Newsweek’s Victims

The Left’s journalistic jihad against the War on Terror inspired the deaths of 16 Muslims, the injury of at least 100 more, the destruction of numerous Western buildings, and untold hatred for U.S. troops stationed in the Arab world – with a lie.

The May 9 issue of Newsweek vouchsafed that a new report issued by the Southern Command (“SouthCom,” which includes Guantanamo Bay) would reveal that, “in at least one case,” a Gitmo GI attempting to interrogate Muslims “flushed a holy book [Koran] down the toilet.” Leftist writer Michael Isikoff and partner John Barry cited an unnamed “senior U.S. government official” as the source for this tiny paragraph, oddly out of place with the larger story in which it was embedded. However, they did due diligence, Newsweek claims, by trying to verify the story with two subsequent officials who, respectively, gave no comment and did not specifically deny the charge. (The latter did not deny it, because he knew little about the report in question.) On the basis of one anonymous source, one “no comment,” and one non-denial from an uninformed source, Newsweek pressed forward with the damning release.

The trouble began when Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan held a copy of the prevaricating Newsweek story high aloft during a press conference, thundering, “This is what the U.S. is doing, desecrating the Koran!” Others helped Khan spread the Newsweek scoop. “The American soldiers are known for disrespect to other religions. They do not take care of the sanctity of other religions,” chimed in Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the pro-Osama chief of Jamaat-e-Islami (“Party of Islam”), which calls for the “Islamization” of Pakistan.

Soon riots had broken out throughout the Muslim world, from Malaysia to the Suez Canal, with violent crowds chanting “Death to America!” and burning American flags – and U.S. and UN government buildings. A Palestinian protester stomped through the Jabalya refugee camp raging, “The Holy Koran was defiled by the dirtiest of hands, by American hands.” The strongest of uprisings took place in the Afghan mountain town and Taliban-stronghold of Jalalabad, with many demonstrations led by “remnants of the Taliban” (with its legendary tolerance for other faiths’ religious symbols).

All the while, the Left jeered knowingly. Howard Dean’s “Blog for America” [sic.] gloated over the revelations and the subsequent riots, inexplicably tying the fabricated infraction to Gen. Jerry Boykin.

In an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice issued a strongly worded statement attesting, “Disrespect for the Holy Koran is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, tolerated by the United States. Disrespect for the Holy Koran is abhorrent to us all.” Still, 16 Muslims died and more than 100 were injured before the media-inspired hatred came to an end.

And now the writers admit the story was false.

In the newest issue of Newsweek, which hits newsstands today, editor Mark Whitaker and assistant managing editor Evan Thomas tell their readers the original source cannot remember where he read the allegation of flushing the word of Allah. This means he cannot verify it is in any government report. In fact, the glossy rag now questions whether the incident ever occurred. While not ruling it out conclusively (proving a negative is logically impossible), Whitaker told the BBC, “As to whether anything like this happened, we just don’t know.” Whitaker tells his own readers, “We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst.”

Thomas, however, writes a long story about the impact of his publication’s malfeasance entitled, “How a Fire Broke Out,” in which he all but pours gasoline on the raging fires of Islamist revulsion. Thomas justifies Newsweek’s coverage of the scantily sourced provocation on the grounds that similar reports had been issued – by released detainees and al-Jazeera Television. When weighed in that balance, this newest allegation “seemed shocking but not incredible.”

He then expresses shock this tiny story would touch off violence “[a]fter so many gruesome reports of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.” 

Thomas also shifts blame for the widespread Islamic unrest to the government of U.S. ally Hamid Karzai, which, “pressed by the United States,” shut down domestic opium producers. Besides, “Afghan men are sometimes rounded up during ongoing U.S. military operations” and “many Afghans regard [Karzai] as too dependent on and too obsequious to the United States.” Although aware that the State Department feared Islamist riots would topple friendly Muslim governments around the globe, Thomas nearly drafts Osama’s Declaration of Independence.

After excusing the backlash his employees’ story engendered, Thomas rightly notes there is widespread belief the substance of this story was fraudulent. When asked about Michael Isikoff’s charges, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita inquired of his interviewer, “People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. How could he be credible now?”

Fully acknowledging the impact of one widely reported anti-Muslim atrocity story, Thomas proceeds to list two more unverified accounts immediately after this quotation. Thomas cites Gitmo detainee lawyer Marc D. Falkoff’s claim that an American serviceman stomped on a Koran and former detainee Bader Zaman Bader’s avowal that another serviceman threw a Koran in an inmate’s latrine.[1] (Bader Bader says nightmares still plague him, even though the GI immediately apologized – strange behavior from a heartless, oppressive MP.) Recognizing that his editorial team got nearly a score of Muslims killed in the past week, Evan Thomas all but begs pacified Muslims to resume torching Western aid centers.

Thomas omits the fact that a Pentagon spokesman told Newsweek it “had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them ‘not credible.’” Many of these original allegations were popularized by the Muslim Council of Britain, the largest Muslim organization in the UK which, when it isn’t calumniating Allied soldiers protecting its host nation from its constituents, stays busy inventing tales of Islamaphobia. The MCB also opposed the war against the Taliban and refused to take part in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, because the event ignored “ongoing genocide and human rights abuses around the world and in the occupied territories of Palestine.”

Army Colonel Brad Blackner exposed the true provenance of this psychological warfare, noting, “If you read the al-Qaeda training manual, they are trained to make allegations against the infidels.” Hence, Medea Benjamin and Leslie Cagan made exposing troop “atrocities” one of the key functions of their Baghdad-based anti-American venture, Occupation Watch. Convicted terrorist lawyer Lynne Stewart similarly counseled her client to claim the Ashcroft Justice Department had denied him his diabetic medication – to whip his supporters into a violent frenzy culminating in bloodshed.

Despite a plenitude of false premises, Newsweek’s Thomas comes to a true conclusion: “More allegations, credible or not, are sure to come,” and “Such stories may spark more trouble.”

Credible or not, it seems likely Evan Thomas and Newsweek will broadcast them to the best of their ability.


1. The aforementioned Marc Falkoff should not be confused with the American Enterprise Institute’s homonymic Latin American expert, Mark Falcoff.

This article originally appeared as the lead story on Monday, May 16, 2005, on FrontPage Magazine.