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Short Tales from Bizarro
"I met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns, and to give him maps the better to target those guns." --George Galloway, Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, 05/17/05 You know things have gone more than a bit around the bend when it takes a British MP with a hard Scottish brogue to throw a little truth against the walls of the U.S. Senate chamber to see what will stick.
George Galloway, accused of profiteering in the UN oil-for-food scandal, sat before Senators Coleman and Levin on Tuesday and raked America's Iraq invasion slowly and deliberately over the coals. "I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction," said Galloway. "I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning. Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong, and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies."
Coleman and Levin, and anyone else listening in, must have felt like they were receiving a tongue-lashing from an angry Sean Connery. The fact that Galloway's outraged testimony went out live over the airwaves on most of the 24-hour news channels was likewise an odd twist. The American people actually saw a well-spoken contrary opinion broadcast into their homes on Tuesday, a rare event, and then watched as the talking heads scrambled to spin this square peg back into its round hole.
News about the news has been all the rage of late. In the frying pan this time around is Newsweek, which published a report recently from investigative journalist Michael Isikoff about American military interrogators at Guantanamo flushing a Koran down the toilet as a means to wring information out of Muslim prisoners. The story cited an anonymous source whose credibility and information turned out to be less than solid. The White House blamed Newsweek and this story for igniting riots in Afghanistan that killed 15 people.
While it is unfortunate that Newsweek allowed itself to be undermined by the always-dangerous 'anonymous source,' the White House reaction to this has been amazing in its brazen hypocrisy. The administration has said, with solemn grief, that the reputation of the U.S. has suffered irreparable harm in the Muslim world because of Newsweek. Not because we invaded and occupied a Muslim nation based on false information and bald-faced lies. Not because American interrogators designed torture techniques specifically created to denigrate and humiliate anyone of Muslim faith (pantomiming homosexual sex, smearing of menstrual blood on faces, etc.). Not because innocent Iraqis were raped and murdered at Abu Ghraib. Nope, it is all on Newsweek now.
In reacting to the Newsweek story, the White House gravely asserted its abiding respect for the Muslim faith. One wonders exactly where this newfound respect comes from, given the Abu Ghraib/Guantanamo/invasion elephant in the room, and given the other stories that have been out there for a while now. The BBC reported in October of 2004 that Guantanamo prisoners alleged their Korans were thrown into toilets and they were ordered to abandon their faith. Lt. General William Boykin, deputy undersecretary for defense, did a tour of fundamentalist pulpits not long ago and spoke of the clash between Christianity and Islam. "I knew that my God was bigger than his," said Boykin. "I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."
Then, of course, there were those other riots. You know, the ones Jerry Falwell started back in October of 2002. In an edition of '60 Minutes' broadcast on October 6th, Falwell said, "I think Mohammed was a terrorist. I read enough by both Muslims and non-Muslims, to decide that he was a violent man, a man of war." The Muslim world was outraged, and sectarian riots broke out in India that left at least eight people dead. There was no mention by the White House of Falwell destroying America's reputation.
Josh Marshall, in his TalkingPointsMemo blog, asks a pertinent question: Why is the White House involved in this Newsweek thing to begin with? "The White House is not a party at interest here," writes Marshall. "Perhaps the people who have been falsely accused are. Perhaps the Pentagon could demand an apology if the story turns out to be false. Or the Army. Not the White House. They are only involved here in as much as the story is bad for them politically. What I see here is an effort by the White House to set an entirely different standard when it comes to reportage that in any way reflects critically on the White House. That's dangerous and it should be recognized as such."
Perhaps the most deliciously weird aspect of all this is the White House's description of Newsweek's Michael Isikoff as being motivated to write his stories by his hatred of all things Republican and all things Bush. Yet it was Isikoff's relentless pursuit of the Monica Lewinski story back in the go-go 90s that eventually led to the impeachment of President Clinton. One could argue that the impeachment was, above all other factors, the reason Bush was able to keep close enough to Gore in 2000 to let the Supremes do their thing. One wonders if Linda Tripp will be the next Clinton crusader to be thrown under the bus.
Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher frames the essential strangeness of this Newsweek situation perfectly. "This is an administration," writes Mitchell, "that helped sell a war on intelligence often based (as in Newsweek's case) on a single source. Remember 'Curveball'? The mobile biological labs? Now McClellan reminds the media about standards that 'should be met' before running a story. Reporters at today's press briefing pressed McClellan on why he now denounces the idea of articles based on a single source when he routinely demands that they rely on just that in White House backgrounders. Or as one put it, 'it sounds like you're saying your single anonymous sources are okay and everyone else's aren't.'"
"But, really," continues Mitchell, "you almost have to laugh when administration officials get all huffy about the U.S. losing respect in the Muslim world - and the fact that 'people have lost lives' - because of the nugget in Newsweek, when this follows Abu Ghraib, the confirmed deaths of dozens of prisoners in U.S. custody, the outsourcing of torture to Egypt and other countries, not to mention the killing of tens of thousands in Iraq in a war largely based on bogus tips from unreliable sources."
It takes an irate Scot to play the role of the dogged opposition in the U.S. Senate, and it takes a Newsweek article by the guy who got Clinton impeached to ruin America's reputation in a Muslim world reeling from invasions, torture, rape and murder. Yes, you almost have to laugh. It's either that, or start breaking things.