Despite the retraction of Newsweek’s report that U.S. soldiers threw a copy of the Quran down the toilet at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, debate is still raging. The mistaken article triggered violent anti-American demonstrations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, resulting in at least 15 deaths. Despite what the Bush administration might like to believe, what gets buried in the pages of Newsweek is not so highly regarded that it would be the sole inspiration for violent riots. These tragic events are not solely Newsweek’s fault, but rather are the culmination of numerous human rights abuses and unwise foreign policy decisions by the United States that have tarnished its reputation abroad.

Given its source, Newsweek did not necessarily err in printing the story. The magazine’s source, a high-ranking Pentagon official, claimed at the time that the Quran incident would be included in a soon-to-be-released official military report. And, while the incident may not be included in the forthcoming report, there is little reason to believe it did not happen. In light of the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison and numerous other reports of human rights violations, the possibility of American interrogators flushing the Quran down the toilet does not seem unlikely. Newsweek’s report unfortunately fits into a disturbing pattern of abuse against imprisoned detainees.

In a New York Times report published May 1, a former American interrogator at Guantanamo Bay gave an account of American guards tossing copies of the Quran into a pile and stepping on them repeatedly. Disturbing reports of religious abuse have been prevalent, ranging from forced shaving of beards to more extreme accounts of detainees being smeared with fake menstrual blood. Coupled with evidence of recurrent physical and emotional abuse, including documented cases of detainees dying from beatings at the hands of their American interrogators, a picture emerges of an environment so lacking in respect for prisoners that Newsweek’s report seems almost mundane

Newsweek should not be discredited for printing the story, nor should this event cause other journalists to back off from investigating U.S. detainee abuse. The media must not be deterred from uncovering stories that may portray the U.S. military in a negative light; this is a crucial time for the press to be aggressive in exposing U.S. human rights violations. In addition, the use of anonymous sources is often crucial in discovering the truth behind military abuses, and journalists must continue to use these sources responsibly despite the negative reputation they have recently garnered.

Newsweek is not at fault for the United States’s deteriorating image on the international stage. Its report, while now believed to be inaccurate, is in line with many other accounts of abuse by U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay and other military prisons. The real issue here has been clouded. It has been confirmed that many other instances of religious and physical abuse have in fact occurred in American military prisons, and this is the matter the White House should be so vigorously attacking — not the media.

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