Howling at the Howler

The Howler Machine may have been trying to prevent Bob Somerby from shooting himself in the foot when it went on the fritz Thursday, preventing the release of his attempted smackdown of The Nation‘s Katrina vanden Heuvel with David Brooks until he forced it into a stress position on Friday.

In his coverage of vanden Heuvel’s appearance to discuss the Newsweek story about abuse of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay on Monday night’s “Hardball” (16 May 2005), Somerby characterizes her defense thusly:

You can defend her statements as “technically accurate.” (Although the May 1 Times report to which she refers is based on another anonymous source, and vanden Heuvel gave that source a slight raise, from “interrogator” to “officer.” For the record, the Times report does not refer to any allegations about Gitmo toilets.) But as we watched, we were struck by how hard vanden Heuvel was emoting. And yes, we thought she was clearly suggesting that the toilet story is “probably true,” although she has no earthly way to know if it actually happened.

Of course, “no earthly way” discounts the numerous detainee reports, presumably because those accounts have no weight. And by Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross had confirmed that it had reported abuses of the Koran (“substantial enough for us to bring to the attention of authorities” according to an ICRC spokesman) from both detainees and military personnel to the Pentagon through 2003, after which the complaints ceased. The ICRC didn’t confirm the toilet story, but it didn’t deny it, either. It’s entirely possible that vanden Heuvel may have had heard about the reports sometime in the past two years.

You hate to argue with Somerby, he does an awful lot of good work, but the next time his system gums up the works, maybe he ought to take a hint and wait another day for a possible revision.