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May 19, 2005

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» Blowing the 'General Defense' Out of the Water from Decision '08
The indefatigable Tom Maquire has once again risen to the occasion and delivered a knockout blow to a Democratic talking point; this time it is the defense of Newsweek by way of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers. Confused? [Read More]

» Who Started It?: Counter-counter Arguments from The Bernoulli Effect
At JustOneMinute, Tom Maguire presents a counter argument to the assertion that "the Newsweek story didn't really cause the riots" (hat tip Decision '08): The May 12 Times has terrific on-the-spot reporting which may help resolve the controversy - one... [Read More]

» When Liberals Defend the Indefensible from Threshold Negative 55 - The Action Potential of Rational Thought
You have to take special notice every time you catch a liberal defending the indefensible. This is especially important when that defense is done for little reason other than partisan politics. [Read More]

Comments

Appalled Moderate

Oh %65@#$$! Just click on the link, guys. Newsweek agrees its article caused the riots.

TexasToast

OK, I’ll bite.

What role do they suppose the Newsweek article played, if any, in sparking these demonstrations?

It was used by the bad guys (like Imran Khan - see Belgravia D on this) as an example of our “crusader” tendancies, and was credible in the context of documented interrogation techniques, Abu G, etc. but primarily because it came from a source within the Pentagon. The source confirmed otherwise unsubstantiated allegations from prisoners.

Do our friends on the left think that the WaPo, the NY Times, and CNN owe us retractions for their earlier coverage? Can they explain the grievous breakdown in journalistic standards that led to this global mis-coverage (if that is what it was) - incompetence, bias, what?

If I understand your question correctly, no one owes a retraction but Newsweek, because they either misunderstood what their source was saying or their source “revised” what (s)he was saying.

Do our friends on the left routinely accept at face value every statement that comes out of the Pentagon, even if it looks a bit self-serving? Will they continue to do so, now that they have learned that sometimes the Pentagon engages in news management?

It’s fairly obvious that a statement against interest has more credibility than a self-serving one. Its not the “news management” that is persuasive, it’s the fact that no one seemed to think that the report was patently false – including the military brass. In other words, it was not inconsistent with other practices in the context of Moslem detainees. The fact that it was so believable is the real problem.

TM

If I understand your question correctly...

Hmm, I may have to re-phrase it.

I meant, should CNN, the WaPo, and the NY Times retract their earlier reports that the demonstrations were linked to the Newsweek article in light of the general's pronouncement that there is no link.

And, regarding testimony against interest, Drum was quite clear that, when the general said it, it was in the interest of the military to downplay the role of the Koran desecration in the Afghan violence, since at the point folks were taking the desecration report as valid.

Now Drum is saying that even when the military makes what looks like a self-interested, news-managing statement, it could only be sarcasm to suggest that they are spinning. Is that a new development on the left, or have they always been so credulous?

Well, it will help support our propaganda effort going forward, if he (along with Josh Marshall and others) hold themselves to that new standard.

Neo

I never really bought into the Newsweek sparked the rioting, but I do believe that Newsweek poured gasoline on burning embers.

Since 9/11, President Bush has been trying his damnedest not to use the word "crusade" or any other variant (he did fail at least once early on) as this is one of those "codewords" that can spark tensions into real problems. On the same stream of consciousness, I don't think it necessary for Newsweek or any other news media to censor itself, but it should be careful not to become a "useful idiot" of the Islamists by generating material that shows disrespect, especially when it is attributed to non-existent official reports/statements of the US government. I also realize that this isn't easy.
There is more than one way to become an "Ugly American."

Gerry

I'll augment what TexasToast said about Imran Khan. David Frum had some background (there are links in the original):

That last question is a powerful one. But something needs to be understood here: The riots in Afghanistan were not a spontaneous response to the Newsweek item. It did not happen that some pious Afghan spotted the offending story while reading Newsweek at his coffee house. The riots in Afghanistan were incited for political gain.

Readers of the British gossip press know the name of Imran Khan, the one-time Pakistani cricket star and international playboy. In 1995 Khan made headlines in Britain by marrying Jemima Goldsmith, daughter of the late British billionaire Sir James Goldsmith. In recent years, Khan (who also happens to belong to one of Pakistan's largest landlord families) has turned to politics. Unfortunately for him, his background is not exactly a sure-fire vote winner in the Pakistani context. Unbearded, Oxford-educated, a notorious skirt-chaser, Khan has lacked appeal to the Pakistani values voter. The fact that Khan's wife was Jewish by background and socially acquainted with Salman Rushdie did not help either.

