Muslim leaders don't accept "pressured" apology

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Image from the Al-Andulas 12th century Quran manuscript
Image from the Al-Andulas 12th century Quran manuscript

Newsweek magazine apologized to the victims of last week's deadly protests in Afghanistan, which were sparked when a Newsweek report stated that U.S. officials defiled the Koran.

But Islamic parties in Pakistan say the Newsweek apology is a transparent attempt to defuse Muslim anger. Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the head of an Islamic party alliance told the BBC on Monday that Newsweek's clarification held no weight. "There have been reports by the prisoners who have been released from Guantanamo Bay of desecration of the holy Koran, and different atrocities perpetrated on them."

On Tuesday Mr.Ahmad said,"Whatever (Newsweek) magazine has done now is under pressure (from the U.S. government)," he said. "It has not denied what it has reported and many people freed from Guantanamo Bay have narrated the same thing."

The Tuesday edition of the Pakistani daily newspaper the News quoted Hafiz Ehsan Saeed, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, as saying that the Koran was routinely desecrated at Guantanamo.

Reuters reported that Muslims said they suspected that pressure from Washington was behind the magazine's backing off. On Monday, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan had criticized Newsweek's initial response to the incident, saying it was "puzzling." Later in the day, Newsweek retracted the story which the White House said was a "good first step".

Newsweek defended its reporting and said its investigation is continuing into allegations that the Koran had been desecrated by U.S. personnel.

"Unfortunately relations are so bad at this point that the perception will linger;" said Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Many people won't believe it. They'll believe the magazine was pressured into doing a retraction." Hooper said.

"We will not be deceived by this," Sadullah Abu Aman, an Islamic cleric, told Reuters in Afghanistan.

The magazine said it had made a mistake in its May 9th report regarding the accusations, which led to violent anti-American protests in Afghanistan. Over 16 were killed, and more than 100 were injured. While many officials supporting the protests vowed for non-violence, some in the streets threatened to start a religious war against the United States.

Newsweek's Editor, Mark Whitaker, said the magazine's error was reporting confirmation by U.S. military investigators that Guantanamo personnel flushed the Koran down a toilet. The source initially said he had read of the event in a military investigative report, but the source later told the magazine he might have seen the account of the Koran incident in other investigative documents or drafts.

Mr Whitaker told Reuters, "As to whether anything like this happened, we just don't know. We're not saying it absolutely happened but we can't say that it absolutely didn't happen either."

The Newsweek report was not the first public allegation alleging Quran desecration at Guantanamo Bay. News stories came out in August and October 2004, reporting that British citizens who had been released from Guantanamo claimed U.S. guards threw their Qurans into the toilet. Also, in January, 2005, Kristine Huskey, a lawyer representing Guantanamo detainees, said a detainee witnessed a guard tossing a Quran into a toilet.