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Lament For A Once-Great Newspaper

By: Ed Koch

The New York Times is special to me. Always has been, always will be. Over the years there were times I was critical of Times editorials, and on a few occasions of its news stories. Yet my day would not be complete if I had not read the Times.

So the criticism of the Times that follows is written in sorrow, not joy, and is intended to help, not harass.

When I read the Times editorial page on June 6, I was deeply disappointed. Why? Because on one day, in the same issue, three of the four Times editorials struck me as mean-spirited, lacking balance and just plain dumb.

The first editorial, entitled “Gitmo: A National Disgrace,” berated President Bush for “ramm[ing] the Military Commission Act of 2000 through Congress to lend a pretense of legality to his detention camp at Guantanamo Bay…”

The language “pretense of legality” is outrageous, considering that the U.S. Supreme Court in an earlier decision advised the Congress that it had the right to create military commissions to deal with “unlawful enemy combatants,” those who don’t wear uniforms on the battlefield and carry concealed weapons. “Lawful combatants (who wear uniforms and carry weapons openly) fall under the Geneva Conventions.”

Pray tell, what is wrong with Congress and the president making that distinction when it comes to trials? Further, hasn’t the military commission proved its fairness by the very fact that it dismissed the cases of the first two defendants brought before it, finding they were not “unlawful enemy combatants.”

Instead of assaulting the military tribunal, shouldn’t the Times have praised its fairness? Of course, but the Times is so blinded by its fury on the Iraq war and its hatred of President Bush that its editorial board can’t think straight on these issues. The Times wants the Guantanamo Bay military prison closed. Isn’t that senseless? Wouldn’t a new prison for these alleged terrorists have to be built to hold them pending their trials?

The military commission and conditions at Guantanamo have been in American courts, with appeals going as high as the U.S. Supreme Court. So far as I know, the president has obeyed every court order on the subject. But nothing will satisfy the Times on the war in Iraq or the continued leadership of President Bush, other than the immediate end of the war and the end of the president’s tenure.

How does the Times explain the fact that a Democrat-controlled Congress has not seen fit to end the military tribunals and the continued existence of Guantanamo Bay prison? Are they all wrong and only the Times editorial board right? The Times simply will not accept that we are at war and millions of Islamic fundamentalists believe it is their religious duty to kill every Hindu, Christian, Jew and other Muslims with whom they disagree on aspects of their shared religion.

The second editorial on June 6was titled “Jail Time For Scooter Libby.” Libby testified before the grand jury that he learned of the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson – a CIA covert officer – from NBC News’s Tim Russert. That was untrue, and Russert testified to that effect. Whether Libby intentionally lied or was, as he stated in his defense at trial, merely forgetful, a trial jury found him guilty. We also learned that it was not he who revealed Plame’s identity to the press, and that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage admitted he gave that information to Robert Novak, the reporter who published it.

(The Times, I’m fairly certain, did not castigate Rudy Giuliani, who testified before a grand jury inquiring into activities of his former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, that he could not remember that his DOI commissioner had warned him that Kerik had ties with a business firm which had mob connections, before he recommended Kerik to President Bush to be considered for Secretary of Homeland Security.)

Libby was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and fined $250,000 for “obstruction of justice, perjury and giving false statements.” The Times is normally careful not to appear shrill in its editorial tone, but it took delight in Libby’s sentence: “The jail sentence and fine imposed on Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, are an appropriate – indeed necessary – punishment for his repeated lies to a grand jury and to FBI agents investigating a possible smear campaign orchestrated by the White House.”

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