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May 25, 2005

Comments

Edward, why this persistent will to believe that every single one of the Guantanamo prisoners who have been released and who have said they witnessed the Koran being desecrated by their guards, must be lying? This is not a new story. Reports of US soldiers desecrating the Koran in Guantanamo Bay have been leaking out since 2003. The Red Cross fielded numerous complaints about it. There was a hunger strike by the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay in 2002.

Linking to Jeanne's post about it at Body and Soul - I'm getting to heartsick to argue over it.

More than that, though, I want the Adminstration to handle this latest story more competently than they did the Newsweek one.

As far as the Bush administration care about this, they handled the Newsweek story with really astonishing competence, with the only audience that appears to matter to them: the US public. Despite the story being well-sourced, certainly accurate in all but a couple of unimportant details (had their source at the Pentagon actually seen the document about the official inquiry or not?), and verifiable by many witnesses round the world (many of whom had already publicly testified and whose testimony is available on the Internet) the administration apparently succeeded in convincing many people that the whole story was completely false, and raising doubts in the minds of many more.

Brilliant work, regarded from an abstract viewpoint. Highly competent. Completely inethical, and without any regard for the facts, but what else does anyone expect from the Bush administration?

I think you're missing why it wasn't competent though Jesurgislac. If the facts do show the allegation to be true the Administration will be guilty of an error the American public has shown itself to have much less tolerance for than just about anything: cover-ups.

why this persistent will to believe that every single one of the Guantanamo prisoners who have been released and who have said they witnessed the Koran being desecrated by their guards, must be lying?

Because I believe the existing immoral Imams happy to have anything to rally their followers to violence with, will do so again and more people will die. People who had absolutely nothing to do with the allegations will die. That's why.

Edward: If the facts do show the allegation to be true the Administration will be guilty of an error the American public has shown itself to have much less tolerance for than just about anything: cover-ups.

But the American public has shown itself to be incredibly tolerant of almost any cover-up performed by the Bush administration - presumably due to the fact that the MSM in the US tend to take the cover-ups at face value and report the facts (if at all) as if they were just an alternate theory.

This is what puzzles me: the facts do show the allegation of Koran desecration to be true. The facts are publicly available, and were when the Newsweek story came out. A coverup shouldn't have stood a chance. But it succeeded perfectly.

Because I believe the existing immoral Imams happy to have anything to rally their followers to violence with, will do so again and more people will die. People who had absolutely nothing to do with the allegations will die. That's why.

Would you rather the coverup had been more successful? The only way it could have been would be if no prisoners had ever been released from Guantanamo Bay. There is no point in wishing now that US soldiers had not desecrated the Koran in Guantanamo Bay: they did. You can wish that none of the witnesses had ever lived to tell the tale - but that's about it.

Those who died in the anti-American riots were killed by the Afghanistan police who shot into the crowd. It was not the mullahs who killed them - at least not directly. I am sorry they died - but there's no point trying to mess around with the facts in order to spread the blame away from those directly responsible (the police who fired into the crowd, the US soldiers who acted in such a despicable way) and on to those who bear a far lesser responsibility: religious leaders from a tradition of reverence for the paper on which the words of the Koran are printed. If Muslims from Afghanistan did not have this precise reverence for the book itself, the riots would not have happened: that much you can blame on "the mullahs", though the reverence is deeply traditional, and you might just as well say "blame their traditions".

Did Newsweek make a mistake? Yes it did. It reported that the Admin was going to admit to Koran desecration. It is not going to do so.

I read a few of the interview excerpts. Don't you just love the sequences, straight out of NYPD Blue, where the FBI guys are telling the prisoners to confess, in their own interest? As if the FBI has anything to offer prisoners of DOD. As if anyone who confesses to membership in AQ is going to get out.

"You can wish that none of the witnesses had ever lived to tell the tale - but that's about it."

I hope it's clearly understood that the "you" in that sentence is a rhetorical placeholder, not Edward, and that I do not in any way wish to imply that Edward would wish that "none of the witnesses had ever lived to tell the tale". Sorry, Edward: I realised the possible interpretation of what I'd written after I hit Post.

The administration GOT (as in Gotcha) Newsweek and that's what they wanted. Newsweek capitulated only because the didn't have multiple sources and their sole source back tracked. They didn't retract for any other reason.
Beyond that I think Karzai addressed your thinking about the article's involvement in the whole tragedy.

Charley
I don't remember this: "It reported that the Admin was going to admit to Koran desecration."
Can you quote what Newsweek actually said because a report commenting on alleged desecration and an actual admission from the administration are very different things.

Here's what I've found from the original Periscope article:
"Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year."
All I see is 'investigators... have confirmed'. Do you see something different?

From Newsweek:
Editor's Note: On May 16, Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker issued the following statement: "Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Qur'an abuse at Guantanamo Bay."

the Administration will be guilty of an error the American public has shown itself to have much less tolerance for than just about anything: cover-ups.

You mean like with Iran - Contra. Hell, even Nixon got rolled because he was disliked so much by Congressional Republicans. Bush supporters aren't going to care a whit about this; we've been ghosting prisoners, for Cripes sake - how is that not a "cover-up"?

I admire your "sun'll come up tomorrow" spirit, Edward, but I'm pretty sure it means we'll be a minority party for at least another four years after this one.

Arrest everyone at the AP for treason!, sez me!

"Hell, even Nixon got rolled because he was disliked so much by Congressional Republicans...."

This is interesting revisionist history, but it's completely lacking any basis in truth.

Gary:

I think I got it from the Haldeman Diaries. It might have been in the intro (by Ambrose?: in discussing Nixon's dislike of his own party, and his desire for the creation of a new party with the Southern Democrats, he either said or implied that (a) Nixon actually ran against his party in '72, and (b) the mutual chilliness became a significant factor in why there was so little Congressional support for Nixon. I've since given away the Diaries, so I can't check, but I'll take your word for it if I'm mis-remembering the Diaries.

I had meant to put "Hell, at least one account is that ...," but either I forgot or my vigor got the best of me.

Another story here.

