Newsweek retracts, but where are the facts?

Did interrogators really flush the Quran? Did the magazine's article really spark riots?

Topics: War Room,

So Newsweek has now officially “retracted” its report that U.S. sources had confirmed that U.S. investigators had confirmed that U.S. interrogators at Guantánamo Bay had flushed a copy of the Quran down the toilet. That should make the White House happy — although Scott McClellan, who speaks the truth every day in every way, says that it’s only a “good first step” — but what about those of us in the reality-based community? We’re still waiting for McClellan and the truth-before-all crowd for whom he works to answer two questions: Newsweek’s sourcing problems aside, did U.S. interrogators in fact flush a Quran down the toilet? And is the deadly rioting in Afghanistan really the direct result of a short item in an American magazine?

On the first question, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann makes the point as clearly as anyone: Given everything else that’s happened at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, is it really possible that some interrogator hasn’t tossed a Quran into a toilet? “Everybody in the prosecution of the so-called ‘war on terror’ has done something dumb, dating back to the Presidents worst-possible-word-selection (“crusade”) on Sept. 16, 2001,” Olbermann writes. “So why wouldnt some mid-level interrogator stuck in Cuba think it would be a good idea to desecrate a holy book?” Seriously, how could anyone think otherwise? Imagine the conversation: “Hmm, we can waterboard these guys. We can put collars around their necks and make them walk like dogs; we can make them wear panties and let them think we’re smearing menstrual blood on their faces; we can force them to pretend to masturbate for the camera. But no, flushing the Koran, that’s definitely off limits.”

And indeed, as the Newsweek story began to trickle out, some voices on the right shouted loudly that flushing a Quran was exactly the right sort of idea. Under the heading “Dismay at US Koran ‘desecration’ (Have You Flushed a Qur’an Today?),” a gaggle of Freepers piled on with more ideas for desecration: “I would have flushed it one page at a time,” one contributor suggested, “after using the pages thoroughly.” Is the White House comfortable saying that this sort of sentiment never found its way into the mind of a U.S. interrogator — despite the numerous reports that suggest that it did?



And what about the second question? Did the Newsweek report really cause the riots in Afghanistan? That’s the conventional wisdom, peddled hard by McClellan and others in the Bush administration. In the Washington Post this morning, Howard Kurtz says at the top of his piece — without attribution — that the Newsweek story “sparked riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere.” As the story began to bubble over yesterday, we did the same. But as the New York Times reports today, evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship is a little more tenuous than all that. Last week, Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan believed the protests in that country had resulted from developments there, not from a story in Newsweek. “He thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine,” Myers said.

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Api Étoile

    Like little stars.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Calville Blanc

    World's best pie apple. Essential for Tarte Tatin. Has five prominent ribs.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chenango Strawberry

    So pretty. So early. So ephemeral. Tastes like strawberry candy (slightly).

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chestnut Crab

    My personal fave. Ultra-crisp. Graham cracker flavor. Should be famous. Isn't.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    D'Arcy Spice

    High flavored with notes of blood orange and allspice. Very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Esopus Spitzenberg

    Jefferson's favorite. The best all-purpose American apple.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Granite Beauty

    New Hampshire's native son has a grizzled appearance and a strangely addictive curry flavor. Very, very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hewes Crab

    Makes the best hard cider in America. Soon to be famous.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hidden Rose

    Freak seedling found in an Oregon field in the '60s has pink flesh and a fragrant strawberry snap. Makes a killer rose cider.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Knobbed Russet

    Freak city.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Newtown Pippin

    Ben Franklin's favorite. Queen Victoria's favorite. Only apple native to NYC.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Pitmaston Pineapple

    Really does taste like pineapple.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>