More tortured logic

Confirmation of Quran desecration at Gitmo prompts The Wall Street Journal's latest apologia on abuses in the war against terrorism.

By Mark Follman
Published June 7, 2005 6:46PM (EDT)

The Pentagon aimed to bury the bad news about Guantanamo after 7 p.m. last Friday, but that didn't stop the editorial page editors of the Wall Street Journal from weighing in on Monday: "So the Pentagon has now released the unhorrifying details of its inquiry into the mishandling of the Koran at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. It found only five cases, including one in which a detainee complained that his Koran had been kicked, and another in which urine from a guard relieving himself accidentally blew into an air vent and onto a Koran below. That's it. With hundreds of different guards watching as many as 600 prisoners and some 28,000 interrogations over three years, that's what the hullabaloo prompted by Newsweek's false report about Koran abuse comes down to."

It would seem the folks at the Journal need a little refresher on how the "hullabaloo" goes well beyond the Newsweek hype and the five cases covered in the latest Pentagon report. It's readily available for them here and here.

Or maybe they don't need one. The "political jihad against Guantanamo," and against the Bush administration's approach to the war on terror in general, they argue, is completely misguided anyway: "The critics have never accepted that the mass murder of civilians by non-uniformed combatants requires special detention or military-justice practices," the paper says.

Presumably that means not only dispensing with legal due process, but beating prisoners to death.

Perhaps in anticipation of being called on their whitewashing of the painful truth, the Journal's editors conclude their case by playing the fear card: "Someone in the administration ought to point out that these measures are designed to prevent the next terror attack -- which, if it ever comes, could prompt a bipartisan crackdown on civil liberties that would make Guantanamo look like summer camp."

The Journal has marched us down this road before. Sure, what follows another major terrorist attack on the U.S. wouldn't be pretty, and the prospect raises some deeply challenging questions about balancing democratic values and national security. We should do whatever we can, with due deliberation, to prevent it from happening. But not by deceiving, and quite possibly destroying ourselves over how we do it.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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