Because I believe the existing immoral Imams happy to have anything to rally their followers to violence with, will do so again and more people will die.

It's not just the Imams, it is also Al Jazeera, which is allegedly controlled by Baathists.

Akbar notes:

I think that the most critical insight one can make into all of this is possible by carefully observing the nature and content of the Arabic and Muslim media. For example. in the past three days we have had nothing but the usual reports about; -- ‘Israel building some more settlements’, ‘Americans died in Iraq’, ‘Brave Iraqi resistance fighters blow up more freedom loving traitorous children’, ‘More American operations in Iraq’, ‘More Israeli Operations’, 'Palestinians die in Gaza', 'Hizb Allah bravely engages Israeli forces in south Labanon', and so on and so forth..

And of course, their favourite subject lately, hours and hours of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib abuse accusations topped with the latest rumour of the Qur’an desecration incident.

Unfortunately, it is very clear that we are living in a World War. The Eastern Muslim world is openly and clearly at war with America and Israel. And both sides use Islam and the media as weapons and tools of convenience in this conflict. In opposite ways of course.

***
(How do you blockquotes?)

For those interested in lots of links to both pro-war and anti-war stories about Iraq, here is a great site.

DaveC: You block quotes with the HTML tag "blockquote", used as with other tags. (One problem with it on this blog is that if you use it inside a paragraph, it seems to upset the line spacing. But if you give each blockquote a paragraph to itself, no problem.)

Thanks for the tip, Jes.

What I've found is that if you run everything together, <blockquote>like this</blockquote> (in this case I entered the angle brackets with &%lt; and &gt; so that the codes will display rather than making an actual blockquote), without hitting Return before or after your blockquote, you won't get the spacing problems.

The reason the administration denounced Newsweek was to further tame the press and further suppress belief in the non-Fox, non-Limbaugh media among its supporters, thus making itself even more scandal-proof. It certainly had nothing to do with fear of the story itself.

If the White House had let the story go on unmolested, no one new would have cared. Everyone who cares about Koran desecration long ago gave up on the Bush administration (if they ever supported it in the first place) after all the other stories of worse prisoner abuse and torture. I don't understand what Edward thinks might happen.

"It's not just the Imams, it is also Al Jazeera, which is allegedly controlled by Baathists."

But I thought everyone knew that the owners of media don't matter! It's what the biases of the reporters are that's important!

Thus, the fact that the Washington Times is owned by an insane meglomaniac who believes he is God, and is actually a classic James Bond villain, doesn't matter! That Rupert Murdoch isn't liberal is irrelevant! That to note that just about all the folks who personally control media chains are intensely conservative is a red herring! The reporters are all liberals! And, as we know, it's the employees who tell their bosses how to do their jobs, not vice versa.

Have I been cruelly deceived?

With all due respect to the obvious and clear reliability of the source DaveC finds credible enough to cite, here's what they say:

May 16th, 2005
New owners for Al-Jazeera

At least two Arabic web sites reported that ”Sajeeda” (Saddam’s wife) and her daughters are the new owners of Al-Jazeera, they bought 55% of the stocks and that is 180$ Million, they started a new fake companies registered in British Virgin Islands to accomplish the deal, An Israeli business man is also interested in the deal.

If this is true then Al-Jazeera will become the voice of batheists and Sadamites.

The scary thing about those "batheists" is how quickly they take control: the fair and reliable Al Jazeera has been swept away for these new controllers in just days. According to DaveC's site, which cites as its authority "At least two Arabic web sites."

I'm glad we've just nailed that story down as proven. Newsweek must learn the lesson of conservative news ethics, and be at least as reliable and journalistically ethical as this!

Gary, even though this breaks all sorts of rules (ObWi and my own), I have to say "I fart in your general direction". Unfortunately, the winds are generally coming out of the west, so I doubt it will have the intended effect :)

I don't understand what Edward thinks might happen.

As far as I can determine Edward hopes that enough Ameicans will get their heads out of their asses and notice the Damage that Bush and the Republican House & Senate are doing to the Constition, the US and its people and upon noticing this that they will do what is required to fix the damage.

Personally I think we are headed toward a nice one party fascist state if we aren't there yet.

I thought BD already told us that the Newsweek story was false, and it proves liberal media bias? Now I don't know what to believe.

DaveC, I am unoffended, and, of course I was being snarky and sarcastic, although I'd like to think at least faintly amusingly so (perhaps not, though), but what do you say to the serious points I made: is it the bias of owners or reporters that matters most? Is some blog quoting "at least two Arabic web sites" a reliable cite that anyone should use as such? Is this the sort of reliable journalism that should replace the dread "MSM" such as Newsweek? Is it likely that no one else has stumbled on the "fact" that Saddam's wife now owns majority stock in al-Jazeera? Is such a development reliably established? You simply said "...Al Jazeera, which is allegedly controlled by Baathists." Would you like a cite of equal value that explains that aliens are allegedly hidden in Area 51? Is there a useful point to such a cite?

Gitmpo guards disrespected a Koran as recently as this summer, according to an account in this month's Harper's by a former prisoner (now released with a letter from our government which says he was not a threat to us). The Koran was thrown on the floor and stamped on. The Palestinian man was raped with a broom handle, among other tortures.
We are not involved in a world war. Or were you joking?

Edward, I share Jes's bafflement at where you're coming from on this. There have been Gitmo Koran desecration reports in the press since 2002, coming from a variety of sources -- detainees, interrogators, chaplains, lawyers, FBI agents. The Washington Post did an excellent article a week ago summing up these reports and folding them into the basic point, which is that the Newsweek report had credibility because of how it fit into the proven abuse at Guantanamo and elsewhere, and the pattern of allegations.

All Newsweek ever got wrong was that the Pentagon investigation report dealt with the Koran abuse. That they retracted the story was pure intimidation by the administration; it didn't make all those other reports disappear.

Now even Scott McClellan is backing off the "Newsweek caused the riots" line, which was never true to begin with (no matter what 'Fareed Zakaria concedes').

They're like children caught in a lie; the problem is that too many Americans have their minds made up that such things couldn't be true and their fingers in their ears so they won't hear anything more like it.

