The accountability moment

The White House says Newsweek hasn't apologized enough. When are Bush and Cheney going to start?

Published May 16, 2005 4:39PM (EDT)

Given the Bush administration's record of errors -- and worse -- in the war on Iraq, you'd think the administration's talking heads would be slow to climb aboard the high horse when someone else makes a mistake in the war on terrorism. You'd be wrong, of course.

Newsweek apologized over the weekend for running a short item in which it reported that "sources" told the magazine that investigators had confirmed that interrogators at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay flushed a Qur'an down a toilet. After the original report sparked a wave of anti-American rioting in Afghanistan, Newsweek's primary source backed away from the story and said he couldn't be sure where he'd learned of the alleged flushing incident. In his editor's note Sunday, Newsweek's Mark Whitaker said that the magazine regrets "that we got any part of our story wrong" and extends its "sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst."

It's not clear yet just how much of the story Newsweek got wrong. Newsweek seems to suggest that its error was in saying that "sources" confirmed the incident or that the confirmation of the incident was contained in a report by U.S. investigators. The magazine's apology seems to leave open the possibility that, regardless whether it was confirmed by sources or identified in a report, the flushing incident may actually have happened. "Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we," Whitaker wrote. Appearing on CNN over the weekend, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley acknowledged at least the possibility that the incident actually occurred. He said the United States is investigating the allegation "vigorously" and will take action against those responsible "if it turns out to be true."

But that's not the approach others in the administration are taking. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence di Rita said over the weekend that the editors at Newsweek "owe us all a lot more accountability than they took." White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said this morning: "It's puzzling that while Newsweek now acknowledges that they got the facts wrong, they refused to retract the story."

Accountability? Retractions? We're still waiting for that sort of thing from the White House. Newsweek has expressed its regret for any loss of life that may have come from its mistakes. As for the Bush administration? More than 1,600 U.S. troops and thousands upon thousands of Iraqis have been killed so far in a war that was sold based on White House assurances that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and a whole lot innuendo suggesting that he was somehow involved in the attacks of 9/11. Would it be too much to suggest that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others in their administration owe the American people "a lot more accountability," too?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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