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World: 'Newsweek' Apologizes For Errors In Koran-Desecration Report

By Golnaz Esfandiari

The magazine "Newsweek" yesterday apologized for errors in a report that said interrogators desecrated the Koran at a U.S. military detention center for suspected terrorists. The U.S. weekly's report caused outrage among Muslims and led to violent demonstrations in several provinces of Afghanistan, resulting in the deaths of at least 15 people. The report was condemned by clerics in several Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The editor of "Newsweek" has extended sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst.

Prague, 16 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Newsweek said yesterday that a recent report it published about the desecration of the Koran at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may have been inaccurate.

The acknowledgment came after several days of violent protests and riots in Afghanistan during which government buildings and offices of aid organizations were ransacked and set on fire. Several people were killed and scores injured in the unrest that erupted in several provinces across the country. The report also sparked protests in Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Gaza Strip.

Dan Klaidman, who is Washington bureau chief of "Newsweek," yesterday expressed regret for the deaths in Afghanistan.

"We feel that we did our due diligence but sometimes mistakes get made and we think that, in this case, that is what happened," Klaidman said.

The brief report published in the weekly's 9 May edition quoted unidentified sources as saying that military investigators probing prisoner abuse at the U.S. detention facility found that interrogators had placed copies of the Koran on toilets and "in at least one case, flushed the holy book down the toilet."

The weekly said in its 23 May edition that the original source of the report -- which it referred to as "a knowledgeable U.S. government source" -- has since said he is uncertain where he initially read about the mishandling of the Koran.

Newsweek says that before publishing the item, reporters Michael Isikoff and John Barry asked two Defense Department officials for comment on the story. One declined to respond, and the other challenged another aspect of the story but did not dispute the Koran charge.

President Hamid Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin told RFE/RL that the "Newsweek" acknowledgment that it may have erred will help ease tensions and bring calm among people.

"We are really angry that the principles of journalism have not been followed correctly and the report they published was apparently not according to the truth. On the one hand, the acceptance of their mistake is right, of course, because it was an important issue and it removes the problem, but it is totally regrettable that the journalistic standard has been [so low] that this very sensitive issue has been dealt with irresponsibly," Ludin said.

"Newsweek" said Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita told the magazine late last week that its original story was incorrect. The Pentagon spokesman said the military investigated other allegations of Koran desecration made by several released detainees, but had not found them credible.

Siamak Heravi is the former chief editor of the Kabul-based daily "Anis" and a media specialist in President Karzai's communications office. He says "Newsweek" should have been more careful in its coverage.

"I am deeply sorry for ['Newsweek'] that it published a news item that caused the deaths of 16 people and the injuring of more than 40 people. 'Newsweek' and other publications in the world should be very careful, because [such] news items can lead to the death of thousands of people in Afghanistan or other places. So, until the they have done complete research and checked the credibility of the news, I think it's better if they do not publish it. And right now I think their apology won't do any good to the families who have lost their children," Heravi said.

Larry Kilman is the communication director of the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, a nongovernmental organization that represents more than 18,000 publications around the world.

"It's a very unfortunate situation that they weren't 100 percent on their sourcing in this because it is an incredibly provocative story and it's unfortunate for 'Newsweek' -- and quite frankly unfortunate for journalism -- if it turns out to be that they did not have the story. I don't think you run with a story like that unless you have it 100 percent," Kilman said.

"Newsweek" says the magazine will continue looking into the charges.

"This was reported very carefully, with great sensitivity and concern, and we'll continue to report on it," Reuters quoted "Newsweek" managing editor Jon Meacham as saying.

Afghan officials have said that "enemies of peace and stability " and outsiders took advantage of people's religious sentiments and outrage over the 'Newsweek' report and instigated the violence. Several foreigners have been reportedly arrested in connection with last week's violence.

Yesterday, President Karzai said that some U.S. military actions in Afghanistan have created resentment among ordinary Afghans that could be contributing to the tension.

The U.S. military in Afghanistan said today that an investigation has been launched into the allegations regarding the defiling of the Koran. Colonel Gary Cheek, who commands U.S.-led troops in eastern Afghanistan, told reporters that the United States will increase its efforts to win the trust and respect of Afghans.

He said: "We will redouble our efforts to communicate with the Afghan people and let them know that we're here for their security and that we're here to help rebuild their country."

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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