WASHINGTON – The White House says the image of the United States suffered irreparable damage from a Newsweek article alleging that American interrogators of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay (search) desecrated the Muslim holy book.
The administration used the now-retracted Newsweek incident to criticize other, unnamed news organizations.
"One of the concerns is that some media organizations have used anonymous sources that are hiding behind that anonymity in order to generate negative attacks," presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday.
But he said the administration's own use of anonymous sources was not a major problem.
The administration frequently conducts news briefings and insists that its briefers be identified only as administration officials rather than by name. McClellan said the administration was trying to move away from such briefings, but he rejected suggestions that they contribute to credibility problems.
Newsweek at first apologized for its story and then retracted it under heavy pressure from the administration. The White House blamed the magazine's account for triggering deadly anti-American protests in Afghanistan last week in which police fired on demonstrators and killed about 15 people.
The administration called on Newsweek to explain how it got the story wrong and to report on U.S. military practices intended to ensure the Koran is handled with respect. The State Department told its embassies to spread the word abroad that America respects all religious faiths.
"The United States is a country that believes deeply in religious freedom and the equality of all to practice religion as they see it," Rice said, "and we would certainly never condone anything that would be a desecration of the holy book of one of the world's great religions."
Rice said detainees at Guantanamo were given prayer mats (search) and directed toward Mecca so that they could pray appropriately. The Koran has been handled "very, very carefully," she said.
"I just hope that through steady discussion now with the Muslim community — and our people in the field are trying to do it — they understand the real story of how the United States has tried to deal with this question of religious practice at Guantanamo," she said.
A two-page cable sent to all U.S. diplomatic posts instructed the ambassadors to tell host governments and local media that Newsweek had retracted its report that investigators found evidence that interrogators desecrated the Koran.
The Pentagon has found nothing to substantiate allegations of Koran desecration, the cable said, adding, "The U.S. government will continue to investigate all credible allegations of misconduct and will take action against those responsible if the allegations are substantiated."