So in 2002, Khan divorced Jemima and set about reinventing himself as the devoutest of the devout. He has fiercely criticized the Musharraf regime's working relationship with the United States, and repeatedly criticized the war on terror as an attack upon Islam. Unlike the Afghan rioters, he probably does read Newsweek or anyway employs people who do. And when that item appeared in the May 9 issue of the magazine, Khan saw a political opportunity. He staged a press conference on May 6 and denounced the article in blood-curdling language. He announced that he had introduced a motion in the Pakistani National Assembly to condemn desecration of the Koran.

Khan's words, broadcast on Pakistani television, were taken up by Taliban sympathizers in Afghanistan, inspired by their own political agendas.

Whatever one thinks of the reactions of the poor and probably uneducated Afghans who rioted in response to this incitement, from a political point of view it's important to keep one's eyes on the motives and actions of the sophisticated urban politicians who put the mob in motion. The story of the Afghan riots - and Khan's role in them - is one more reminder that much of the extremism and violence of Middle Eastern and Central Asian politics is the handiwork of cynical local power-seekers pursuing selfish advantage.

Joe Mealyus


Yes, it's always kind of interesting to observe the ways the Drums and Marshalls will massage the data for whatever they feel will deliver the maximum anti-Bush effect. But who cares? The Newsweek story - its error - is really pretty small potatoes. The choices of the US military about how to interrogate prisoners is a real issue. I think Anne Applebaum (her column that Marshall links to) and Belgravia Dispatch get it right....

Slartibartfast

Wait...Newsweek cannot be trusted to report with any degree of factual accuracy, but Newsweek reporting that its article caused riot(s) is plausible?

Cecil Turner

"The Newsweek story - its error - is really pretty small potatoes. The choices of the US military about how to interrogate prisoners is a real issue. I think Anne Applebaum (her column that Marshall links to) and Belgravia Dispatch get it right...."

Applebaum says: "There is no question that these were tactics designed to offend, no question that they were put in place after 2001 and no question that many considered them justified." But she refers to a long list of things that are not on the approved list of interrogation techniques (and several unlawful acts by individuals that have since resulted in courts-martial) and claims they're indicative of Administration policy.

In fact, the procedures got an extensive review in 2003, the worst thing left appears to be sleep adjustment and dietary manipulation (if you can trust Priest and Graham--they've got a couple obvious minor errors in the piece):

Seven of those approved techniques are not included in U.S. military doctrine, and are listed as: "change of scenery up; change of scenery down; dietary manipulation; environmental manipulation; sleep adjustment (reversal) ; isolation for 30 days"; and a technique known as "false flag," or deceiving a detainee into believing he is being interrogated by someone from another country.
As to specifics of Koran abuse as a technique, the Washington Post helps out with the official policy:
More than two years ago, the Pentagon issued detailed rules for handling the Koran at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, requiring U.S. personnel to ensure that the holy book is not placed in "offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet, or dirty/wet areas."
The three-page memorandum, dated Jan. 19, 2003, says that only Muslim chaplains and Muslim interpreters can handle the holy book, and only after putting on clean gloves in full view of detainees.
Anne goes on to say: "Now, it is possible that no interrogator at Guantanamo Bay ever flushed pages of the Koran down the toilet . . ." and labels the piece "blaming the messenger."

I'd point out that we're pretty sure a detainee flushed pages of the Koran down the toilet as a protest, but nobody seems terribly concerned about that. Whether or not any interrogator ever did it is likewise not obviously important. (Perhaps if it were official US policy it might be, but that does not appear likely.) But repeating these stories does have an effect on public opinion, especially in the Mideast, and I'm having a hard time seeing why it's more newsworthy than, say, beheading the latest Westerner in Iraq. Nor do I see any good reason Western media sources should be free from criticism for doing a good imitation of Al Qaeda propagandists.

A.W.

What's really stupid is Democrats are claiming that they are not sure it cause the rioting, even though newsweek itself admitted it.

