Date registered: Sep 2004
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Location: Inside my head
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RE: Why fact-checking is important
Newsweek Retracts Report About Koran Desecration (Update2)
May 16 (Bloomberg) -- Newsweek magazine today retracted a report it published earlier this month that sparked riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere, leaving at least 16 people dead.
``Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Koran abuse at Guantanamo Bay,'' Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker said in an e-mailed statement.
The retraction followed denunciations of the Newsweek report by Bush administration officials. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan called Whitaker's statement ``a good first step.''
``We encourage Newsweek to now work diligently to undue the damage that can be undone,'' McClellan said.
In its May 9 issue, the magazine cited an unnamed U.S. government official as saying investigators found evidence that U.S. guards at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center desecrated the Koran, including an incident in which the Muslim holy book was flushed down a toilet, in order to provoke detainees into talking.
Local Muslim leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan seized on the article and called for anti-U.S. demonstrations. Over a four- day period last week at least 16 people died, a United Nations compound in Afghanistan was attacked and crowds burned American flags and effigies of U.S. president George W. Bush.
The magazine reported yesterday that its source for the story subsequently said he could not be sure the information was in the official results of the investigation. In a column, Whitaker wrote, ``We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst.''
McClellan said before Newsweek's retraction that the article contributed to deaths, damaged the image of the U.S. and fell short of journalistic standards.
``This report has had serious consequences,'' McClellan said today in West Point, Virginia, where the president was giving a speech. ``It has caused damage to the image of the United States abroad and people have lost their lives.''
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. diplomats worldwide were attempting to counter the effect of the Newsweek story by giving interviews to Arab and South Asian media. ``We have made clear, I think, that there is the utmost respect for religion of the prisoners,'' Boucher said.
Officials at the U.S. military's Southern Command, who already were investigating the treatment of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay facility, opened another investigation into the allegations contained in the Newsweek report.
``We can't find anything to substantiate the allegation,'' Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said today at the U.S. Capitol.
The Guantanamo Bay center holds prisoners captured during the war in Afghanistan, begun by the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks to overthrow the Taliban regime that had harbored Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
The Southern Command, which oversees Guantanamo Bay as well as military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, announced in January it was investigating interrogation techniques at the facility after FBI agents reported abuses at the prison. Abuse allegations also have been leveled by human rights groups such as the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and by former detainees.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Brendan Murray in Washington at email@example.com