Under a tremendous pressure from the White House, the Newsweek finally retracted its story on the desecration of the Qur’an at GuantÃ¡namo prison and apologized for being sloppy in verifying sources. But rather than convincing the world that the interrogators at GuantÃ¡namo are innocent of the charges of abusing Islam’s holy book, the retraction reinforced the perception that US media is toeing the government’s line and that it has become impotent to challenge government’s excesses.
Once again the Bush Administration demonstrated its inability to deal with the excesses of security agencies. Many have hoped that the Administration gets tough with those who violate basic human rights, tarnish the US image, and undermine the moral and political authority the United States.
Many have hoped that the White House and the Pentagon would appoint a neutral fact finding team to investigate the charges, and bring to task individuals implicated in torture, or declare that the charges are false and groundless. Instead, the administration put on its defensive gears and once again decided to dismiss serious charges, placing the blame for the uproar over the published reports on the Qur’an’s desecration on the Newsweek.
The charges of torture and psychological abuse have been told repeatedly in many news reports, including reports that were published in three mainstream newspapers: New York Times, Financial Times, and Denver Post. A report published by the New York Times on May 1, 2005, cites a former American interrogator who corroborated early accounts by several detainees alleging that guards at GuantÃ¡namo had tossed copies of the Qur’an into a pile and stepped on them. The International Red Cross Committee has also confirmed that it has received reports from prisoners in the infamous prison facility who complained against the desecration of the Qur’an long before the Newsweek broke the news.
Evidently, the Bush Administration has not been able to come to grips with the extent to which such actions undermine the credibility of the United States. The United States, which stood prior to 9/11 as the defender of human rights, is seen now guilty of violating human rights in manners similar to those used by the authoritarian regimes it repudiates in its annual report on human rights.
And let us be clear, the image of the United States as a country guilty of human rights violations and of Muslim bashing was not created by the Newsweek account, but emerged as a result of a long list of missteps and abuses. Let us recall the most seroius ones:
In 2001 and 2002, bigotry and intolerance were elevated to a tolerable national discourse. While American Muslim leaders are frequently asked to repudiate extremist Muslim voices, leading evangelicals have been busy bashing Islam and insulting its prophet with impunity. Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson described Islam as "wicked, violent and not of the same god," and called the Prophet of Islam a “terrorist” and “Pedophile,” and were allowed to get away with it. Little has been done to reign in Christian and Jewish extremists.
In November 2002, John Ashcroft, then the US attorney general, got away with similar bigoted remarks when he contended that “Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him,” while “Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you.” Ashcroft never denied that he made the statement, nor did he apologized despite demands by several American Muslim organizations to retract his statement.
In the same year Ashcroft made his remarks, The Department of Justice embarked on a massive detention and deportation of thousands of innocent Muslim immigrants in the name of fighting terrorism. Many of those who were detained were denied visitation even by family members, and were denied representation by lawyers. Denied the due process enshrined in the US constitution, they were eventually deported on minor violations.
In October 2003, Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, was allowed to keep his job after telling church gatherings that the Christian God is “real” and the Muslim is “idol." Secretary Rumsfeld defended Baykin’s bigoted remarks by citing the latter’s freedom of speech.
In December 2003, the military accused Col. James Lee, a dedicated Muslim Chaplain and West Point graduate, of spying, and ordered his incarceration in a maximum security facility, but failed to provide any evidence to back up these serious charges. Chaplain Yee was eventually found innocent of all charges laid against him, including charges of adultery and pornography concocted when the spying charges were withdrawn. The army refused to issue an apology and Lee resigned.
In May 2004, Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim lawyer and former Army officer, was arrested by FBI agents in connection with the Madrid terrorist bombing. The FBI maintained its certainty that Mayfield’s fingerprints matched those found on bags left behind by the terrorists even after Spanish authorities said that the original image of the fingerprint did not match Mayfield’s. He was eventually released after spending two weeks in prison.
In December 2004, the open season on Islam and Muslims by extreme Religious Right pundits reached a new low, when the Washington Times, a leading American newspaper, published an article by Sam Harris, entitled "Mired in a Religious War," that declared Islam the enemy, and openly advocates an all-out war on Islam and Muslims.
In December 2004, 46 American Muslims were fingerprinted, searched and held 6 hours by U.S. border agents upon their return from a religious conference in Canada. The incident is the latest in a series of overzealous ethnic and religious profiling of law-abiding American Muslims in the name of national security.
The above list is far from being complete, but it reveals disturbing pattern and underscores the troubling fact that some public officials in various departments and at the highest levels espouse prejudices toward Islam and Muslims. While the number of the bigots and zealots is still limited, the damage they have done to both American Muslims and the reputation of the United States is tremendous.
It is about time that the Bush Administration becomes proactive in weeding out reckless public servants, takes a firm stance against violations of the civil rights of American Muslims and vigorously investigates such violations, and engaging American Muslim leaders in consultation on ways and means to mend fences with the Muslim World.