Newsweek Retracts Account of Koran Abuse by U.S. Military
Newsweek has formally retracted its report that American soldiers flushed a Koran down a toilet to induce prisoners at GuantÃƒ¡namo to talk. In fact, the documentary evidence indicates just the opposite: an almost absurd level of deference given to the Muslim holy book to avoid offense.
Newsweek formally retracted a recent report today that said the Koran had been desecrated by American guards at GuantÃƒ¡namo Bay, Cuba, an article linked to riots in Pakistan and Afghanistan that led to the deaths of at least 17 people. Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Koran abuse at GuantÃƒ¡namo Bay,” Newsweek’s editor, Mark Whitaker, said in a one-sentence statement issued by the magazine late this afternoon.
Mr. Whitaker’s statement went further than the apology he issued on Sunday, in which he expressed doubts about information that had been provided by a “senior government official” whom the magazine did not identify, as well as regrets over the loss of life linked to the report.
Throughout the day today, the White House, the State Department and other critics of the Newsweek report, a short article in the May 9 issue, assailed the magazine for not issuing a retraction despite acknowledging that the official had recently expressed doubt about his own knowledge of the accusation against the guards. “It’s appalling, really, that an article that was unfounded to begin with has caused so much harm, including loss of life,” the State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said at a briefing in Washington.
“One would expect, as the facts come out of how this story was written – one would, in fact, expect more than the kind of correction we’ve seen so far,” he said. “But I think it’s very clear to us nonetheless that the effects around the world have been very bad.”
Robin Wright reports, in some detail, how far U.S. military personnel were to go in showing respect for the Koran:
U.S. Long Had Memo on Handling of Koran (WaPo, A3)
More than two years ago, the Pentagon issued detailed rules for handling the Koran at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, requiring U.S. personnel to ensure that the holy book is not placed in “offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet, or dirty/wet areas.” The three-page memorandum, dated Jan. 19, 2003, says that only Muslim chaplains and Muslim interpreters can handle the holy book, and only after putting on clean gloves in full view of detainees.
The detailed rules require U.S. Muslim personnel to use both hands when touching the Koran to signal “respect and reverence,” and specify that the right hand be the primary one used to manipulate any part of the book “due to cultural associations with the left hand.” The Koran should be treated like a “fragile piece of delicate art,” it says.
The memo, written a year after the first detainees were brought to Guantanamo from Afghanistan, reflects what U.S. officials said was a specific policy on handling the Koran, one of the most sensitive issues to Muslims. The Pentagon does not have a similar policy regarding any other major religious book and takes “extra precautions” on the Muslim holy book, officials said.
“They’re not supposed to in any way disrespect or desecrate the Koran, and there are a very specific set of rules the military has on handling the Koran,” State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said yesterday. “We made it clear that our practices and our policies are completely different” from allegations in a Newsweek article that the magazine formally retracted yesterday. The Newsweek report said that U.S. military investigators had confirmed that a U.S. interrogator at Guantanamo had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet.
The Pentagon memo, among other directives, barred military police from touching the Koran. If a copy of the book was to be moved from a cell, the memo said, it must be placed on a “clean, dry detainee towel” and then wrapped without turning it over at any time. Muslim chaplains must then ensure that it is not placed in any offensive area while transported.
A smart policy. Unfortunately, it has been undermined by the shoddy work of Newsweek, which was so eager to run a story damaging America’s reputation to bother to perform due dilligence.
Pakistan dismissed on Tuesday as inadequate an apology and retraction by the Newsweek magazine of a report that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Koran.
The report in the magazine’s May 9 issue sparked protests across the Muslim world, from Afghanistan, where 16 people were killed and more than 100 injured, to Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Gaza.
“The apology and retraction are not enough,” Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told Reuters.
“They should understand the sentiments of Muslims and think 101 times before publishing news which hurt feelings of Muslims.”