By the way, Reuters has the same FBI-ACLU story as AP, with vigorous denials by Pentagon, which claims to have re-questioned the detainee who made the statement in 2002 about it and says he doesn't back up the claim now.

Gosh, that's so convincing. The U.S. mil snatches up hundreds of men (and some boys), holds them for years, interrogates them regularly and in many cases brutally, long after it's clear how little information is forthcoming. There have been at least 30 suicide attempts. An Army guy who role-played a detainee in interrogation training there was beaten so badly he had to be discharged.

Almost none of the prisoners freed have been charged with anything. The camp is being made permanent. There appear to be no plans to release most of the 500-some still there.

This is a gulag, and quibbling about Korans in toilets is an idiotic smokescreen. After all that's come out, after all the lies, giving the administration the benefit of the doubt in this matter is willed stupidity.

The Gulag consisted of forced labor camps, and statistically were overwhelmingly made up of Soviet citizens, not foreigners (there were a small number of exceptions, but on the order of about 10,000-to-1 or more). I prefer, myself, to keep our historical analogies fairly accurate.

DaveC,
You said a curious thing,
"The Eastern Muslim world is openly and clearly at war with America and Israel."

Considering that Iraq was attacked and now occupied why cannot the Eastern Muslims be reporting and acting as a defending region?
Certainly they read American press and pundits who openly talk of other potential nvasions - Syria, Iran etc.
So I ask in another way, Who is being attacked and who is defending. They aren't at war with America. They're at war with an invader who happens to be America.

Gary and DaveC, Al Jazeera remains funded by the Qatari gov't. Those reports are false. In any case, Al Jazeera would be bought by Saudi interlocutors were it put up for sale, and it would cease to put any pressure whatsoever on the Saudi government.

Edward, this is from a contractor's statement obtained by the ACLU:


Sworn Statement of Civilian providing overall assessment of interrogation operations, training and advice, E. Co, 309th MI Bn, Annex to Fay/Jones/Kern Report

Notes, "I did see detainees in various states of dress to include nakedness and detainees. The MPs used segregation and stripping as a way to keep the detainees under control and to keep them from talking. . . .On one occasion, I had a conversation with REDACTED concerning the IROE and interrogation approaches. I gave him examples of approached including Pride and Ego Down where an interrogator took a Koran, threw it on the floor and stepped on it and Fear Up harsh where the interrogator had a a dog trained to bark on cue if the interrogator thought the detainee was lying. I also explained sleep deprivation. I told him that in Afghanistan the interrogators could use an adjusted sleep schedule for detainees. The conversation was meant to explain why these activities were prohibited or restricted. . . . There was intense pressure from the command to provide intelligence reporting."

Allegations are one thing. When the FBI uses the key phrase "credible charges", that's the time to sit up and take notice. I can't tell if credible charges have been attached to Koran flushing, but if they have been, then Newsweek would still be guilty of sloppy reporting, but they could take some comfort in that they got the story essentially right.

It looks pretty clear that US personnel mishandled Korans, mostly mistakenly and mostly out of ignorance. Once the ICRC came in, the incidents stopped.

Okay, Gary, I withdraw the word. What term seems appropriate to you for Gitmo plus the collection of bases and ships around the world where we stow snatched people (probably about 2000 in all so far in the war on terra)?

Doesn't have to be a historical analogy. Maybe we need a new word/phrase altogether. Let's have a go... It's not really off-topic, and has the advantage of facing the fundamental facts rather than the kibitzing on tactics of U.S. reporting and White House spinning.

"What term seems appropriate to you for Gitmo plus the collection of bases and ships around the world...."

I'll think about it; I'm not sure it's helpful to use the same word to describe publically-acknowledged prison camps with secret places of imprisonment, though.

Carsick, sorry about the delay in responding. Busy having a life . . .

No, I didn't mean anything other than what you've quoted. I think the Newsweek story was significant in that it was a confirmation, by the a government source, of what had hitherto been only alleged by prisoners, their lawyers, the ICRC, and others. Even the FBI docs released -- what I saw of them -- are quotes from prisoners wrt Koran abuse.

I'll say again that the Admin's MO reminds me of the tobacco industry in the 70s: create enough doubt and confusion that people who want to live in denial can live in denial. It worked for tobacco, and it's working for the Admin. Domestically.

You have a point there, too, but although Guantanamo is publicly acknowledged it's pretty damned hard to get access to the prisoners, or trustworthy information.

Just as one small example, since the disgraceful Yee episode, there have been even fewer Muslim chaplains. Prisoners from the same country are held separate from each other. Lawyers for detainees go through enormous hoops in order to see them even for brief periods. And this is now, long after it's been determined that only some 60-75 are truly dangerous, organized

I'm not sure it's helpful to use the same word to describe publically-acknowledged prison camps with secret places of imprisonment, though.

Though it does have the advantage of highlighting the extra legal nature of the camps. And the secrecy, while not related to location, is certainly true for the individual identities of those imprisoned.

Oh, man. I click over to another window underneath the ObWi one and see that Amnesty International has flouted Gary's preference for keeping historical analogies fairly accurate:

Amnesty International branded the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a human rights failure Wednesday, releasing a 308-page report that offers stinging criticism of the United States and its detention centers around the world.

"Guantanamo has become the gulag of our time," Amnesty Secretary General Irene Khan said as the London-based group launched its annual report.

In casting about for a term, I think 'gulag' comes up because of the "because we say so and we don't need no steenking evidence" character of how the U.S. sends persons to these hellholes, un-identified agents/mil literally grabbing them up in secret with no notice to anyone. And because they places are hellhole prisons.

Gary:

I'm not sure it's helpful to use the same word to describe publically-acknowledged prison camps with secret places of imprisonment, though.

I tend to agree with you that some of the rhetoric becomes overblown. But let's not kid ourselves. If we're ghosting prisoners, we've got "secret places of imprisonment." The distinction is one of scope; I think that distinction matters a lot, but it isn't the whole ball game.

