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Bush administration accused of hypocrisy over Newsweek, Koran allegations

Associated Press | May 22, 2005

The US government, which has called Newsweek magazine to account over a discredited article alleging US soldiers desecrated the Koran at Guantanamo Bay military base, should try and clean up its own act, some politicians and US commentators say.

Critics remind the US administration of how it used imprecise information itself to justify the war in Iraq, and point out what they see as unconvincing inquiries into other alleged misdeeds at Guantanamo and at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, where serious abuses of prisoners occurred last year.

The State Department called the Newsweek article, which set off deadly violence, "appalling," and liberally mentioned the "very major problem" caused to Washington in the Muslim world. After Newsweek said it was retracting the story, the White House urged it to do something more.

Other US officials also referred to the story as "irresponsible" and "demonstrably false."

The article sparked anti-US protests in Afghanistan and other countries which left at least 14 people dead.


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Citing an unidentified US official, the article had claimed a probe into allegations of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo found interrogators had thrown a Koran into a toilet to upset Muslim prisoners.

Some have criticized the Bush administration for trying to make political hay with the retraction, and suggest the administration has no good reason to be acting so virtuous.

"The pot is calling the kettle black," said Pete Stark, a Democratic Representative from California.

"The administration is chastising Newsweek magazine for a story containing a fact that turned out to be false. This is the same administration that lied to the Congress, the United Nations and the American people by fabricating reasons to send us to war."

"For the White House and the Pentagon to come down on Newsweek for making a mistake is the height of hypocrisy," wrote Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.

"Where, just for starters, is the retraction from (US Vice President) Dick Cheney, who said that Iraq had 'reconstituted' its nuclear weapon program?"

For its part, New York-based Human Rights Watch warned that the row over the discredited story was serving to overshadow genuine incidents of religious humiliation.

Use of anonymous sources -- called firmly into question now after the Newsweek article -- is, meanwhile, still a practice broadly used by the Bush administration -- when it plays to the administration's interests.

US officials call media conferences all the time, providing sources -- often high ranking officials -- with the proviso their names are not to be mentioned.

The practice, journalists say, encourages the use of anonymous sources in articles.

The White House allowed innumerable anonymous officials to speak up for going to war against Saddam Hussein using the argument the ousted dictator had weapons of mass destruction.

"There is already a debate about journalistic practices, including the use of anonymous sources, and these things are worth discussing, especially at a time of war, national insecurity, ... extreme government secrecy, a time when aggressive news reporting is critical," The New York Times said in an editorial.

But, "it is offensive to see the Bush administration use this case for political purposes, and ludicrous for spokesmen for this White House and Defense Department to offer pious declarations about accountability, openness and concern for America's image abroad."


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