Fifteen dead, scores injured, relief buildings burned down.

Years of coalition-building with the Muslim world against terrorist fanatics set back.

That’s the toll to date for a brief story about a U.S. prison guard throwing a Quran down the toilet – a story Newsweek now admits it got wrong, and one being blasted as “criminal” and “treasonous.”

Pentagon officials are scrambling to figure out how to put the genie back in the bottle, but it seems it might take more than a correction and an apology from Newsweek.

It all started with the May 8 issue of the news magazine. The Periscope column written by Michael Isikoff and John Barry included a brief item about U.S. military investigators finding evidence that interrogators placed copies of the Quran down the toilet in an effort to get prisoners to talk.

Days after the magazine hit the street, before the issue date, Imran Khan, a Pakistani cricket legend, read the report to a crowd in an effort to incite opposition to President Pervez Musharraf.

Riots ensued and spread to Afghanistan and other parts of the Islamic world.

“We regret that we got any part of the story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in the midst,” said Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker in a note to readers.

Col. David Hunt, U.S. Army-Ret.

“It’s outrageous, I think it’s accessory to murder,” said Fox News military analyst Col. David Hunt, now retired from the Army.

“This is a lie. This is [a] criminal act as far as I’m concerned. People died,” Hunt told Fox interviewer Geraldo Rivera. “A lot worse things should happen to Newsweek than … making this half-assed apology.”

“It’s treasonous at worst,” Hunt added. “How about not hurting the war? How about causing no harm? I think Newsweek should lose every reader it ever had.”

The error by Newsweek is reminiscent of one made by the Boston Globe last May and exposed by WND.

The paper, owned by the New York Times Co., published graphic pornographic photos supposedly depicting U.S. troops gang-raping Iraqi women.

But the photos were fake – taken from pornographic websites and disseminated by anti-American propagandists, and exposed as fraudulent by WND a week before the Globe published them.

Likewise, the photos infuriated the Muslim world, despite the later admission by the Globe that they were published in error and the product of a pornographer’s imagination.

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Related stories:

Boston Globe publishes bogus GI rape pictures

Bogus GI rape photos used as Arab propaganda

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