CB: What little of the FBI notes I read wasn't really about investigating allegations of prisoners, but more a recounting of them as part of the conversation between prisoners and agents. The agents were, after all, trying to investigate AQ, not the US. So you wouldn't expect the FBI to follow up on these allegations, say by interviewing US interpreters, interrogators, and the like. Thus, you'd never get from allegations to credible charges.

In this context, I find it somewhat disingenuous for anyone to claim that no credible charges have yet surfaced. No credible charges of my speeding on the Beltway have surfaced, although I have to say that a fairly lackadaisical investigation would still likely result in credible charges.

I'll disclaim again having read all this material, but I have the sense that this is what it is.

of course I was being snarky and sarcastic, although I'd like to think at least faintly amusingly so (perhaps not, though)

I had to go to my daughter's recital, so I didn't respond for a while. I was in fact amused at how quickly and deftly my comment about Baathists and AJ was parried.

Actually I originally was going to use a quote from Omar at Iraq The Model about how they constantly hear the Koran story on TV, and for some reason there were no riots about this in Iraq (don't sweat the small stuff). But you can find all sorts of interesting stuff if you poke around Iraqi blogs. I do already realize how quickly rumors and urban legends fly through the Middle East. Thank goodness that doesn't happen in the US OF A.

"for some reason there were no riots about this in Iraq"

actually, the Sadriyyun held some rallies and painted the US and Israeli flags on the ground and stepped on them and spat on them and hit them with shoes. Then some Sadr dudes got in a tussle with some govt forces in Nasiriyah.

for some reason there were no riots about this in Iraq

DaveC
Not meaning to jump on you, but this seems to suggest a mind set that it's all Islam, all the time. Iraq had a notably secular regime (which is why we were so happy to look the other way when they were using poison gas against the human wave Iranian assaults), and I don't think anyone has a true fix on how "Islamic" the Iraqi populace is. Given that the Iranian populace seems to have always harbored a secular urge (and still does), it would make perfect sense that the populace as a whole would not be able to generate the mass of resentment that would lead to the kind of rioting we saw in SouthEast Asia. This is probably why there were no afaik Palestianian riots over the reported Koran desecration.

"In casting about for a term, I think 'gulag' comes up because of the "because we say so and we don't need no steenking evidence" character of how the U.S. sends persons to these hellholes...."

True, and also, I assume, because of the wide-spread nature of the systems, and, of course, because we have places that are secret as part of the system.

Nonetheless, while it doesn't make me purple-faced to hear, because of these points of similarity, the differences between our present system and the Soviet gulag remain great and significant. As I previously indicated, holding people believed to be, or at least rounded up as, foreign enemies, who are not citizens, for purposes of perceived defense against a foreign threat, is very different -- not necessary better or worse, just very different -- from rounding up vast numbers of your perceived domestic enemies, as part of a totalitarian system of domestic repression, information suppression, surveillance, and political control. As well, the economic signifcance of the Gulag system to the Soviet Union was great; it was a critical segment of their economy, as well as their political system.

I'd particularly recommend Anne Applebaum's recent and exhaustive book, unsurprisingly titled The Gulag. For a shorter, free, look at the book, this David Remnick piece on the book is good (Remnick was NY Times bureau chief in Moscow for a number of years, along with his many other credentials).

Re the economic root of the camps, allow me to quote a bit of Applebaum's Introduction:

The Gulag had antecedents in Czarist Russia, in the forced-labor brigades that operated in Siberia from the seventeenth century to the beginning of the twentieth.

[...]

From 1929, the camps took on a new significance. In that year, Stalin decided to use forced labor both to speed up the Soviet Union's industrialization, and to excavate the natural resources in the Soviet Union's barely habitable far north.

[...]

Contrary to popular assumption, the Gulag did not cease growing in the 1930s, but rather continued to expand throughout the Second World War and the 1940s, reaching its apex in the early 1950s. By that time the camps had come to play a central role in the Soviet economy. They produced a third of the country's gold, much of its coal and timber, and a great deal of almost everything else. In the course of the Soviet Union's existence, at least 476 distinct camp complexes came into being, comprising thousands of individual camps, each of which contained anywhere from a few hundred to many thousands of people. The prisoners worked in almost every industry imaginable—logging, mining, construction, factory work, farming, the designing of airplanes and artillery—and lived, in effect, in a country within a country, almost a separate civilization.

Needless to say, so far as we know, whatever our camps/prisons are, they're not labor centers, their intent is not economic in nature, they aren't being used for domestic political suppression, and the scale, of course, is qualitatively different by several orders of magnitude, at least five, possibly six.

Dare I say these are vast and significant differences?

Which is not in the least to say that this is reason to look away from intense scrutiny into whatever the hell it is we are doing, or what is being done in our name, of course. Different kinds of bad are still bad.

I commend Phil Carter's Intel Dump blog as one of the best sources of info and analysis on the torture and WoT/legal issues, by the way, to any who don't regularly read it. Carter is a former Army Captain who has also just gotten his law degree, and is both balanced and clear, and insightful and sensible. Check it out.

The rest of Applebaum's intro is also good, by the way.

Not to make this point for any larger reason, but if it's worth saying these six words -- "Iraq had a notably secular regime" -- it's worth a least another sentence or two to the effect that: a) while this was more or less true of the regimes of the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, it certainly wasn't true of all the people, a large proportion of whom remained fairly religious; and )b not long into the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam turned to using Islam as a unifying, nationalism-strengthening cause, and from then on only increasingly made Islam part of his theme, building ever-huger Mosques (the largest including a Koran supposedly written with his own blood), making ever more religious proclomations, and so on. So while Iraq was once of the most secular regimes in the Arab world, along with brother Syria, and not-dissimilarly to the regimes (though not so much the people) in Egypt, this changed significantly in the Eighties and Nineties.

"Given that the Iranian populace seems to have always harbored a secular urge...."

I'm not sure it's useful to make this sort of generalization about a rather disparate population whose distinction seems to be as much a generational difference as it does soem sort of eternal generalized secular urge, which I think you'd be hard put to find the majority expressing during, say, anywhere from 1982 back to 2,000 B.C.

