Do Unto Others

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I have a great story I’m going to write–in 18 months. It requires a little up-front work first. . The first thing I have to do is kidnap New York Times reporter Neil Lewis. Just wait for him as he gets out of work in Manhattan one morning, shoot him with a big net gun. Then, right in front of everybody, throw a sack over his head, tie his hands together with brambles, parade him through the streets like an animal, and finally toss him in the back seat of my ’93 Grand Am, parked in the NYPD zone on 43rd. And head north.

"Where–where are you taking me?" pillowcase-head will ask, once I get on the highway.

I pull over and punch him in the balls. That’s where I’m taking you, you fuck.

Finally we get up to a spot in the woods outside Plattsburgh. He’s chained to a tree for a few days, and occasionally I blast him with a hose. I keep lights trained in his eyes around the clock, and finally I set him up in a room with a blanket and a mattress. There is a yellow arrow on the floor pointing to Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s parking spot so that he can pray.

I keep him there for 18 months. Then I write my story…

Lewis’ cover story last week, "Detainees from the Afghan War Remain in a Legal Limbo in Cuba," was one of the most disgraceful pieces of journalism I’ve ever seen. And I read the New York Post every day. His treatment of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp was journalistically dishonest on almost every level. If intelligent people can read this kind of thing without screeching in terror, this country is in a lot of trouble.

Here’s one of the most amazing passages:

There is some dispute as to the cause of some 25 suicide attempts at the camp and the fact that more than 5 percent of the detainees are being treated with antidepressants.

Capt. Albert Shimkus, the chief medical officer, said in an interview that for the most part, those prisoners arrived already suffering from mental illness. Some outside experts disagree and say depression is a logical consequence of being imprisoned with no certainty about the future.

For this passage alone, Lewis should be fed his own testicles. How can a responsible journalist allow anyone to assert that there can be "disagreement" over the cause of 25 suicide attempts among prisoners who are being held in a permanent stateless limbo, without any rights or any chance at due process, on a rock in the middle of the ocean from which there could never be any escape? And Lewis allows some Army doctor–not exactly an honest medical authority–to claim that the problems were that these people had mental illnesses back when they were free, and not stuck in a square metal cell to shit in a hole in the floor for all eternity?

People forget that reporters have choices when it comes to stuff like this. When an interview subject feeds you an obvious line of crap, you can either leave it out or point out that it’s a line of crap. In fact, it’s your duty to do so, to point out that a spokesman for the government has tried to put a line of crap over on the people’s press. But not according to the New York Times. They see it as their duty to put one over on you.

Then there is this incredible section:

"Privileges like exercise time and reading material are used as disciplinary tools," said Command Sgt. Maj. John Vannatta, the superintendent, a reservist who in civilian life is a superintendent of an Indiana state penitentiary.

"The detainees are served at least two hot meals a day and some are rewarded with treats like ice cream and dates when they cooperate," said Chief Warrant Officer James Kluck, the food service director, who in civilian life looks after the food needs of a dormitory at the University of Michigan.

Consider the thought process involved in the writing of this passage. Why include that last fact about the University of Michigan? Writing-wise, what illustrative value does that fact have? None, other than to create the impression that Camp Delta is somehow like a dorm at the University of Michigan.

And then there is that other word used here: "treats." This is a word that should be banned absolutely from this subject. Nothing is a "treat" in indefinite detention. Lewis’ piece is filled with these types of details, designed to show the comfort and luxury at the camp: the electric-ventilated cells, the high-level military care, the antidepressants given out to those not responding well to confinement, the "lilting Muslim call to prayer" played over the loudspeakers, the bagels and the blue jeans, the "new copies of the Koran" and the additional 13 pounds that, on average, the prisoners have gained.

But along with the stories of those perks, Lewis adds nothing to tell the other side. As for the "new copies of the Koran": numerous reports, including one in the Times-owned Boston Globe, describe how released Guantanamo inmates have said that on occasion, guards rounded up their copies of the Koran, threw them in a pile and sat on them, as a sort of amusing joke. And the "lilting Muslim call to prayer"? Those same reports indicate that guards frequently dragged chains on the ground outside cells during prayers.

Lewis writes, "There have been no credible reports of abuse or substantial complaints about the physical conditions of the detainees." Again, that should be news to the Times sister paper, the Globe, which apparently was not credible when it reported that a prisoner who protested against the dragging chains was allegedly beaten until his arm was broken.

But most stunning of all in Lewis’ report was the absence of the hot Guantanamo news that broke last week: the fact that there are children at the camp. On April 22, just two days before the Lewis article came out, the U.S. military, in the form of spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, admitted that there was an undisclosed number of children age 16 and younger at the camp who had been detained as "enemy combatants." The admission came in response to an Australian tv report. Johnson would not say how many were there or how young the youngest was, but he did say that some had been held for more than a year.

That’s front-page news–children in stateless military detention without lawyers and without rights. Our paper of record whiffed on it–and there’s no question it did it on purpose. Papers all over Europe had that one in print by Wednesday, April 23. The Times only misses what it wants to miss.

Which brings me back to the cabin outside Plattsburgh. Lewis has been there 18 months, say. Occasionally I go into his room and offer him a Snickers bar if he tells me what chickenporn sites Tom Friedman accesses at work. He shits in a hole in the floor, but gets to listen to all the classic rock he wants. And every time he asks when he’s getting out, I punch him in the nuts.

Back in New York, some reporter asks me how Neil is doing up there. I say–"Great! He looks like a million bucks!" The reporter writes in his notebook: "Like…a…million …bucks." And he publishes that? Can reporters be disbarred?

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