The Newsweek debacle is still paying dividends, but perhaps not in the way the White House intended. While revelations of new abuses continue to surface, it looks as though Gitmo’s days may be numbered, as Republican lawmakers begin to question the value of keeping it open. You can tell the political ground has shifted when you find Rumsfeld laying the groundwork for the demise of Gitmo, saying that the United States would rather have detainees taken back by their home countries (this could raise complications if it leads to further extraordinary renditions, but it’s nice to see that the administration is finally beginning to realize that you can’t indefinitely hold people without charge or legal recourse in this country, even in time of war).
The same factors that made the Koran-flushing story so explosive abroad are present in the more recent stories: crimes perpetrated by a powerful actor in an atmosphere of impunity. But the domestic dynamic was different before the Newsweek story—the public was shocked by Abu Ghraib, but accepted the administration’s lame explanations, and went about its business. With its overreaction to the Newsweek incident, the White House essentially dared the press to shine its investigative light into issues of prisoner abuse. When an obscure news item makes front-page headlines (thanks in part to conservative uproar in the blogosphere), that is a good signal to the press that it’s covering the right issue, or at least one that will make scads of money. The White House, as is so often the case where the cover-up surpasses the original misdeed, fanned the flames of controversy by pretending nothing was wrong.