Which isn't to say you didn't have other good points, LJ.

Iraq had a notably secular regime (which is why we were so happy to look the other way when they were using poison gas against the human wave Iranian assaults)

Certainly that's why the US supported the Iraqis, but I wouldn't say we were "happy" about the poison gas. Iran is a much larger (x 3) and potentially more dangerous country than Iraq and that is part of the reason that the Bush admin decided to invade Iraq instead of Iran. Other reasons include the fact that Iraq really did attempt to gain control over 50% of the worlds oil production in 1991, and of course the fact that Hussein attempted to assassinate former president George H. W. Bush.

I was just listening to an interesting Milt Rosenberg show about psychologist Stanley Milgram who experimented with obedience and the role of authority in people doing inhumane acts. I believe that the cause of any atrocities at Abu Ghraib or Gitmo were mainly attributable to the most proximate commanding officer's mindset, and not an official policy of the US govt.

If you have been arrested before, or detained for questioning, you are familiar with the bad cop / good cop tactics. There has to be a certain level of experience for the good guys and bad guys to work together effectively without crossing the lines of unacceptible behaviour. Because the Koran abuse stories originated in 2002, a few months after 9/11 and during a hot war, it is quite possible for prison guards to be abusive without being official policy. Probably it is an issue with the limited number of personnel. I'd say Graner got his job at Abu Ghraib because he had experience as a prison guard, a kind of experience in short supply, but not because he was known to be a sadistic prison guard.

The US military quite obviously need more well trained military police, interrogators and prison guards. The things that they do well are to "blow things up and kill people". I'm not a pacifist, so I agree with this to the extent that they blow the right things up and kill the right people. I think that a good faithed effort has been made, by and large, to limit the destruction and carnage. Reasonable and principled people can disagree with me. (should I mention Amish in yet another comment?)

Pardon the shorter version, my main point was that DaveC seemed to assume that because there was no rioting in Iraq, this did something to the value of the assertion concerning rioting. I don't want to put thoughts in his keyboard, but it could have meant that everyone over there is Islamic, so therefore this wasn't really important (tho that would run counter to the Newsweek is evil meme), rioters are being hypocritical (which again would seemingly let Newsweek a bit off the hook) or that Islamic countries that are "marching towards freedom"® don't have time to worry about silly things like their holy book getting soiled or stepped on or carried by dogs. (sorry, a bit sarcastic there, but you get the gist)

"Given that the Iranian populace seems to have always harbored a secular urge...."

I'm not sure it's useful to make this sort of generalization

Perhaps, but I feel that the notion that we were going to free the Iraqi people partly stemmed from the fact that they were thought to be more like us than the people of Afghanistan. You are right that Sadaam tried to get on the Islam bandwagon (much like Quaddafi) and I'd be interested to get some idea how much that was accepted by followers of Islam. Certainly, given a chance to cooperate with Al Queda, he didn't (unless your name is Dick Cheney), so it's an interesting notion to wonder how much weight one should give to that.

However, I think that we can assign a more 'secular' flavor to Iraq in contrasting it with other ME nations. Of course, this is because you have three groups, and one group has its own interesting twists and turns of religion (nominally Sunni, but also have this indigenous religion called Ezidism with its own scriptures) and certainly values nationalism more highly than religion. The shift (and the simple definition of secular regimes) is interesting. I suppose a down and dirty measure is how often you see the country reps wearing business suits or military uniforms vs. galabiyya.

About the gulag point, I wonder what the basic perception of a gulag is in common parlance. I think that we don't really consider the work camp aspect of it as much as we consider the isolation/secrecy aspect. Of course, words for these things tend to slip around about bit, so that concentration camp, which started out pretty innocuously, now is something that people really get red in the fact about, especially if you suggest that the US had them ("No, they were internment camps" is the argument) And the fact that prisoners worked is not really so problematic in people's minds (he says, having just rewatched 'Brother, where art thou')

whoops, I see that DaveC has replied. The 'we were happy about that' was a bit of license, though I'm trying to track down the Kissinger quote about the Iran-Iraq war, which has been given as 'I hope they both lose.' 'Why can't they both lose?' and "too bad they can't both lose". I believe that the US also gave the Iraqis satellite photographs and intelligence, so if not happy, certainly not anguished.

Perhaps, but I feel that the notion that we were going to free the Iraqi people partly stemmed from the fact that they were thought to be more like us than the people of Afghanistan.

I agree with this statement entirely, and assert that the US military decided to move the War on Terror to Iraq is because there is a better chance of a modern civil society forming there, in addition to the fact that that Afghanistan is so remote that logistical problems prevent us from effectively waging war.

good night.

It looks pretty clear that US personnel mishandled Korans, mostly mistakenly and mostly out of ignorance. Once the ICRC came in, the incidents stopped.

This bolded portion is made up window dresing. There is zero evidence to support this proposed mitigation of bad behavior. It has as much credibility as saying they accidently put prisoners in forbidden stress positions, or mistakenly "ghosted" prisoners. And why did it take the ICRC to straighten things out?

gulag:

3. A place or situation of great suffering and hardship, likened to the atmosphere in a prison system or a forced labor camp.

Is Gitmo a gulag under this definition? Yes.

Next irrelevant and disrupting nitpick, please.

you wouldn't expect the FBI to follow up on these allegations, say by interviewing US interpreters, interrogators, and the like. Thus, you'd never get from allegations to credible charges.

It shouldn't be too different from when investigating authorities were investigating violations of the Patriot Act. Plenty of allegations made, but when investigated, a significantly smaller number rose to the level of credible charges. That's what investigators do. There are 31,000 pages of documents were produced from the Gitmo investigation. Allegations were gathered, subjects were interviewed, and evidence was evaluated and investigated to see if they have merit. There are lots of allegations flying around and some have said that many of the stories are corrobated this way and that, but it seems like the facts are in a high state of flux right now.

Nell, I'm currently reading The Gulag Archipelago - in small doses, which is all I can bear.

The US is, in other countries, certainly carrying out on a far smaller scale, some of the same kind of operations that were used to fill the Gulag. (I tell you, reading Solzhenitsyn's list of methods used to justify arrest, and means of "interrogation" - it is both appalling and spooky.)

