A Tale of Two Stories
a question for international news hounds. Who is the "son of
a bitch" referred to in this comment by a U.S. Defense Department
are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. How could he
be credible now?"
he an unnamed Defense Department source who told Newsweek
magazine that he had read a government document detailing an incident
where U.S. military personnel at the detention camp at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba, allegedly flushed a Koran down a toilet?
all, that report, which was printed in a small item in last week's
"Periscope" section of the magazine, spurred violent protests
across the Muslim world, particularly in Afghanistan where at least
15 people were killed and the government of President Hamid Karzai
badly shaken just a week before he was due to travel here.
is the "son of a bitch" U.S. President George W. Bush,
whose administration began fixing intelligence at least eight months
before invading Iraq in order to make the public believe that Baghdad
posed a serious threat to the United States and its allies?
all, the war and its bloody aftermath have taken a toll of at least
30,000 lives, according to the most conservative estimates, and
ongoing conflict continues to kill scores more every week with no
end in sight.
of the British press might be inclined to choose the second option
based on the sensational leak to the London Times two weeks
ago of the minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting between Prime Minister
Tony Blair and his closest advisers during which the head of the
intelligence agency MI6, just back from Washington, reported that
Bush had decided on war and that "the intelligence and facts
were being fixed around the policy."
that was big news in Britain, it was hard to find any trace of it
in the U.S. press.
consumers of U.S. media would choose option number one, because
the Koran story has been the nation's top news story since the magazine
published a qualified apology for it Sunday before making a vague
the "son of a bitch" statement was made by Pentagon spokesman
Lawrence diRita, a Bush loyalist who, like his right-wing backers,
has been in high dudgeon over the "irresponsibility" of
one of the nation's most influential purveyors of news.
was responding to the news that an unnamed but "longtime reliable"
Defense Department source had told Newsweek that he was no
longer certain which documents that had crossed his desk had recounted
how Guantanamo guards had desecrated the Koran in order to rattle
source, a "senior U.S. government official," had originally
told Newsweek investigative reporter Michael Isikoff that
he had read the account in a forthcoming report by the U.S. Southern
Command (SouthCom) on the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo.
Newsweek cited the incident as one of a large number of already
reported abuses many confirmed by photos designed
to humiliate and provoke detainees.
former detainees and their lawyers had reported similar toilet-flushing
incidents in the past, the brief mention in Newsweek apparently
lent the story greater credibility, setting off anti-U.S. protests
from North Africa to Indonesia.
insisted that the SouthCom probe cited in the Newsweek story
never looked at charges of Koran desecration and thus, in the words
of another spokesman, was "demonstrably false." He did
not address the fact that the story had been submitted in advance
by Newsweek to another senior Pentagon official who did not
object to the controversial allegation.
the face of the violence, Pentagon outrage, and the source's admission
that he was now unsure about where he had read of the toilet-flushing
incident, however, Newsweek expressed regret for the violence
apology, the latest in a series of media mea culpas that has seen
a sharp plunge in the credibility of mainstream press outlets over
the past year, according to recent opinion polls, was front-page
news in most of the nation's newspapers Monday, although Newsweek
initially declined to retract the story.
not retracting anything. We don't know for certain what we got wrong,"
Newsweek's editor, Mark Whitaker, told the New York Times
in an explanation that seemed only to fuel the administration's
report has had serious consequences," White House spokesman
Scott McClellan told reporters. "People have lost their lives.
The image of the United States has been damaged abroad."
under pressure, Newsweek finally issued a broader, although
still somewhat ambiguous, retraction Monday evening. "Based
on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an
internal military investigation had uncovered Qumran abuse at Guantanamo
Bay," said Whitaker, leaving open the possibility that Newsweek's
source had indeed read about the incident in another document.
the administration claimed vindication over the latest retraction,
it has yet to comment on the London Times story, in part
because no member of the White House press corps has bothered to
ask about it.
far, in fact, the only request for a reaction has come in the form
of a letter sent last week by 89 Democratic lawmakers, another development
that has received virtually no press attention.
the disclosure is accurate," noted the letter authored by Representative
John Conyers of the state of Michigan, "it raises troubling
new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war as
well as the integrity of our own administration."
the minutes of the meeting on which the London Times story
was based make it clear not only that Bush had already decided to
go to war, but that the main justifications it would use for doing
so were bogus.
case was thin," according to the minutes, which were finally
published for the first time in the U.S. Monday by the small-circulation
New York Review of Books. "Saddam was not threatening
his neighbors, and his WMD [weapons of mass destruction] capacity
was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran."
the U.S. media, only the New York Times and the Knight Ridder
wire service reported the news of the Blair minutes before last
week, when the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post,
under pressure from bloggers and media watchdogs, published stories
about it, albeit on their inside pages.
wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the
conjunction of terrorism and WMD," the most explosive part
of the minutes now cited by Bush critics as the "smoking
gun" memo stated. "But the intelligence and the
facts were being fixed around the policy."
the Washington Post's ombudsman, Michael Getler, complained
about the lack of press interest in the story, saying he was "amazed"
that it took his paper two weeks to cover it and that, given its
apparent authenticity and the support it obviously gave to critics'
charges that Bush was determined to go to war as of July 2002 and
that the intelligence was being "fixed" accordingly
an issue that has still not been forthrightly addressed by any of
the commissions chosen by Congress or the Defense Department.
Americans so jaded about the deceptions perpetrated by our own government
to lead us into war in Iraq that we are no longer interested in
fresh and damning evidence of those lies?" asked Joe Conason
in Salon.com. "Or are the editors and producers who oversee
the American news industry simply too timid to report that proof
on the evening broadcasts and front pages?"
all, there are sometimes lethal consequences to publishing or propagating
incorrect or inaccurate information, as Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld
was reflecting Monday afternoon before the final Newsweek
lost their lives. People are dead," he said "People need
to be very careful about what they say, just as they need to be
careful about what they do."
they are not, they become sons of bitches and lose all their credibility,
according to Rumsfeld's spokesman.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service