Shocked or Suckered?

Ever since Claude Rains, as Captain Renault in the 1943 classic film Casablanca, professed to be "shocked! shocked!" to discover gambling going on at Rick's Place (he then went on to cash in his chips), the line has been a staple of ironists and satirists.

Were it not for the obvious tragedy going on in Afghanistan, the current declarations of outrage coming from the White House would also be regarded with bemused irony. Various administration spokespersons attempted this week to lay the blame for the burnings and riots and deaths and protests against the American presence in Afghanistan on Newsweek magazine. Good luck selling that one, fellas. The facts say otherwise.

Newsweek did report last week, in a short item written by Michael Isikoff, that copies of the Muslim holy book had been flushed down toilets by jailers at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. But the magazine's account was merely the most recent in a series of reports by various news organizations on such incidents. This week, an industrious blogger toted up the number of media allegations over the past three years that Korans were being flushed down toilets at Guantanamo. A partial list: The Denver Post, the Melbourne Herald Sun, The Financial Times of London, USA Today, The New York Daily News, The Independent of London, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, the administration sputters in ex-post-facto indignation and, yes, shock. If they are truly so out of touch with reality that they can blame the bloodshed in Afghanistan on an article in Newsweek, it's little wonder the Taliban is making a comeback. Even that distressing turn of events, in a country this administration has long portrayed as liberated from its brutal former rulers, has until now barely begun to filter through the screen of official deception accepted so docilely by the mainstream media.

How can sentient Americans take this attitude seriously? How can we possibly align ourselves with the offended sensibilities of an administration professing its own innocence in the chaos and bloodshed of the Middle East? Are we to acquiesce in Newsweek's meek acceptance of the role of scapegoat? Absurd!

For that matter, are we really supposed to accept Lynndie England and Sabrina Harman and Charles Graner Jr., the low-level Army grunts who have so far been charged and court-martialed, as the sole persons responsible for the torture and abuse -- also involving public desecrations of Islam -- that took place at Abu Ghraib? That proved too much to accept even for the presiding military judge, who rejected England's guilty plea that she alone, and not higher-ups, was responsible for the abuses.

We remember the pictures of hooded prisoners and forced masturbation and other humiliations at Abu Ghraib. We haven't forgotten the all-too-credible reports that systematic degradation of Islam was a tactic urged upon the custodians of Muslim prisoners.

And, while we understand the embarrassment and contrition on the part of Newsweek and its editors, we refuse to blame the messenger in the case of this latest reported atrocity. We don't feel shocked at anything at all -- except that once again we, and world opinion, are being played for suckers.

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