Direct comparisons would seem to me to invoke Godwin's law, but there are a number of valid comparisons of detail that can be made. It's like pointing out that Bush is a military dictator - in Iraq. It's true by any definition of the term, but the term is itself inflammatory and tends to shut down discussion of the topic as people move to discuss language usage instead.

CB: It looks pretty clear that US personnel mishandled Korans, mostly mistakenly and mostly out of ignorance. Once the ICRC came in, the incidents stopped.

dmbeaster: This bolded portion is made up window dresing. There is zero evidence to support this proposed mitigation of bad behavior.

Not quite. It would be perfectly understandable if US personnel at Guantanamo Bay did mishandle Korans "mistakenly and out of ignorance" - but what began in ignorance (the Korans were initially issued by laying each copy on the floor of each cage in which the prisoners were kept) seems certainly to have continued in active malice. It might not have occurred to the guards on their own account that the prisoners could be upset by seeing a Koran mishandled, but on discovering this vulnerability, they seem certainly to have taken full advantage of it to bully and abuse prisoners.

Whether this was used as a tactic when torturing prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is not confirmed: I imagine it would be very hard for a prisoner to figure out when the guards were mistreating him deliberately in order to soften him up for interrogation, and when the mistreatment was purely for their own amusement, and at the moment, we only have their viewpoint on what's going on.

The resolute denial by the Pentagon that anything ever happened (which amounts to a claim that the detainees and the ICRC are both consistently lying) means that it is impossible to know if the desecration of the Koran was a form of unofficial bullying and mistreatment only, or if it was ever used in officially-sanctioned torture.

I suppose it's a bit unfair to whack DaveC while he sleeps, but I did want to make a comment, so apologies in advance

"Perhaps, but I feel that the notion that we were going to free the Iraqi people partly stemmed from the fact that they were thought to be more like us than the people of Afghanistan."

I agree with this statement entirely, and assert that the US military decided to move the War on Terror to Iraq is because there is a better chance of a modern civil society forming there, in addition to the fact that that Afghanistan is so remote that logistical problems prevent us from effectively waging war.

I hope this doesn't appear to inflammatory, but I think this points to the 'heads we win, tails you lose' argumentation that seems to permeate defense of the invasion of Iraq. I would not be surprised if half of the current war supporters (I say current because I thought it was necessary with the possibility of WMD, but now have less than zero trust in this admin) felt the way mentioned above, and the other half thought that because we had pretty much set things right (with Karzai taking power and such), we could move on to the next domino. Thus, either way, one could argue that going after Iraq should be done because Afghanistan was too easy/too hard. For instance, the Dept of State seems to the latter position here

For some in Afghanistan, the road to democracy began in the cold and dark, as early as 3 a.m., on October 9, 2004, as they awoke and prepared to travel for hours to polling stations. In doing so, they made history: defying threats from the Taliban and casting their votes in the country's first-ever democratic presidential election. For the people of Afghanistan, the election was a dramatic milestone on the long, often hard road to freedom and democratic government. But they are not traveling this road alone. Over recent decades, peoples throughout the world have increasingly traveled the road to democracy. As President Bush said in an address to the National Endowment for Democracy in November 2003, "We've witnessed, in little over a generation, the swiftest advance of freedom in the 2,500-year story of democracy."

Of course, when we have people telling us that because attacks are increasing, this signals desperation, so therefore, the increasing number of attacks is good news, we should not be surprised at this attempt to butter both sides of the bread.

Jesurgislac: the term is itself inflammatory and tends to shut down discussion of the topic as people move to discuss language usage instead.

I hear ya. But, given felixrayman's contribution from the dictionary, the burden in this case is on people who move to discuss language instead to come up with alternative language.

Gary, I take your point that clear, precise language is crucial to clear thought. It's also important for communication not to use terms so broad and loaded that will make it hard to be heard. But these concerns can also be a screen behind which to avoid facing harsh, unpleasant realities.

U.S. reporters' substitution of 'abuse' for 'torture' when talking about actions of U.S. military/agents is an example. Proof that this is not just a desire for precision is their much freer use of the term when covering the actions of other governments or organizations. I assume editors justify the reticence in U.S. cases with the 'hard to hear' argument. That says a lot about their readers.

At this point the evidence has built up to the point that Americans need to shake off the flattering stories we've told ourselves and deal with who and where we are. 'Gulag' is probably not the right word for our global network of secret prisons. 'Oubliette' is too obscure (and French!). I'll keep working on it, but I'd rather hear suggestions than complaints.

a Koran supposedly written with his own blood
That would certainly be an example of egomania, but it's hardly something Islamic fundamentalists would approve of. Such desecration would be another reason for them to oppose Saddam.

And of course Saddam had non-Muslims in his regime, most prominently Tariq Aziz. Perhaps "secular" was the wrong word, but I think the main point was that Saddam was not allied with Islamic fundamentalists and in fact viewed them as a threat to his rule, and thus was unlikely to give them weapons that could just as well be used against him.

If I have a manager in a department and many people in that department are 'doing their own thing' and it is against corporate policy, I don't start rooting out the 'bad apples' I go to the manager and get accountability.
Why doesn't the administration?

I believe that the cause of any atrocities at Abu Ghraib or Gitmo were mainly attributable to the most proximate commanding officer's mindset, and not an official policy of the US govt.
And at Bagram as well, DaveC? All these commanding officers are coming up with these misinterpretations of US policy on their own? Yes, I know officers were moved between these detention centers. Doesn't that very fact indicate that the way they were running things was acceptable to those above them?

Is your claim that higher-ups weren't aware of what was happening? That's not very credible, but we've heard the "incompetent, not evil" defense before from this administration.

The obvious answer would be to examine the upper management - see if they were encouraging such things. Since they adminstration clearly was, they're at fault. Since this can't be admitted, we see people holding to the 'few bad apples' and 'no credible allegations' theories long after additional evidence has come to light.

