Ring Around the Coercion

As we all know, Newsweek magazine recently rehashed an oft repeated report involving American interrogators at Guantanomo Bay using religious coercion, in this case flushing a copy of the Koran down a toilet. According to the magazine, the action was a way of trying to provoke detainees into talking. Love that word "detainees." Sounds so pastoral.

"Uncle Achmed, you've missed seven years of my birthday parties."

"I was detained."

After hearing about the article, mobs in Pakistan and Afghanistan erupted into violent anti- American protests. And not your normal average everyday regularly scheduled anti-American mob protests either. At least 17 people have died and many others were severely wounded. And no, I have no idea how they managed to get their hands on the latest Newsweek. My subscription issue usually doesn't show up until a couple weeks later. For instance, did you know Pope John Paul II just died?

Now, even though it doth protest too much, the magazine is backing down like a badly beaten mule at cliff's edge. Mark Whitaker, Newsweek editor said, "We're not retracting anything. We don't know for certain what we got wrong." Doesn't that also mean you don't know what you got right? Their purported source, a senior U.S. government official, who for some unknown reason wants to remain nameless, is not sure whether his story is true. Newsweek says HE'S not sure if HIS story is true.

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Back up here. This guy thinks maybe he made a mistake. Now, he thinks? Post-mob rioting, he thinks? I'm thinking, this guy wasn't thinking. Then of course the White House decides to throw their lily white hands into the mix and is blaming Newsweek for the deaths in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The White House. Blaming somebody for deaths because they got some facts wrong. Apparently, thinking, is not as high on their "things to do" list as irony.

Predictably, Newsweek retracted the article, citing the source's confusion, and Muslims claim pressure was applied to make this guy say he might have made a mistake. In fact, so much pressure was applied so fast, Bill Frist may want to make sure his "nuclear option" is in the same drawer where he left it.

The ludicrous part is the White House blaming Newsweek. First off, the magazine tried to vet the article with the Pentagon; second, it was just a tiny three paragraph spread in the Periscope section; not to mention articles alleging similar activities by U.S. interrogators had been printed about a hundred zillion times since the war started. I guess Bush is worried this incident might harm U.S.-Islam relations. Damn, just when things were going so well.

Neither is Newsweek blameless. How do you quote an anonymous source who may or may not have seen something about something else in a report somewhere or maybe it was jotted on the back of a grocery list or glimpsed behind the 24 Nautilus ad on a coffee shop bulletin board or perhaps it was all just a dream? Next time, before instigating worldwide riots, you might want to nail down some corroboration.

I'm sure you're blissfully unaware of this, but when it comes to the desecration of the Koran, you could say Muslims have a tendency to become a bit temperamental. You could also say a cooler full of blended margaritas makes an interesting driving companion and muddy golf cleats are lousy crib mobiles. And if anybody has any doubts, you might want to give Salman Rushdie a call.

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