Monday, May 16, 2005

School's Out

I was helping my daughter study for her 7th grade final exams last night, trying to explain the three branches of government in a way she'd understand. The legislative, I said, passes the laws, and the executive executes them. But that was abstract, so I said it was the executive who arrested you if you broke a law, and told the judge why you should be in jail. But the judge, I said, decides whether or not you go to jail and how long you stay there.

And all the while, Gitmo was screaming in the back of my head, complicating things once more.

So this morning, Gitmo is still complicating things. Newsweek and the retraction that isn't leads even NPR. But what news of this apology penetrated my sleep addled brain, and what Newsweek actually said are, "Surprise!," two different things. While the headlines sound like "Newsweek screwed the pooch!," here's a slightly different tale from the NYT this morning:
In its article published today, the magazine said that although the reference to the Koran was a side element in an article, it was worth printing because it had come from an American government official. Other news organizations had written that American guards had desecrated the Koran, Newsweek said, but those reports were based on testimony from former detainees who had been released from Guantánamo.
The Pentagon's outrage, in other words, is as credible as that of a shamed whore.

And, as Juan Cole points out, the issue isn't about the credibility of the story. The real issue is: why are there still prisoners in Gitmo? He comes up with a very credible, and very frightening, answer:
"So many have tried to commit now they all must have some serious psychological problems. This is without a doubt torture. Premeditated, planned....a fine lot of criminals we have in charge of the USA these days. Gitmo is so Orwellian--so Room 101. They are playing on the deepest feelings and fears."

This informed former officer has suggested the real reason for which some in the Pentagon are so angry about the Newsweek story. It may well so focus international outrage on Guantanamo that Rumsfeld will lose his little psych lab.
What I tell my daughter about the balance of powers will have to remain a matter of intent and theory, not reality. But I'm thinking this is why Jesus condmened those who pray in public and make a great show of their piety. It's a wonderful cover for preying on widows and their families. (Luke 20:46) And frankly, all of us with any power whatsoever would rather pay tithe in mint and dill and cummin, rather than in the weightier demands of the law: justice, mercy, and good faith. (Matthew 23:23). But that's no reason to stop trying to do what the Lord requires of us (I speak to believers here); or to continue to work for justice, which brings peace.

Update: Yes, this stuff is all over the Web, and really not that hard to locate. When blogs come into their own, the propaganda that is starting to flow around the Newsweek "apology" will hopefully be nipped in the bud. In the meantime, we can rely on the report from Human Rights Watch:
Detainees also complained about the interference with their ability to pray and the lack of respect given to their religion. For example, the British detainees state that they were never given prayer mats and initially were not provided Korans. They also complained that when the Korans were provided, the guards “would kick the Koran, throw it into the toilet and generally disrespect it."
And Arthur Silber is right: it is about censorship. Which will not only work to "silence" the "bad news" about Iraq and Afghanistan, but to distract from the question: why, exactly, haven't we given the prisoners in Gitmo at least the hearings ordered by the Supreme Court? Why do we still have prisoners there? Don't ask, and we won't tell. Look, over there! Newsweek apologized! Let's picket them!

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