Bad Move

Wed May 11, 2005 6:20 PM EDT

In his new book about his experience as a military translator at Guantanamo, Inside the Wire, Erik Saar writes,

My time in Cairo taught me that in the Middle East, for some people, the Crusades might have happened a short ten years ago. The Islamic radicals wanted to see the conflict with Israel and the West as a religious war. In its reaction to 9/11, I hoped the United States wouldn't give them any fodder. We couldn't let them turn the war on terror into a clash of civilizations.

Alas, there is fodder, plenty of it. Reports recently emerged noting that interrogators in Guantanamo were flushing Korans down toilets to break down prisoners, and in response, riots have been breaking out in Afghanistan.

Most disconcertingly, two United Nations guest houses and two international aid offices were targeted in the riots, which has resulted in the UN withdrawing everyone save for it's "essential" staff from Afghanistan. According to some eye-witnesses, the protestors were shouting, "Death to America" as well as anti-Bush and anti-Karzai slogans. A State Department spokesman responded, "Obviously the destruction of any kind of holy book…is something reprehensible and not in keeping with U.S. policies and practices." But it's not "obvious" that the United States actually considers this reprehensible. And it looks as though it is a practice. The Newsweek report noted that interrogators placed Korans on the toilet as a tactic to "rattle" detainees.

This, to put it mildly, sucks. The tense atmosphere has made crucial aid work in Afghanistan that much more difficult. Not to mention that this kind of thing just further endangers American soldiers. And it has put Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai in a position to look bad if he continues to cooperate with the U.S. The allegations also have Pakistan's government up in arms. These two countries are crucial U.S. allies in the war on terror. It would behoove the State Department to issue a formal apology for this affair, and a pledge to thoroughly investigate the tactics being used in Guantanamo. We're never going to win the war on terror if we look like we're fighting a war on Islam.

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