegation. CNN reports that Larry Di Rita, administration flak and disinformation garcon extraordinarire himself, became irate. Now, recall, if you will, DiRita's reaction to Sy Hersh's reports on the scandals at Abu Ghraib in 2004--that Hersh just"threw a lot of crap against the wall and he expects someone to peel off what's real. It's a tapestry of nonsense. To some degree he became the story". So I think we can agree this is not a man anxious to peer under rocks. DiRita now says:
"People are dying. They are burning American flags. Our forces are in danger"..
Although whether this report was actually the fuse that set off the riots may be questionable:
"At a Pentagon press conference Thursday, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cited U.S. commanders as saying the protests in Jalalabad, at least, were more about local politics than anti-American sentiment stirred by the Newsweek report."
Afghanistan has been a powderkeg for months. Karzai's position has been increasingly dangerous, and the warlords have been pushing the envelope. Taliban have re-emerged and have been intimidating the countryside. It's very likely that the Koran story offered Taliban and their allies the kind of rabble-rousing currency they wouldn't hesitate to use to stir up chaos, though we haven't done nearly enough in the first place to inoculate the situation from such flammability. Certainly the stories of American abuse and maltreatment that have been coming out of the country for 3 years now, coupled with the almost moribund "freedom" we've unleashed there, has only made it easier for the fundamentalists to use this latest allegation to their advantage.

And DiRita couldn't have been madder if he'd actually been called up to serve there himself:
DiRita "exploded" when Newsweek informed him that one of the original sources behind the report partially backed off the story, the magazine said.
"People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said," DiRita told Newsweek, according to the magazine's report. "How could he be credible now?"
DiRita confirmed the quote to CNN.
He said investigators have found nothing to support allegations that U.S. troops had desecrated copies of the Quran, but turned up one case he said has now led to stricter procedures at the prison camp.
In that case, a Quran fell to the floor during a routine search, he said. The book was encased in surgical mask, which prisoners at the facility are given to protect the book.
Camp commanders have since established stronger procedures when searching near a Quran, DiRita said -- including a rule that allows only Muslim troops, interrogators or chaplains to touch a copy."
Isikoff insists he's found other, similar allegations, but the military pooh-poohs the whole thing, saying such allegations are standard tactics used by Al Qaeda. But what of it?

The problem is that this lays the foundation for the military to supress and discredit information about abuses every time they surface, just on the off-chance that the information may be wrong. In my darker moments I could almost believe it was a trap laid on purpose, to destroy media credibility and lay a chilling effect on any possible future stories of abuse that are likely to surface.

Coming at a time when the evidence has become more damning than ever for the military and the DoD, it just might be crazy enough to work.

UPDATE: Lambert reminds me that plants aren't only found in pots. See his September '04 post here, on the CBS "scandal" that led to Rather's downfall, and the likely disinformation campaign at work there. And while we're reminiscing, check out an old post of mine from last December on how the Pentagon was circulating disinformation to the media, all for a good cause, mind you.

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