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17 May 2005

Defense Dept. Report, May 17: Newsweek Story, Iraq Operations

Detainee operations in Guantanamo under review, spokesman says

DOD CHECKING MERIT OF PREVIOUS DESECRATION ALLEGATIONS

Even though Newsweek magazine has retracted its story alleging that U.S. interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility flushed pages from the Quran down a toilet, a Defense Department spokesman says the commander of the U.S. Southern Command will determine whether any previous allegations of desecration of the Quran merit investigation.

Lawrence DiRita, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told journalists at the Pentagon May 17 that a colonel on the staff of General Brantz Craddock, commander of U.S. Southern Command, will ascertain whether to attempt to corroborate other similar allegations.

"In trying to establish some veracity into the Newsweek story," DiRita said, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, which is responsible for Guantanamo, "has been doing a review of detainee operations in Guantanamo … to determine is there something … which we should be more focused on."  Such allegations have not been included in any previous investigations into detainee operations, he said, for lack of credibility.

"[W]e've tried to pursue specific, credible allegations carefully, DiRita said, "and we think we've done that.  But nonetheless, in the course of reviewing … the Newsweek piece, we thought it useful to go back and review to be sure.  And that's what's going on right now."

Asked why the retracted story had at first caused such violent reactions in various countries, DiRita said the United States and its coalition partners "face a very determined and willful adversary who will use whatever means available to influence public opinion, including deliberate misstatements of facts or deliberately saying things that are known to be false."  Further, he said, "it takes time to establish the truth, and once a falsehood is out there, people can react to a falsehood in an environment where policies are controversial."

"[W]e know we have a lot of work to do," DiRita said.  "[P]ublic opinion can be altered quickly in an era of 24/7 news coverage; we've talked about this: electronic cameras that are available to everybody; the Internet.  Information can be spread very quickly," he added.  Without question "a lie that has been oft-repeated can get around the world awfully quickly."

NEW METHODS PREDICTED FOR DEALING WITH INSURGENTS IN IRAQ

On another topic, DiRita was asked to comment on a May 16 statement attributed to Iraq's defense minister that Iraqi troops will no longer be able to go into mosques or churches or Shi'ite townhouses in any raids.

There are "other types of security forces," and "other ways to get at insurgents who might be using mosques as cover," DiRita said.

"What the minister has said will need to be factored into the planning, and it'll be factored in appropriately," DiRita continued.  "But I'm confident that the commanders will develop a method of operating that will allow them to go after insurgents where they are.  And if insurgents are threatening Iraqis from mosques, they'll have to work out some kind of an arrangement to take care of that."