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Newsweek Urged To Repair Damage

The White House says Newsweek magazine took a "good first step" by retracting its story that U.S. investigators found evidence interrogators at Guantanamo Bay desecrated the Quran, but it wants the magazine to do more to repair damage caused by the article.

Newsweek on Monday retracted the report in its May 9 issue after officials in the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department criticized its publication and its use of an anonymous source. Protests in Afghanistan, where more than a dozen people died and scores were injured in rioting, and demonstrations elsewhere in the Muslim world were blamed on the article.

The White House also wants Newsweek to explain how it got it wrong, particularly to the Muslim world where even the retraction is not likely to be believed, reports CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Bill Plante.

"The report had real consequences," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday. "People have lost their lives. Our image abroad has been damaged. There are some who are opposed to the United States and what we stand for who have sought to exploit this allegation. It will take work to undo what can be undone."

The Pentagon looked into the allegations initially and found nothing to substantiate them. "They continue to look into it," McClellan said.

The administration worried that the Newsweek story — and the idea that interrogators at the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, tried to make terror suspects talk by desecrating the holy book of Islam — had undercut attempts to demonstrate tolerance and repair the United States' reputation after global criticism over the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

Responding to the White House statements, Newsweek's Washington bureau chief Daniel Klaidman said on CBS News' The Early Show that the magazine will continue to look at how it put the story together and learn from its mistakes.

"We will, of course, go back and look at our procedures. We felt whatever mistakes we made were made in good faith," he told Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler.

Klaidman disputes the notion that the retraction was issued under pressure from the White House and says that there was confusion over an article written on Sunday because it did not use the word "retraction."

"We tried from the beginning to be as transparent as we could," Klaidman said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveling home from Iraq, said, "It's appalling that this story got out there.

"I do think it's done a lot of harm," Rice said. "Of course, 16 people died but it's also done a lot of harm to America's efforts" to demonstrate tolerance and breed goodwill in the Muslim world.

"The sad thing was that there was a lot of anger that got stirred by a story that was not very well founded," Rice said.

U.S. officials did not deny the report when it first appeared.

On Capitol Hill, military leaders were questioned about the Newsweek account after testifying about base closings.

"We've not found any wrongdoing on the part of U.S. service members," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of Joint Chiefs. He said the Pentagon has investigated the claims, but he did not indicate whether the investigation was complete.

"People lost their lives. People are dead," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said. "People need to be very careful about what they say, just as they need to be careful about what they do."

"Have no doubt, our image for a variety of reasons is not good in many parts of the world," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on The Early Show.


"I think we fail to appreciate the volatility of emotions concerning the Muslim religion and in many parts of the world, particularly less developed, we've got to be careful," said McCain told Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm.

In Afghanistan, the government on Tuesday welcomed Newsweek's retraction, but said it was still angry at the magazine for damaging its appeal for long-term international aid.

Newsweek's retraction on Monday was a "positive step" toward clearing up Afghans' concern about the report, which alleged that U.S. interrogators desecrated Islam's holy book at Guantanamo Bay, presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said.

"But at the same time, we feel angered at the way this story has been handled," Ludin said at a news conference.

By triggering last week's protests, the article provided "enemies of Afghanistan" with a chance to foment violence "especially at this stage now that Afghanistan is trying to build long-term strategic partnerships with the rest of the word," Ludin said.

Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker said the magazine decided to publish the short item after hearing from an unnamed U.S. official that a government probe had found evidence a Quran had been flushed down a toilet by interrogators.

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 looked into other charges by detainees that the Quran had been desecrated and found them to be "not credible."

Whitaker said the magazine's original source later said he could not be sure he had read about the alleged Quran incident in the report Newsweek cited and that it might have been in another document.

"Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay," Whitaker said.

Klaidman said on The Early Show that the source had been a reliable source in the past.

"Then we took it to one public affairs person for the southern command who had been conducting this investigation. That official declined to comment. And we actually took the extraordinary length of providing the article to another senior responsible government official, someone who would number a position to know or to find out, and he did not dispute any aspects of the story that we ultimately published," he added.

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