Sunday, May 22, 2005

Islam 'n' Us

Things must be getting frosty in Hell these days, 'cause God help me, I have to commend columnist Kathleen Parker. In her latest column, the unofficial den mother to the Bush Administration actually takes aim at Scott McClellan and his fellow White Housers for their hypocrisy regarding the infamous Newsweek blurb.

"... After several days of being slapped around by the Irony Fairy, I can't ignore the absurdity of the White House's new role as institutional victim. ... Come on, Scottie. One small news item about Quran desecration (not the first) hurt our image abroad? Our image as infidels was, and has been, abysmal among those who would riot and who, time permitting, happily would exterminate us. Islamic extremists didn't even need Abu Ghraib to hate us more. Our image as Satan is tattooed on the radical-Muslim psyche and won't be erased until those rioting have a job, a paycheck and hope for some future this side of 72 virgins.

"All of which is why I supported the Bush Doctrine and still hope it works. The spread of freedom and democracy is the Arab world's best hope and, therefore, ours. But getting to test that doctrine by invading Iraq was a bet we now know was based on faulty intelligence.

"There were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, as everyone -- including the French, Germans and others -- believed. There is no evidence so far of Iraq trying to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger, as claimed. There were no mobile labs for biological weapons production, though arguably what were believed to be mobile labs had potentially dual uses, including possible production of biological and chemical agents. All of the above were factors in the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. All were based on sources that proved to be unreliable. And, yes, many people died.

"Newsweek's reporters in this case were sloppy by their own standards, printing a potentially explosive story based on only one (formerly reliable) source. For that, there's no defense. But the Bush administration would have done well to remain silent if sternly disapproving and let journalism punish its own. ... As careful students of life's rulebook know, those who wage war don't get to play victim."

Jeepers, as my lovely wife would say. When a vapid Bush sycophant like Kathleen Parker can't help but choke on the irony, you know Dubya has overplayed his part worse than Al Pacino at a supper club. But the double standard goes beyond the issue of faulty intelligence (or cooked, in the case of the White House). For McClellan, Condi Rice and others to argue that Newsweek's 10-sentence article (or that Saddam in his tighty whities, for that matter) stokes the flames of anti-Americanism is to ignore the sizable fireplace poker we've been wielding for a couple of years now.

Such examples are being documented on a fast and furious basis these days by The New York Times, which recently had an incisive article (sure to be vilified by critics of the bogeyman that is mainstream media) about the symbolic resonance of Guantanamo in the Muslim world.

Reporters Somini Sengupta and Salman Masood noted how one of the most exclusive private schools in Pakistan recently staged a play called "Guantánamo," which is based on testimonies from prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.

"Accounts of abuses at the actual American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, including Newsweek magazine's now-retracted article on the desecration of the Koran, ricochet around the world, instilling ideas about American power and justice, and sowing distrust of the United States. Even more than the written accounts are the images that flash on television screens throughout the Muslim world: caged men, in orange prison jumpsuits, on their knees. On Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, two satellite networks, images of the prisoners appear in station promos.

"For many Muslims, Guantánamo stands as a confirmation of the low regard in which they believe the United States holds them. For many non-Muslims, regardless of their feelings toward the United States, it has emerged as a symbol of American hypocrisy.

" 'The cages, the orange suits, the shackles -- it's as if they're dealing with something that's like a germ they don't want to touch,' said Daoud Kuttab, director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah, in the West Bank. 'That's the nastiness of it.'

[...]

"From Mumbai, India, to Amman, Jordan, to London, Guantánamo is a continuing subject for discussion, from television talk shows to sermons to everyday conversations. In countries like Afghanistan, Britain and Pakistan, released detainees often return home and relate their experiences on television news programs ...

"Guantánamo provides rhetorical fodder for politicians seeking to bring down United States-allied rulers in their own countries, and it offers a ready rallying point against American dominance, even in countries whose own police and military have been known for severe violations of human rights.


[...]

"On Friday afternoon in an Islamabad bookshop, Maheen Asif, 33, leafed through a women's magazine, and paused for only a moment when asked for her impression of Guantánamo Bay.

