|Is it just me, or is there something fishy about the Newsweek flubs the Quran story? The recap: Newsweek apologized today for a story in the May 9 issue which quoted "high level," heretofore reliable (the mag says) sources who claimed that U.S. interrogators in Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Quran as part of their strategy to break terror suspect prisoners there. The story claimed that soldiers had thrown copies of the Muslim holy book in the toilet. The story touched off a week of violent riots that have left at least 15 people dead and scores injured. (In the latest twist, some Afghan clerics this weekend threatened holy war if the alleged book defilers were not brought to justice. And not to be outdone, Saudi Arabia on Friday got into the act.)
Needless to say, the Pentagon was pissed about the report, which stoked anti-Americanism in yet another country we're supposed to be newfound friends with. Secretary of State Rice last week tried to defuse the situation, saying in a statement to Congress that disrespect of the Muslim holy book would not be tolerated, and promising a complete investigation.
So the Pentagon investigates, "finds the story to be in error," and suddenly, Newsweek's source backs off his (or her) claim. Egg on Newsweek's face. End of story ... right?
Saturday's Reuters wire had the investigation turning up no evidence of the toilet incidents in logs kept by Gitmo guards. Joint Chiefs Chairman Dick Meyers said an investigation had turned up nothing nefarious. At least nothing more than this:
Myers said the only incident recorded in the prison logs was of a detainee tearing pages from a Quran and using them in an attempt to block a toilet as a protest, and even that incident, he said, was unconfirmed.
"It's a log entry that has to be confirmed," he said. "There are several log entries that show that the Quran may have been moved and detainees became irritated about it, but never an incident where it was thrown in the toilet."
So the Pentagon's position is that if a Quran was thrown in a toilet, whole or in pieces, it was done so by a detainee (purportedly a Muslim).
Newsweek's editor, Mark Whitaker, took the bullet for writers Mike "Blue Dress" Issikoff and John Barry on the Sunday news circuit, and in a story update posted on Newsweek's MSNBC site. According to the wires:
Whitaker wrote that the magazine's information came from "a knowledgeable U.S. government source," and before it published the item, writers Michael Isikoff and John Barry sought comment from two Defense Department officials. One declined to respond, and the other challenged another part of the story but did not dispute the Quran charge, Whitaker said.
But on Friday, a top Pentagon spokesman told the magazine that a review of the military's investigation concluded "it was never meant to look into charges of Quran desecration. The spokesman also said the Pentagon had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them 'not credible.'"
Whitaker added that the magazine's original source later said he could not be sure he read about the alleged Quran incident in the report Newsweek cited, and that it might have been in another document.
"Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we," Whitaker wrote.
So someone int he Defense Department initially let the story stand, yet the department later finds the whole story to be a sham? Not that I feel sorry for Issikoff, who practically dined on Bill Clinton's carcass during Monicagate. But this story, and the Pentagon double-take, is shady.