Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Image War over US Detainees ; Debate over the Word 'Gulag' and Treatment of the Koran in US Detention Facilities Symbolizes a Broader Challenge for US

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Image War over US Detainees ; Debate over the Word 'Gulag' and Treatment of the Koran in US Detention Facilities Symbolizes a Broader Challenge for US

Article excerpt

The Bush administration appears to have opened a whole new front in its war on terror: a forceful, full-scale defense of the morality of its detention-camp policies.

First came harsh criticism of Newsweek magazine for its since- retracted charge of Koran abuse at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. More recently top officials have pushed back - hard - against Amnesty International's use of "gulag" to describe Guantanamo's conditions.

The intensity and coordination of administration remarks on this issue may reflect a belated recognition of the stakes involved. Rightly or not, to much of the world the abuse of prisoners in US custody may now be emblematic of American foreign policy as a whole.

Problems at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere "raise profoundly the US valuation on justice," says George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In its latest attempt to minimize the impact of revelations about detention conditions, Bush officials over the weekend played down a new military report on mishandling of the Koran at Guantanamo.

The report, released June 3, detailed five incidents during which the Islamic holy book was either kicked, stepped on, or soaked in water.

The military said that the incidents were unusual, considering that interrogators have conducted over 28,000 interviews at the prison, and that official policy emphasizes sensitivity towards detainees' religious faith.

On Saturday, White House officials reiterated this theme.

"There were three times as many confirmed incidents of [Koran] abuse by detainees, a number of which were far worse than the few isolated incidents of mishandling by a few individuals that violated military policies and practices," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

McClellan blamed the press for emphasizing a few "isolated incidents" at the prison. This was only the most recent blast against the media. Last month, the White House went so far as to ask Newsweek to help repair the damage to America's image following its unconfirmed report that a Koran had been flushed down a Guantanamo toilet.

Yet it is Amnesty International for which the administration has reserved its most forceful complaints on the subject.

In releasing its annual report on human rights around the world last week, the group's London head charged that Guantanamo has become "the gulag of our times."

President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took turns bashing this characterization. Clearly, the administration as a whole had decided that the comparison of US practices with those of the totalitarian Soviet Union was something it could not allow to pass unchallenged.

"I can't imagine anyone who has any understanding of what a gulag is . …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.