Prague, 17 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Yesterday "Newsweek" issued a full retraction of a 9 May story that said that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had tried to "rattle suspects" by placing copies of the Koran on toilets. The report alleged that in one case, a copy of the holy book was flushed down the toilet.
The report led to violent anti-U.S. demonstrations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and several other countries.
"Newsweek" Editor Mark Whitaker said yesterday in an interview with CBS News that he believed Muslim extremists had used the article to "stir up trouble." He expressed sympathy for all those killed.
"We say that we feel terrible," Whitaker said. "I have expressed my sympathy in my editor's note this week. To all of the people, all of the victims of the violence, to the U.S. servicemen and women who were put in harm's way, it is something we feel awful about."
A day earlier, "Newsweek" had announced it might have erred in its story as the source of the report -- an unidentified U.S. government official -- was no longer sure where he read evidence that the mishandling of the Koran had taken place.
The retraction followed heavy criticism by U.S. officials.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said "Newsweek" took a "good first step" by retracting the story. However, pointing to the serious consequences of the report, he added, "It will take work to undo what can be undone."
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also criticized "Newsweek" last night in Washington.
"People lost their lives, people are dead, and that's unfortunate," Rumsfeld said. "People need to be very careful about what they say and...just as people need to be careful about what they do."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the "Newsweek" report as "appalling," saying it has created a major problem for the United States in Islamic countries.
U.S. Secretary of State Rice said yesterday that the alleged desecration is still being investigated but added that she had "no reason to believe that it happened."
Rice said yesterday that the alleged desecration is still being investigated, but added that she had "no reason to believe that it happened."
Last week she said disrespect to the Koran cannot be tolerated.
Today, "The Washington Post" reported that the Pentagon issued detailed rules for handling the Koran at Guantanamo Bay more than two years ago. The newspaper wrote that a memorandum dated 19 January 2003 requires all 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 New York Times" today cited previous reports of desecration of the Koran. In one deposition, Asif Iqbal, a Briton released from the Guantanamo Bay facility in 2004, said that guards "would kick the Koran, throw it in the toilet, and generally disrespect it."
Pentagon officials have said that such allegations are not credible and cannot be substantiated.
On 12 May, General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that investigators had found only one piece of evidence that a Koran had been misused -- and that it was allegedly carried out by an Afghan prisoner, not by an American.
In New Zealand, visiting Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuiri said the retraction of the "Newsweek" story "will definitely help" defuse some of the anger in the Muslim world. But he added that "unfortunately some damage has been done."