" 'Torture,' she said, as her daughters, 8 and 5, scampered through the stalls. 'The first word that comes to my mind is "torture" -- a place where Americans lock up and torture Muslims in the name of terrorism.' "

And maybe there is a reason for that. Lest we kid ourselves that Abu Ghraib was the extent of American broadcast over Al Jazeera and the like, The New York Times' Tim Golden details how two Afghan inmates -- one of whom was likely innocent of any crime -- were brutally killed in 2002 by American interrogators.

Golden reveals that the horrors from the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan involve more than the two prisoner deaths.

"In some instances, testimony shows, [the harsh treatment] was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.

"In sworn statements to Army investigators, soldiers describe one female interrogator with a taste for humiliation stepping on the neck of one prostrate detainee and kicking another in the genitals. They tell of a shackled prisoner being forced to roll back and forth on the floor of a cell, kissing the boots of his two interrogators as he went. Yet another prisoner is made to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water as part of a strategy to soften him up for questioning.

[...]

"Although incidents of prisoner abuse at Bagram in 2002, including some details of the two men's deaths, have been previously reported, American officials have characterized them as isolated problems that were thoroughly investigated ...

"Yet the Bagram file includes ample testimony that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and that guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity. Prisoners considered important or troublesome were also handcuffed and chained to the ceilings and doors of their cells, sometimes for long periods, an action Army prosecutors recently classified as criminal assault."

The story details how Bagram, a building built by the Soviets during their invasion (funny how our forces have a knack for rekindling bad memories of bad places) was operated by Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, which included many counteritelligence specialists with no background in interrogation.

"Specialist Damien M. Corsetti, a tall, bearded interrogator sometimes called 'Monster' ... was often chosen to intimidate new detainees. Specialist Corsetti, they said, would glower and yell at the arrivals as they stood chained to an overhead pole or lay face down on the floor of a holding room. (A military police K-9 unit often brought growling dogs to walk among the new prisoners for similar effect, documents show.)

[...]

"A Saudi detainee who was interviewed by Army investigators last June at Guantánamo said Specialist Corsetti had pulled out his penis during an interrogation at Bagram, held it against the prisoner's face and threatened to rape him, excerpts from the man's statement show.


"Last fall, the investigators cited probable cause to charge Specialist Corsetti with assault, maltreatment of a prisoner and indecent acts in the incident; he has not been charged. At Abu Ghraib, he was also one of three members of the 519th who were fined and demoted for forcing an Iraqi woman to strip during questioning, another interrogator said."

Again, if you haven't read the entire piece yet, do so. It's a mind-boggler.

Finally, I would point you to a terrific post that the conservative Balloon Juice has on the topic of the NYT story. The blog's curator, John, writes:

"If the rot goes all the way to the top, we have a right to know, and I say cut it out with a scalpel, disinfect it with the cleansing light of media transparency, and continue on with our terribly important mission. If there is nothing there, think of it as a clean bill of health for the military and the administration.

"But if there is a problem, deal with it. The last time I went to the doctor, I didn't attempt to revoke his license or question his motives or begin a smear campaign against him because I had let myself become overweight.

"And that is what is most disturbing about the short-sighted and indefensible position of the 'uber-patriots.' Put aside the demagoguery, the denial, and the smears. Put aside the wishful thinking, the demonization of the media, and the claims that anyone who is outraged by this abuse is un-American, anti-military, hyperventilating over nothing, or out to get the President (which I am decidedly not). Instead, spend 1/10th of the energy you spend defending the status quo and urge the Republicans to use our majority status and the trappings of power we now enjoy with the control of Congress and the Presidency, and stop the torture and abuse.


"Do that, and your critics won't have anything to complain about."

2 Comments:

At 10:42 PM, Blogger LiteraryTech said...

Indeed, Chase. Excellent piece. You bring substance to the question of what is really dragging the US into a hole that will take decades to repair. Sadly, however, I don't see any turn around while the money is still available. While the economy continues to tick along, there will be no impeachment, no questions, no change. When the bubble bursts, it will be interesting to see what happens.

 
At 9:51 PM, Blogger Lady Godiva said...

May be sooner than you think... that "ticking" of the economy just might be a bomb about to go off.

 

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