Wednesday, May 27, 2009

When Will The New York Times Stop Believing The Pentagon?

The so-called newspaper of record – and Judith Miller and Jayson Blair – did it again.

Someone at the Pentagon leaked a report about how many former Guantanamo detainees were released only to become active in terrorist activities. Citing the study, the New York Times warned front page readers on Tuesday that fully one-in-seven former detainee’s “reengaged” with al Quaeda, Taliban or other Jihadi groups after being released. That’s a scary 14%

Just one problem: It's not true.

Despite a constantly and wildly fluctuating number of passengers the DoD claims boarded the Gitmo-To-Terrorist express over the years, the Times’ breathless story not only takes the Pentagon at its word, it doesn’t do even basic fact checking. No critical assessment of the report appears in the original Times article:
• The Pentagon news release – and the original Times’ story – uses the term “reengaged” to indicate released detainees were terrorists before being captured. Yet none of the 530 released detainees were ever even hauled before a Gitmo kangaroo court so there’s no way of knowing whether they were “engaged” with terrorism before their arrest.
• The Pentagon report never mentions what any of the 74 alleged terrorists were doing before being disappeared into Bush’s gulag. In reality, many were butchers, bakers and candle stick makers who got sold to the US by bounty seekers, disgruntled lovers, angry relatives, business rivals, warlords extracting revenge for some real or imagined slight, criminal gangs and corrupt Pakistani police officers.
• While the DoD report includes in its survey men who are “suspected” of becoming terrorists, it gives no details on why they are suspected of becoming fighters, suicide bombers or plotters after their release.
• Former Colin Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson maintains that countless previously apolitical prisoners became radicalised while at Gitmo, having been swept up in Afghanistan and Pakistan, tortured and held on vague charges – often for years.

What happened to the once-irrefutable, indisputable and indispensable Times?

Starting with happily getting its knee tickled over WMDs during the run-up to the 2003 invasion and continuing through refusing to call the 2005-06 violence in Iraq either a “civil war” or “ethnic cleansing” involving Sunni’s and Shiites all the way to complicity in Cheney's plot to out Valerie Plame, not seriously reporting on what Wall St. was doing in the prelude to the global financial collapse and this week’s embarrassing revelation that former FBI director L. Patrick Gray gave a Times reporter the Watergate story long before Woodstein began unravelling the scandal but the newspaper didn’t think it worth covering, the paper became a disgrace.

The New York Times has become its nickname: The grey lady. Now withering, tottering and nearly senile, she still insists on being called Le Grande Dame of journalism. Perhaps this is what happens to une femme d’un certain age.

My apologies to The Nation’s ad slogan, but where is that liberal media bias that the right always accuses the Times of practicing?

When Nerds And Greasers Grow Up

When my Minneapolis high school class graduated about 100 lifetimes ago, a kid everyone called "Froggy" used the gift money given to him by relatives to buy and restore a Model T Ford. This didn't surprise anyone: Froggy was sort of a cleaned-up greaser anyway – he ended up in technology, which is simply an updated, more lucrative, version of being a greaser – so while many of us shook our head at his odd hobby, we weren't totally surprised.

Turns out that he not only kept and maintained the car over the years, he is joining 50 other Model T owners this summer to drive from New York to Seattle to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first cross-country Model T endurance race sponsored by Robert Guggenheim, then an obscenely wealthy industrialist and now of art museum fame. Yes, the roads are better today but the route will be identical. The group will avoid the interstate except in parts of North Dakota and Montana where the original highways have disappeared entirely.

It'll take roughly six week to cross the country – every four days they stop for rest and repairs – which is how Froggy will spend his summer vacation.

I think the first two or three days will be a lot of fun.

Then, as the group wakes up in, oh, maybe Montclair NJ on the fourth morning – about 40 miles from the starting point in Times Square – it'll dawn on everyone that they have another five-plus weeks of this hot, sweaty, bone-shaking ride and wonder what seemed so appealing about the drive when they signed up.

For those who’ve been reading me for a while, you’ll recall that my high school – now defunct but at the time run by the University of Minnesota – attracted many overly bright nerds and characters. Our class included a lot of weird, sometimes deeply disturbed, children of academics, the guy who went on to found the Utne Reader, a son of Minneapolis' mayor who became a blues musician backing up Bob Dylan for many years, and one of FDR's grandsons whose ambition in life was to own a small town gas station.

Add this information to what I’ve written about being raised by my specific set of parents and sister, and you can see why I ended up as batty as I am. Totally starkers, as the Brits say. Mad as a tick.