Editorial: Government's retraction of WMD claim would be a 'good first step'

President George W. Bush, Congress and We the People could learn a lot from Newsweek’s recent handling of a Newsweek article, since retracted, that alleged interrogators at the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, desecrated the Islamic holy book, the Quran, in an attempt to get terror suspects to talk.

Newsweek, an international news magazine with a worldwide circulation of more than 4 million and a total readership of more than 21 million, ran a short article in its May 9 issue that cited an anonymous U.S. official who claimed a government investigation had found evidence a Quran had been flushed down a toilet by interrogators.

Lost in much of the discussion regarding this story is that these allegations are nothing new. In fact, allegations of U.S. abuse of the Quran are on public record. As reported by MSNBC.com, reports based on a lawsuit and a written report by British citizens who had been released from the prison in Cuba surfaced in August and October 2004 that alleged abuse by prison guards, including throwing the Quran into a toilet.

Although U.S. officials reportedly did not deny the Newsweek report when it first appeared, government criticism of the article escalated after more than a dozen people were killed in protests in Afghanistan.

The U.S. government has asserted the protests and deaths are a direct result of the article’s impact on the Islamic world. Other experts, according to an MSNBC.com report, have contended tension had been brewing for a while in Afghanistan over a “perceived U.S. intention to broaden its role in Afghanistan.” At the very least, it appears as if the bomb was already built, and the Newsweek report could have been the spark that lit the bomb.

Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker retracted the story May 17 after the magazine’s anonymous source changed his story, saying the magazine’s source wasn’t sure he had read about the alleged Quran incident in the report cited by Newsweek. The White House said the retraction is a “good first step” by the magazine, alluding to the idea that something more—such as the resignation of Whitaker or other Newsweek staffers—is in order.

The retraction of the story was a good decision by Whitaker and others at Newsweek. After the original source went back on his story, the magazine really had no other choice but to go back on its own story. The article’s truthfulness had, at the very least, been questioned, and the story no longer had any credibility. Whether Whitaker or other staffers should resign is a decision Newsweek must now make. At the very least, it further affirms the danger in news organizations using anonymous sources for information.

Similar to Newsweek’s article, but on a much grander scale, was the White House’s decision and Congress’s affirmation to invade Iraq on March 20, 2003. The government’s case for invading Iraq was originally based on reports that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and that he had a working chemical and biological weapons program.

As best reported by Tim Dickinson in his Jan. 27, 2005, Rolling Stone article “The WMD fiasco”: “In December, after nearly two years of intense but futile searching, the Bush administration quietly called off its hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Iraq Survey Group inspected 1,200 suspect sites, examined 40 million pages of documents and debriefed more than 4,000 Iraqis. But its final report reached the same conclusion that David Kay made public when he resigned as director of the search a year ago: Iraq had no WMDs—none. No nukes. No anthrax. No nerve gas. Whatever stockpiles Saddam once possessed, the report conceded, were apparently destroyed by 1992.”

The monetary cost of the war in Iraq is as high as $192 billion and the cost for the search for weapons of mass destruction is reportedly as high as $1 billion. And with no end in sight of U.S. involvement in Iraq, that cost could continue to rise. Additionally, according to www.iraqbodycount.net, civilians reported killed by military intervention in Iraq are estimated to be at a minimum of 21,684 and at a maximum of 24,603. U.S. military casualties alone have topped 1,600.

What’s puzzling is that U.S. citizens aren’t showing the same kind of outrage the government has shown regarding the Newsweek report over the government’s no longer credible claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The truthfulness of both stories has, at the very least, been questioned, and neither story any longer has any credibility.

By continuing to stand on now proven unfounded evidence for the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. government is damaging the United States’ credibility with the world. We should at the very least hold our elected officials and our most valuable democratic government institutions to the same standards as our national media. Bush and Congress should retract their original story of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Such a retraction would be a good first step in restoring our credibility with the world.

From the May 18-24, 2005, issue

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