The Old Late-Friday Media Trick: Pentagon Admits Koran Abuse

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(AP) The Pentagon on Friday released new details about mishandling of the Koran at the Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects, confirming that a soldier deliberately kicked the Muslim holy book and that an interrogator stepped on a Koran and was later fired for “a pattern of unacceptable behavior.”

In other confirmed incidents, a guard’s urine came through an air vent and splashed on a detainee and his Koran; water balloons thrown by prison guards caused an unspecified number of Korans to get wet; and in a confirmed but ambiguous case, a two-word obscenity was written in English on the inside cover of a Korans.

The findings, released after normal business hours Friday evening, are among the results of an investigation last month by Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, the commander of the detention center in Cuba, that was triggered by a Newsweek magazine report — later retracted — that a U.S. soldier had flushed one Guantanamo Bay detainee’s Koran down a toilet.

The story stirred worldwide controversy and the Bush administration blamed it for deadly demonstrations in Afghanistan.

Hood said in a written statement released Friday evening, along with the new details, that his investigation “revealed a consistent, documented policy of respectful handling of the Koran dating back almost 2 1/2 years.”

Hood said that of nine mishandling cases that were studied in detail by reviewing thousands of pages of written records, five were confirmed to have happened. He could not determine conclusively whether the four others took place.

In one of those four unconfirmed cases, a detainee in April 2003 complained to FBI and other interrogators that guards “constantly defile the Quran.” The detainee alleged that in one instance a female military guard threw a Koran into a bag of wet towels to anger another detainee, and he also alleged that another guard said the Koran belonged in the toilet and that guards were ordered to do these things.

Hood said he found no other record of this detainee mentioning any Koran mishandling. The detainee has since been released.

In the most recent confirmed case, Hood said a detainee complained on March 25, 2005, of urine splashing on him and his Koran. An unidentified guard admitted at the time that “he was at fault,” the Hood report said, although it did not say whether the act was deliberate. The guard’s supervisor reprimanded him and assigned him to gate guard duty, where he had no contact with detainees for the remainder of his assignment at Guantanamo Bay.

As described in the Hood report, the guard had left his observation post and went outside to urinate. He urinated near an air vent and the wind blew his urine through the vent into the cell block. The incident was not further explained.

In another of the confirmed cases, a contract interrogator stepped on a detainee’s Koran in July 2003 and then apologized. “The interrogator was later terminated for a pattern of unacceptable behavior, an inability to follow direct guidance and poor leadership,” the Hood report said.

Hood also said his investigation found 15 cases of detainees mishandling their own Korans. “These included using a Quran as a pillow, ripping pages out of the Quran, attempting to flush a Quran down the toilet and urinating on the Quran,” Hood’s report said. It offered no possible explanation for those alleged abuses.

In the most recent of those 15 cases, a detainee on Feb. 18, 2005, allegedly ripped up his Koran and handed it to a guard, stating that he had given up on being a Muslim. Several of the guards witnessed this, Hood reported.

Last week, Hood disclosed that he had confirmed five cases of mishandling of the Koran, but he refused to provide details. Allegations of Quran desecration at Guantanamo Bay have led to anti-American passions in many Muslim nations, although Pentagon officials have insisted that the problems were relatively minor and that U.S. commanders have gone to great lengths to enable detainees to practice their religion in captivity.

Hood said last week that he found no credible evidence that a Koran was ever flushed down a toilet. He said a prisoner who was reported to have complained to an FBI agent in 2002 that a military guard threw a Koran in the toilet has since told Hood’s investigators that he never witnessed any form of Koran desecration.

Other prisoners who were returned to their home countries after serving time at Guantanamo Bay as terror suspects have alleged Koran desecration by U.S. guards, and some have said a Koran was placed in a toilet.

There are about 540 detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Some have been there more than three years without being charged with a crime. Most were captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 and were sent to Guantanamo Bay in hope of extracting useful intelligence about the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Both President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have denounced an Amnesty International report that called the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay “the gulag of our time.”

The president told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday that the report by the human-rights group was “absurd.”

On Wednesday, Rumsfeld called the characterization “reprehensible” and said the U.S. military had taken care to ensure that detainees were free to practice their religion. However, he also acknowledged that some detainees had been mistreated, even “grievously” at times.

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