Posted by: DaveC

"Actually I originally was going to use a quote from Omar at Iraq The Model about how they constantly hear the Koran story on TV, and for some reason there were no riots about this in Iraq (don't sweat the small stuff). But you can find all sorts of interesting stuff if you poke around Iraqi blogs. I do already realize how quickly rumors and urban legends fly through the Middle East. Thank goodness that doesn't happen in the US OF A."

Well, the obvious reasons that occur to me are (1) the Iraqis are pretty jaded by now - they've seen worse from the US, and (2) why in God's name would an Iraqi merely *riot* if he were pissed off at the US? Pick up an AK and shoot it, plant some bombs, pass information/money/supplies, kill cooperators, etc. - there are a zillion activities beyond rioting, and lots of local organizations willing to accept a willing recruit.

There are lots of allegations flying around and some have said that many of the stories are corrobated this way and that, but it seems like the facts are in a high state of flux right now.

Or maybe the facts are biased. The facts, in fact (ha ha), are not in flux -- they are what they are. Our degree of having uncovered them with some precision is what is in flux.

In any event, this statement by you I guess is tacit admission that the opening sentence of your prior post on this topic -- in which you categorically state that the Newsweek story was false -- has been, er, "rendered inoperative."

Last time I checked, Americans didn't really care that we're beating prisoners to death, or that we're tormenting them with attack dogs, or that our President is trying to tear up the Bill of Rights in the Padilla case. All of which are matters of public record & undeniable (except for Padilla, where a fog of pseudo-legal arguments can befuddle the uninitiated).

So, I think you could get video footage of a uniformed interrogator using the Qur'an for Charmin, and there would be a big shrug from 51% of the population (at least), whose views on that particular scripture are not too far from those of the N.C. Baptist church's sign that was in the news recently, urging that the Qur'an *should* be flushed. Hell, a sizable minority of Americans would applaud such footage.

Therefore I am a little mystified why this particular story has seized the imagination. I know, Newsweek, riots, etc. But I do suggest that focusing on these allegations, rather than on the prisoners we've undeniably murdered, is (if anything) helping the Bush Administration.

"Or maybe the facts are biased"

Or, look at it this way. The facts are biased when reported by Dan Rather and Newsweek and the rest of the MSM, but the facts are in a high state of fluxicity when reported by Jonah Goldberg, Brit Hume, and the Reverend Moon.

"...the fact that that Afghanistan is so remote that logistical problems prevent us from effectively waging war."

DaveC, are you saying that, with Bagram Air Base, and our net of air and ground bases in the region, Afghanistan is more remote (from where?) than, say, Iwo Jim or Guam, or anywhere else in the South Pacific was (including Japan) to us in WWII? Or that our technology has become far inferior?

What are you talking about? Are you saying the 10th Mountain Division lacks training in mountains? That we don't have airplanes, helicopters and satellites? Why, where, and how, would we be unable to "effectively wage war" in Afghanistan, all of a sudden, and... interestingly, are you accusing the Administration and the military of keeping this secret? A secret, incidentally, you yourself have solely uncovered, unrevealed to any writer for the Army War College journal (Parameters), unrevealed to any military expert yet interviewed, unrevealed to any media, anywhere?

How did you gain this expert military insight?

felixrayman: "Next irrelevant and disrupting nitpick, please."

It's not irrelevant, nor a "nitpick" to point out how a specific term, intended to convey a specific image, is vastly misleading and inappropriate, and if that disrupts you from understanding the fact that most of us agree on the basic points of concern and criticism about the secret imprisonments, torture, and abuse, I suggest working on learning to maintain more than a single thought at a time. (I wouldn't respond rudely to a polite and reasonable characterization, but this was neither.)

"Such desecration would be another reason for them to oppose Saddam."

That's news to me, which certainly doesn't mean much, including any indication it wouldn't be true. But since it is a suggestion I've not seen before, do you have any cites on a) what the Koranic view of this would be; and b) was it ever, in fact, regarded this way?

Again, I'm not arguing at all that it isn't so; I'm just asking for some pointers to evidence that it is so.

"I think the main point was that Saddam was not allied with Islamic fundamentalists..."

But domestically, he was, in regard to those he could co-opt, which is to say, large numbers.

"...and in fact viewed them as a threat to his rule, and thus was unlikely to give them weapons that could just as well be used against him."

If he couldn't co-opt or control or guard them, sure. But I tend to think this reasoning that suggests that a) his last fifteen years of behavior be completely ignored so we can focus on the clearer behavior he engaged in for the couple of decades before that which better supports our argument, isn't the most compelling way to make a convincing argument; and b) the focus of such logic is better put on arguing simply that Saddam wouldn't cooperate with anyone, religious fanatic or not, whom he could conceive of as a likely threat.

Bottom line, I've seen no strong evidence that Saddam ever engaged in anything resembling a systematic attempt to engage with al Quada or like-minded groups that threatened the U.S., nor strong evidence that he was likely to be going to do so, and I'd suggest that arguments making that point stay with their strength, which is those points, which are fairly solid, rather than wandering into rather weak talking points whose basis is solely vague generalizations about Hussein and Iraq being so wholesomely secular that that alone can prove specifics, which it can't, isn't solid, isn't particularly true, and is therefore extremely weak reasoning.

A short way of putting it: it's dumb to make a weak argument for a point when a strong one is available.

(I don't think a look at Iraq today, now that Saddam isn't around to crush religious believers not under his control, offers strong support for the utter triumph of secularity amongst the populace of Iraq, but maybe that's just me -- that there are major portions of the population that are largely secular, sure, absolutely; but that there aren't major portions that are religious? This isn't an argument I'd recommend going with, but don't let me stop anyone, I suppose.)

It's not irrelevant, nor a "nitpick" to point out how a specific term, intended to convey a specific image, is vastly misleading and inappropriate

The term was used according to its dictionary definition. Complaining about such a correct usage is, indeed, irrelevant and nitpicking, and it does distract from the topic at hand.

I suggest working on learning to maintain more than a single thought at a time

I'll get right on that, right after I get around to asking you for your tips on politeness.

