Friday, May 20, 2005

Travling for abuse 

The "fake but accurate" defense in the "Newsweek" controversy continues to roll on. As Kevin Drum notes (hat tip: James Taranto):
By the time this is all over, I suspect the Pentagon is going to be sorry it ever made a fuss over the Newsweek item in the first place. Every reporter in town is now going to start investigating this stuff, and the results are not likely to be pretty. Stay tuned for a fusillade of deeply researched stories about allegations of religious desecration by American troops starting in about a week.
Reuters reports:
In January 2003, the US military issued guidelines to personnel at the base that included the order: "Ensure that the Koran is not placed in offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet or dirty/wet areas."

"The guidelines didn't come out of nowhere. You don't get such orders unless there's some problem, concern or controversy," said a US official who asked not to be named.
(More on the guidelines, which are quite strict, for example prohibiting non-Muslim US personnel from touching Koran, here.)

No, guidelines don't come out of nowhere, but it doesn't mean there has to be a sinister explanation behind them. The US Army has since the beginning granted the detainees the right to their own copy of Koran, but it is quite conceivable that the Army administration did not catch on straight away to just how strict the religious rules concerning handling of Koran are. Maybe the original infraction, which led to guidelines being implemented, amounted to a soldier merely touching the book, which one is not supposed to do without first purifying oneself. Maybe the detainees complained that they had nowhere safe to store their copies (subsequently little nets were given to all detainees so that the book can be placed there and hung from the ceiling to get it as far away as possible above the impure floor).

In any case, even if the guidelines were prompted by instances of purposeful as opposed to innocent mishandling of Koran, the very fact that the guidelines were put in place some two years ago, long before any public controversy over this issue had erupted, shows that accountability mechanisms within the US Army were working very well. That, ultimately, is why the Army deserves respect - not because it is staffed by angels, but because it faces up to its human mistakes. And this, in turn, means that for the past three years the crusading madia has not been unearthing and breaking any new stories, merely airing the dirty laundry of cases already being investigated and in many cases prosecuted by the military authorities.


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