After taking heat from several members of the Bush administration and countless bloggers, Newsweek today officially retracted its story that U.S. interrogators desecrated the Quran at Guantanamo Bay by flushing one down the toilet.

Up to this afternoon, the magazine refused to retract the story, instead apologizing in an editor’s note by Editor Mark Whitaker.

“Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay,” Whitaker said in statement released this afternoon.

Deadly anti-American riots were sparked from Afghanistan to Malaysia to the Palestinian Authority by the news weekly’s May 9 report that U.S. military investigators had found evidence interrogators placed copies of Islam’s holy book in washrooms and had flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk.

The magazine said yesterday that its government source indicated he could not now be sure that he saw an account of the toilet reference in a military report on abuse at the military detention facility in Cuba.

“We believed our story was newsworthy because a U.S. official said government investigators turned up this evidence,” Whitaker wrote in the editor’s note. “But we regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst.”

Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and White House spokesman Scott McClellan all criticized Newsweek over the story. Rice said the false report has “done a lot of harm” to U.S. outreach in the Muslim world.

Said McClellan today before the retraction was released: “It’s puzzling. While Newsweek now acknowledges that they got the facts wrong, they refuse to retract the story. I think there’s a certain journalistic standard that should be met. In this instance it was not.”

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