A secret, incidentally, you yourself have solely uncovered, unrevealed to any writer for the Army War College journal (Parameters), unrevealed to any military expert yet interviewed, unrevealed to any media, anywhere?

Stop confusing me with all these questions while I am busy speculating!

Disclaimer: IANAME, IANAL, etc. However, I can claim to be an unnamed source.

With a bullsh1t detector like Gary's, coming to a blog comment section is like taking a dog to a dairy farm.

And I know that they are mostly cows on the dairy farm, BTW.

For no reason in particular, I just liked this quotation:
I tried to see it from your point of veiw, but I couldn't get my head that far up my ass. :)

Another view on riots in Afghanistan.

"Complaining about such a correct usage is, indeed, irrelevant and nitpicking, and it does distract from the topic at hand."

You might try learning to deal with the fact that views of other people differ from yours. I realize this is burdensome, particularly for someone so distractable. Or, heck, post fifty comments a day complaining that I'm saying what I'm saying, not what you want me to say. I'm perfectly prepared to not demand in return that you post what I think, either way. My suggestion would be that you spend your energy on articulating your own views, rather than objecting to other people posting their own, but it's up to you.

You might try learning to deal with the fact that views of other people differ from yours

You might try learning to deal with the fact that words have meanings and these meanings are listed in a book called a "dictionary". Harassing someone because, though they used a word properly according to the dictionary definition, you want them to use another word, is nitpicking.

My suggestion would be that you spend your energy on articulating your own views, rather than objecting to other people posting their own

Yet you yourself do not take that advice. How inconsistent.

"Yet you yourself do not take that advice."

Yes, it's unfortunate I've not posted lengthy comments on the gulag, with cites. Discussions of history, supported with citations, aren't nearly as useful a contribution as insisting that dictionaries contain all that needs to be said on a subject, so mere history is a "nitpick," and discussion should shut down after invocation of a dictionary.

Bored now, and will ignore further complaints from you. If you continue to find the topic of me fascinating, feel free to carry on posting about me, though.

so mere history is a "nitpick," and discussion should shut down after invocation of a dictionary

History is not a nitpick, quibbling about a properly used word is. You were doing the latter. The original poster said, referring to Gitmo, "This is a gulag". You objected to that, but the usage of the term is a correct one, history nothwithstanding.

As for boredom, I've been bored with the discussion from the beginning, but some boring things need to be done anyway.

Possibly someone might like to take issue with the Washington Post's editorial writers, by the way. Here's a part:

But we draw the line at the use of the word "gulag" or at the implication that the United States has somehow become the modern equivalent of Stalin's Soviet Union. Guantanamo Bay is an ad hoc creation, designed to contain captured enemy combatants in wartime. Abuses there -- including new evidence of desecrating the Koran -- have been investigated and discussed by the FBI, the press and, to a still limited extent, the military. The Soviet gulag, by contrast, was a massive forced labor complex consisting of thousands of concentration camps and hundreds of exile villages through which more than 20 million people passed during Stalin's lifetime and whose existence was not acknowledged until after his death. Its modern equivalent is not Guantanamo Bay, but the prisons of Cuba, where Amnesty itself says a new generation of prisoners of conscience reside; or the labor camps of North Korea, which were set up on Stalinist lines; or China's laogai , the true size of which isn't even known; or, until recently, the prisons of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Worrying about the use of a word may seem like mere semantics, but it is not. Turning a report on prisoner detention into another excuse for Bush-bashing or America-bashing undermines Amnesty's legitimate criticisms of U.S. policies and weakens the force of its investigations of prison systems in closed societies. It also gives the administration another excuse to dismiss valid objections to its policies as "hysterical."

Personally, I'm not upset if people use the word in a casual reference to the present American system, if "system" is the right word (which seems unclear), so long as they understand to some degree the severe factual differences between our problematic efforts and the eighteen-million-strong Soviet system.

But, hey, if anyone wants to object to the WashPo having written this obnoxious piece of nitpicking distraction, don't let me stop you.

Unbroken link.

Oh, if it's in the Washington Post, it must be true. If you are going to stoop to argument from authority, at least get an actual...authority.

Where the editorial you referenced goes astray (apart from the argument over semantics, with which I simply disagree) is at the line, "But we draw the line at the use of the word "gulag" or at the implication that the United States has somehow become the modern equivalent of Stalin's Soviet Union", as if the former implied the latter. That one American policy is horrendous and should be called out as such is not an indictment of the entire nation. Gitmo is, undeniably, a gulag according to definition. Arguing that one should use nicer words for it is nitpicking.

And nice job on the whole "ignore further complaints from you" thing. Really well done. Perhaps you are using something than the dictionary for the definition of that phrase as well, who knows?

Gary, about the Koran written in Saddam's blood, I didn't find as much condemning it as I expected -- but then I can't search or read Arabic sites. I did find an Islam Online article, "Saddam Receives Qur'an Written In His Own Blood", that says "According to Islamic purification laws, blood is considered an impurity and should not be used for the above-mentioned purposes." There's also a more extensive article from the Sydney Morning Herald, "Storm Over Tyrant's Unholy Blood", which has lots more, including multiple statements like these:

There is no ambiguity about this work. It is explicitly haram (forbidden) to have done it in blood and, as my interpreter observed drily, every six-year-old Muslim knows this.

"When it was done, Saddam said that if he had known it was not acceptable to have it written in blood he would never have dared to do it." [from an imam]

Thanks for the info, KC.

Did Newsweek make a mistake?

Kind of.

The Pentagon on Friday confirmed for the first time that a U.S. soldier deliberately kicked a Guantanamo Bay prisoner's Muslim holy book in violation of the military's rules for handling the Quran.

In other confirmed incidents, prison guards threw water balloons in a cell block, causing an unspecified number of Qurans to get wet; a guard's urine splashed on a detainee and his Quran; an interrogator stepped on a Quran during an interrogation; and a two-word obscenity was written in English on the inside cover of a Quran. cite

No confirmed report (yet) of a Koran being thrown into a prisoner's toilet. Naturally, Bush-administrators will insist that a guard urinating on a Koran is quite different.

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