Anti-American Sentiments Across the World: Newsweek to Blame?

by Philip Watts

Revolution #004, May 29, 2005, posted at

A major controversy erupted when the May 9 issue of Newsweek magazine reported an allegation that U.S. military guards had flushed a Koran down a toilet in front of Muslim prisoners at Guantánamo. After Newsweek said that it was retracting the report because of questions raised about its source, the magazine was blamed not only for the widespread anti-U.S. demonstrations and riots that broke out across Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, but also for the "damaged" U.S. image abroad.

The article in question starts off, "Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year. Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK : interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash.."

Harsh criticism and more has been aimed at Newsweek by Bush administration officials. After Newsweek was essentially forced to retract the story, the White House demanded that the magazine do public relations to mend the "damaged U.S. image." Yes, you heard right: everything was going so well for the U.S. image around the world—until Newsweek came out with the story about the Koran and the U.S. guards at Guantánamo—and then.well, all hell broke loose.

Retracting the Truth

The real outrage is that Newsweek was forced to retract a story that's essentially true!

A recent Washington Post article points out that a former Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, James Yee, "asserted that guards' mishandling and mistreatment of detainees' Korans led the prisoners to launch a hunger strike in March 2002."

Scores of former detainees have made statements indicating that along with the physical torture at the hand of U.S. guards at Guantánamo, the prisoners also often had their religious beliefs and cultural sensibilities ridiculed and debased.

According to the same Washington Post article, Addallah Tabarak told a Moroccan newspaper that he saw guards throw Korans in the toilet. He also talked about being terrorized by police dogs in his cell. Another detainee, Aryat Vahitov, told Russian television, "They tore the Koran to pieces in front of us, threw it into the toilet."

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, interviewed some former detainees. He points out that interrogation techniques at Guantánamo were approved by Rumsfeld and that these techniques were all about religious abuse, including the shaving and stripping of Muslims.

Erik Saar, a former Arabic translator for interrogators at Guantánamo, recently published a book which highlight some techniques used by the U.S. military on Muslim detainees. In one case a woman officer, during an interrogation, reached her hand into her pants to bring out what looked like menstrual blood and smeared it on a Muslim prisoner's face. The man didn't know it was really red ink, and he wasn't allowed to wash his face. Interrogators knew that this act would be psychological torture for the Muslim detainee because of his religious beliefs.

The International Committee of the Red Cross issued a report documenting abuse of detainees' Korans by U.S. military guards. The report was presented to Pentagon several times. A Red Cross spokesperson said about charges around the U.S. military's treatment of the Koran, "We researched them and found they were very credible allegations."

What makes all this even more outrageous is that the U.S. authorities are jumping on Newsweek while they have been and still are torturing detainees at Guantánamo as documented by the Red Cross. For the Bushites and their defenders, torture is not at issue here—the real problem is that the story got out and caused all kinds controversy for the U.S.

Anonymous Sources

High-level U.S. officials have especially attacked Newsweek for its use of an "anonymous source" for its report. This charge is unbelievable. For one thing this "anonymous source" is a U.S. government official. And it was only after the story was blamed for the protests in Afghanistan and elsewhere that the source changed his tune and went back on the information he gave to Newsweek .

But more importantly, consider the fact that one of the major justifications of Bush & Co. for the U.S. war in Iraq was "intelligence" from "an anonymous source" by the name of "Curveball" about "mobile weapons labs" carrying "WMD's." But as everyone knows, these and other charges by the Bush regime about Iraqi WMDs were nothing but lies that helped justify a U.S. war for empire which has cost over Iraqi 100,000 lives and counting.

The real furor should be over the fact that the government is continually lying and feeding misinformation to the people.

Obviously the Neo-con war planners, who had the Iraq war mapped out over ten years ago, didn't mind that the mainstream media swallowed the lies that justified the war on Iraq—lies that in many cases were fed directly to the media by the Bush administration itself.

The Damaged U.S. Image

It's also ridiculous how the Bush administration has been complaining that the Newsweek report has done big harm to the U.S. image in the Muslim world. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said at a briefing, "The image of the United States abroad has been damaged; there is lasting damage to our image because of this report."

The image of the United States suffered lasting damaged because of a two-paragraph report in Newsweek ? How about the criminal wars for empire—the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan based on lies? How about the well-documented systematic torture and murder of prisoners, from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib to the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan? How about the brutal treatment of the Iraqi people who are called "haji's" by U.S. troops? How about the shameless arrogance with which all this is done?

Maybe some reporter should ask Scott McClellan what these crimes of empire have done for the "image" of the U.S. In reality, this isn't a "damaged image"—this is the ugly face of U.S. imperialism.

Attacking the Media

More than just complaining of the damaged U.S. image, the Bush administration has stepped to Newsweek in that godfatherly fashion of theirs—demanding not only a retraction, but also that Newsweek do a public relations campaign for the U.S. Bush administration. Authorities are using the Newsweek incident to paint a picture of an "untrustworthy lying liberal media" and further tighten control over the media more generally.

In his typically mafia-like way, Donald Rumsfeld commented on the Newsweek incident: "People need to be very careful about what they say, just as they need to be careful about what they do." One Bush adviser told the New York Times , "There is a feeling that there is no check on what you guys do."

Similar threats against and attacks on the "liberal media" were whipped up by right-wing forces last year around CBS news anchor Dan Rather. After questions were raised about some facts in Rather's piece on 60 Minutes investigating George W. Bush's National Guard service record during the Vietnam War, a furor developed and Rather was forced to step down as CBS's long-time evening news anchor.

Both the Newsweek article and the Rather report were essentially true, but came under frenzied attack that were based on technicalities. With both stories the Bush administration has turned reality upside down—obscuring the larger picture and using the opportunity to cow the media into even tighter obedience to the official line. For Bush and his gang, the only thing the media should report is what's good for the interests of U.S. imperialism—and in particular what's good for this present administration—regardless of what's the truth.