| A girl holds a copy of the Quran at a protest in Jakarta. (AFP)
New York, May 17: Newsweek issued a formal retraction yesterday of the flawed story that sparked deadly riots in Afghanistan and other countries, after the magazine came under increasingly sharp criticism from White House, state department and Pentagon officials.
The magazine’s statement retracted its charge that US military investigators had confirmed that an American interrogator at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had flushed a copy of the Quran down a toilet.
Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker said he thought the magazine had already “retracted what we think we may have gotten wrong” in an editor’s note published on Sunday and in media interviews. “We’ve called it an error,” he said.
But, he said: “It became clear people weren’t quite hearing that and were getting hung up” on the semantics. The May 1 item triggered violent protests last week in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and other countries, in which at least 16 people were killed.
The damage-control efforts by Newsweek followed criticism by White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who called it “puzzling” that Newsweek, in his view, had “stopped short of a retraction.”
“That story has damaged the image of the US abroad and damaged the credibility of the media at home,” McClellan said in an interview. He said that Americans, including President Bush, “share in the outrage that this report was published in the first place.”
Whitaker said in the interview that Newsweek is “still trying to ascertain” whether there is any evidence that such a Quran incident took place, as some detainees have alleged. Last year, four former British detainees charged in a lawsuit that Guantanamo guards not only beat and stripped them but also threw prisoners’ Qurans into a toilet.
Newsweek, however, had alleged that the US Southern Command had confirmed that an interrogator defiled the sacred Muslim text.
Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said the story has “done a lot of harm” to US efforts to reach out to the Muslim world. She told journalists that “it’s appalling that this story got out there... The sad thing was that there was a lot of anger that got stirred by a story that was not very well founded.”