In a commentary in the May 30 issue of The New Republic devoted to excoriating Newsweek for failing to confirm the veracity of claims by an unnamed Pentagon source that U.S. military interrogators had desecrated the Quran, editor-in-chief Martin Peretz baselessly claimed that, unlike rioting in Afghanistan and Pakistan purportedly fueled by Newsweek's story, "[s]eventeen people did not die at Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib." When Peretz's article appeared in The New Republic's online edition (subscription required), the line was deleted.
The online version did not note a specific correction of Peretz's error or even note what exactly had been deleted; it merely included this disclaimer above his article: "Editor's note: This piece has been modified from the way it appears in the print edition."
In the original print edition of the article, Peretz wrote:
The journalistic establishment is circling the wagons, of course. Journalists usually blame themselves last and forgive themselves first. They are taking special umbrage at the White House's indignation about Newsweek's iniquity and insisting that this is the pot calling the kettle anti-Muslim. It is certainly true that the Bush administration, at Guantánamo and at Abu Ghraib, is responsible for a good deal of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world (see Noah Feldman, "Ugly Americans," page 23). The Bush administration is not perfectly qualified to give lessons in transparency. But, if [White House press secretary] Scott McClellan should not be allowed to hide behind [co-author of the retracted Newsweek article] Michael Isikoff, neither should Michael Isikoff be allowed to hide behind Scott McClellan. Seventeen people did not die at Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib. The subject this week is not the misdeeds of government. The subject this week is the misdeeds of journalism. No wonder many editors and editorialists want to change the subject.
Peretz's assertion that "Seventeen people did not die at Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib" is without foundation. The Washington Post has noted that the Army has investigated scores of detainee deaths at U.S. military detention centers, though the findings of those investigations have not been released to the public:
The number of deaths reported in battlefield detention facilities has also fallen since the Abu Ghraib scandal. From May 2003 to May 2004, 44 death cases were investigated, an average of more than 3.5 per month. Over the last seven months of 2004, 13 cases were investigated, an average of fewer than two per month.
Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, the Army's provost marshal general and head of its criminal investigation command, reported last month that 308 detainee abuse cases have come under investigation, with 201 of them closed. Through Feb. 11, the Army had investigated 68 detainee deaths, 24 of them for possible criminal homicide charges. Thirteen of the 24 cases have been closed, with the results not yet released, and 11 are still being investigated. According to Army records, one of the suspected homicide cases was added after the beginning of December.
The online version of Peretz's article was identical to the print version, except for the omission of the untrue sentence. In both the online and original print versions, Peretz went on to state that "there are 17 people who lost their lives because of the state of journalistic practice at a U.S. magazine," suggesting that Newsweek's journalistic lapse was more lethal than the Bush administration's policies governing the handling of detainees at U.S. military detention facilities. Even assuming that Newsweek's flawed article helped fuel the deadly riots, the fact that Peretz's statement regarding Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib is false -- and that it was quietly deleted between the publication of the print version and the posting of the online version -- strongly undermines that premise.