Shouldn't the fact they admitted it end the question?

narciso

Great, we have an Osama with a Platinum Card, inciting the mob

Mac

Circle the wagons boy's!!! WaPo OWNS Newsweek by the way.

Cecil Turner

The NY Times joins the "every abuse story is fit to print" bandwagon, as it chimes in with another non-news story about a three year old abuse tale (gleaned from the criminal investigations). (Hmmm . . . I wonder how many people were murdered in the US in the same time frame--and how many of those are unsolved? Or even in NY?) CBS News has impressively filled out its special section, and like Andrew Sullivan, think the various abuse charges and allegations bear endless repeating. Though, unlike Andrew, they bother to mention things like the fact the soldier in the famous "fake menstrual blood" incident was reprimanded for it.

As to the scope of the problem, checking the list of the 108 detainees who reportedly died in custody, I note: 18 killed in riots (or whilst attacking US personnel), 22 killed in a single insurgent attack on Abu Ghraib, 28 or more listed as "natural causes or accidents," and a smattering of those under investigation or going to courts martial. Contrasting with a single facility (Abu Ghraib) under Saddam:

As many as 4000 prisoners were executed at Abu Ghraib Prison in 1984. At least 122 male prisoners were executed at Abu Ghraib prison in February/ March 2000. A further 23 political prisoners were executed there in October 2001.
Current estimates of prisoners processed runs in the 65,000 range (though I've seen a fairly wide range of figures). Hmm, wonder what the deaths/captives processed ratio is for those captured by the Iraqi insurgency?

There's also some good human interest material. One of the witnesses who testified against Graner in his abuse trial (for which Graner received a richly-deserved 10-year prison sentence) sketches his bona-fides:

Al-Sheikh said he was taken to Abu Ghraib after being captured with AK-47 assault rifles, grenades and bomb-making material. While being held at a tent camp next to Abu Ghraib, he said, he was wounded in the leg and chest in a shootout with Americans after he obtained a handgun from an Iraqi guard.
Not that that justifies abuse (but if he'd happened to get shot in a riot . . .)

Overall, an impressive effort. Though it's worth noting that the so-called "systemic abuse" can't manage to produce a body count to compare with a single week of insurgent bombings--and that's even after counting the ones killed by the insurgency.

Terry Trippany

If General Myers comments were so compelling to the left then why didn’t Newsweek retract their story on the 12th? After all, Myers said the following in the same press release, “There are several log entries that show that the Koran may have been moved to -- and the detainees became irritated about it, but never an incident where it was thrown in the toilet.” The defenders of Newsweek do not seem to care to point this out even though Newsweek originally tried to blame the Pentagon for not immediately denying the story.

Joe Mealyus

CT - thanks for the WaPo link. Okay, the Applebaum column isn't as good as I thought - reading it again, she does seem to emphasize one-off events (e.g. the "sexual harassment" and "fake menstrual blood" incidents) as representing "policy" without much of an explanation.

Maybe I am being slightly credulous (I haven't been reading Sullivan of late but his excitability on this issue in the past may have affected me), but I still think Djerejian's onto something when he writes (on May 19):

"Rumsfeld's Pentagon screwed up too, in fostering insouciance about Geneva norms, in allowing overly aggressive and humiliating interrogation techniques, in not exerting appropriate control of poorly trained junior staff charged with the handling of detainees."

I don't expect the military to be perfect, and I understand that they're dealing with some truly unsavory people, and that rules sometimes get broken for good reasons. (And that some of those who are the most pious about the sanctity of such rules would be among the first to change their tune were their own lives anywhere near being on the line). But still, if Newsweek made an error in pursuing this story, is it not justifiable or understandable that they were pursuing it?

Terry

Joe,

Hi. I believe it is completely appropriate for Newsweek to pursue stories such as this. However it seems to me that they are pursuing these stories with a preconceived notion of what they are looking for.

My problem, and I believe the problem with many on the right, is that it appears to us that the mainstream media has painted a very one sided picture of the military and this administration.

I mean seriously, you really do have to search to find positive connotations and uplifting stories about how the US military and America is helping people throughout the world.

The stories we hear are overwhelmingly negative which is a shame because the asses out there doing stupid things (such as Abu Graib) are not representative of the character or conduct of the military or this country.

