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"Credible or Not"

Two questions for Newsweek.

5:00 PM, May 17, 2005 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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(1) In its May 9 "Periscope" item, Newsweek claimed that "sources tell Newsweek" that "interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qu'ran down a toilet. . . ." In its May 23 "The Editor's Desk" note, editor Mark Whitaker explains that Michael Isikoff's and John Barry's "information came from a knowledgeable U.S. government source. . . ." If there was only one source for the "information," why did Newsweek originally claim there was more than one source?

(2) In the May 23 issue, Evan Thomas provides an account of the original story, the rioting that followed, and some of Newsweek's subsequent exchanges with the Defense Department. Here is the penultimate paragraph of Thomas' article:

More allegations, credible or not, are sure to come. Bader Zaman Bader, a 35-year-old former editor of a fundamentalist English-language magazine in Peshawar, was released from more than two years' lockup in Guantanamo seven months ago. Arrested by Pakistani security as a suspected Qaeda militant in November 2001, he was handed over to the U.S. military and held at a tent at the Kandahar airfield. One day, Bader claims, as the inmates' latrines were being emptied, a U.S. soldier threw in a Qu'ran. After the inmates screamed and protested, a U.S. commander apologized. Bader says he still has nightmare about the incident.

No one is quoted in this account. It is not clear if a Newsweek correspondent spoke directly to Bader. There is no evidence that Newsweek even tried to check this story with military authorities or others conversant with what happened at the Kandahar airfield. Is this alleged incident, significant enough to have allegedly caused an apology by the U.S. commander, attested to by anyone else? Did Newsweek make any effort to corroborate Bader's account?

Moreover: might it have been appropriate for Newsweek to inform its readers, as "the indigent blogger" at Vagabondia was quickly able to discover and inform his readers, that: (a) Bader is now demanding compensation from the U.S. government for his imprisonment; and (b) Bader was interviewed by the Associated Press and by China's Xinhua news agency in Afghanistan shortly after his release last year. In those interviews, he seems to have said nothing about such an incident, and indeed told AP that he was interrogated "150 times" by the Americans but never abused. Only now does Bader recall this incident and its resulting nightmares.

Is Bader's claim credible? Did Newsweek even attempt to check it out before publishing it? Or does Newsweek believe that inserting the phrase, "credible or not," at the beginning of the relevant paragraph, absolves them of this journalistic duty?

William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard.