Red Cross Reports Abuse of Koran — But Says It Has Since Stopped

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The international Red Cross told U.S. authorities about American personnel at the Guantanamo Bay detention center showing disrespect to Islam’s holy book, the Koran, a spokesman said Thursday, in the wake of the controversy over a Newsweek retraction earlier this week.

Delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross informed the relevant U.S. authorities, who took action to stop the abuse, said spokesman Simon Schorno, who declined to specify the nature of the incidents.

“We’re basically referring in general terms to disrespect of the Koran, and that’s where we leave it,” Schorno told The Associated Press. “We believe that since, U.S. authorities have taken the corrective measures that we required in our interventions.”

The neutral, Geneva-based ICRC confidentially reported the incidents to U.S. authorities in 2002 and 2003, and has since been able to verify that any disrespect of the Koran has been stopped.

“That’s our understanding based on the information that we collected in Guantanamo in subsequent visits,” Schorno said by telephone from Washington, D.C. “We brought it to their attention and we believe there was a reaction, and that’s really the objective of our reporting and interaction with the authorities.”

The ICRC usually steers clear of public comment, maintaining that its quiet approach is the best protection for victims of war.

Red Cross delegates did not personally witness any instances of disrespect toward the Koran, but received an unspecified number of reports from detainees that this had occurred, Schorno said.

[[The Chicago Tribune reported today: “Asked about the ICRC’s confidential reports Wednesday night, Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed their existence but sought to downplay the seriousness of their content. He said they were forwarded ‘on rare occasions’ and called them ‘detainee allegations which they [the ICRC] could not corroborate.’ But that is not how Schorno, the ICRC spokesman, portrayed the reports. ‘All information we received were corroborated allegations,’ he said, adding, ‘We certainly corroborated mentions of the events by detainees themselves….Obviously, it is not just one person telling us something happened and we just fire up.'”]

About 15 people died in clashes with Afghan security forces in demonstrations around Afghanistan last week, after Newsweek reported that U.S. interrogators had desecrated the Koran at the prison camp for terrorist suspects at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The magazine at first apologized for its story and then retracted it under heavy pressure from the U.S. administration. The White House blamed the magazine’s account for triggering the anti-American protests in Afghanistan.

An ICRC delegation is currently visiting Guantanamo and will be there until the middle of June, Schorno said.

The ICRC has been visiting Guantanamo regularly since the arrival in January 2002 of the first of around 600 detainees. Most were captured in the war that ousted Afghanistan’s Taliban in late 2001, but some also are suspected of links to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

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