It's a shame that the U.S. media has proven to be so ass backwards. This is a good country and we are a good people. The shame and blame attitude of the MSM has created the need for sites like this one and talk radio. It is a reactionary balance that is lacking from print and TV.

MSM had better wake up because they will lose market share in the competitive field of informed debate as found on the blogosphere. This is the check to their lack of balance. They may not like it but this is what it takes to keep them honest and make them beter.

I for one am happy that it is here and sad that it took so long.

Cecil Turner

"Rumsfeld's Pentagon screwed up too, in fostering insouciance about Geneva norms, in allowing overly aggressive and humiliating interrogation techniques . . ."

I'm not sure what he means by "Geneva norms," but I suspect he's complaining about the failure to provide POW status to enemy detainees. I'd suggest any rational reading of Third Geneva (article 4) would demonstrate Al Qaeda and the Taliban failed miserably to meet the requirements for POW status (e.g., carrying weapons openly during assaults, having a fixed sign distinguishable at a distance, and abiding by the laws of war). We could of course reward them for not following the Conventions, but that's likely to cause further problems (and in fact I'd suggest our past overly lenient response to Geneva violations is part of the reason our current adversaries feel little incentive to follow it).

Under "humiliating interrogation techniques," the most common charge is fake menstrual blood, which again was a one-off. The approved techniques seem reasonable to me (the worst was waterboarding, which we regularly do to our own personnel in training). In virtually every abuse case I'm aware of, the interrogators were not following the guidelines.

". . . in not exerting appropriate control of poorly trained junior staff charged with the handling of detainees.""

"Not exerting appropriate control" is certainly a valid charge for many of the incidents charged. However, I'd point out that's a much lower-level function. (In fact, it's normally performed by NCOs--as the old Marine marching ditty goes: "'Get those men in step,' said the sergeant; 'Hup-two, hup-two,' said the corporal.")

The most famous command failure is obviously Abu Ghraib, which was a comedy of errors. There, insurgent attacks caused the CentCom staff to issue an order giving the Military Intelligence unit "TACON" over the prison (TACON is "tactical control" which allows the person in charge to direct unit movements and objectives--basically telling folks where to take up positions and where to aim). BG Karpinski (who is an idiot) thought it meant the MI types were in charge of her prison, and told her supervisors to "stay out of the towers." (She even reprimanded one of her senior NCOs for violating that order.) The total lack of supervision in the towers soon resulted in a remake of the Stanford Prison Experiment (wow, that was a surprise). The investigation laid the blame on Karpinski (duh), several commentators suggest it's all a cover-up designed to protect Rumsfeld; which I think ample evidence they have no clue on the subject.

The training issue is also perfectly valid, but some of it is the nature of the beast. The NY Times makes the same point:

Part of the new group, which was consolidated under Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, was made up of counterintelligence specialists with no background in interrogation. Only two of the soldiers had ever questioned actual prisoners.
The obvious rejoinder is that if you haven't had enemy prisoners for a decade, your junior interrogators obviously aren't going to be experienced. There are other factors, mainly that when we drew down the armed forces at the end of the Cold War, we put most of the support functions in the Reserves, in an effort to keep the regular forces as lean as possible (and almost entirely composed of trigger-pullers and essential combat support). That led to some critical shortages, especially in fields like Civil Affairs. (To be fair, the folks making those decisions were counting on allies helping out--the Europeans in particular place much more of an emphasis on CA and have much more expertise and depth--but most of those assets never showed.) The resulting "learn by doing" approach was somewhat inevitable, though not excusable, and it was exacerbated by manpower shortages.

"But still, if Newsweek made an error in pursuing this story, is it not justifiable or understandable that they were pursuing it?"

I don't care that they pursue the story, what I care about is the lack of balance. The enemy is violating Geneva at least ten times for every one of ours. Why don't we see something approaching that ratio on the news? Again, if I were an enemy propagandist, I'd be trying for exactly this sort of coverage. Add in the total sympathy of Arab news, and they are kicking the crap out of us at propaganda. Recent polls on media credibility suggest the public has figured out who to blame for it, and I think they're spot-on.

Dawn

By the way, it's no wonder Imran Khan is rallying againt the Western world despite his womanizing, Oxford-educated background-I mean, Jemima left him for Hugh Grant and took their two kids with her to London. Ever since then he's probably lost his marbles.

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