- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — An interrogator accidentally stepped on a prisoner’s Koran, copies of Islam’s holy text got wet when guards tossed water balloons into a cellblock and one was “splashed” by urine, according to the final results of a Pentagon probe.

But the investigation sparked by accusations in the press about desecration of the Koran here found “no credible evidence” that prison guards or interrogators “ever flushed a Koran down a toilet,” the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the prison for terrorism suspects, said yesterday.

The findings show that al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at the detention center themselves mishandled Korans on 15 occasions, three times more than the military prison’s guards and interrogators. “These included using a Koran as a pillow, ripping pages out of the Koran, attempting to flush a Koran down the toilet, and urinating on the Koran.”

The probe found five confirmed incidents of military guards and interrogators “mishandling” the Koran, a fact cited by military officials before but never described in detail. The incidents were:

• March 5, 2005, a detainee and his Koran were “splashed” by urine while the detainee lay near an air vent inside the prison. A guard was found to have “urinated near an air vent and the wind blew his urine through the vent into the block.” The guard was “reprimanded” and reassigned to duties of no contact with detainees.

• August 2003, a “two-word obscenity” was written in English on the inside cover of an English-language version of one detainee’s Koran. “It is possible that a guard committed this act; it is equally possible that the detainee wrote in his own Koran.”

• August 2003, military officials acting as night guards in the prison tossed water balloons into a cellblock causing several Korans to become wet. Detainees complained to the guards about the incident, which went uninvestigated until last month.

• July 2003, a contract interrogator apologized to a detainee for stepping on the detainee’s Koran during an interrogation session. The detainee “accepted the apology and agreed to inform other detainees of the apology and ask them to cease disruptive behaviors caused by the incident.” The interrogator was later fired.

• February 2002, military prison guards kicked a copy of one detainee’s Koran. A detainee complained about the incident to an interrogator. The incident went uninvestigated until last month.

The Defense Department called for the investigation last month after Newsweek magazine cited sources as saying officials had flushed a Koran down a toilet. Newsweek later retracted the report, but it caused outrage in the Muslim world, including Afghanistan, where more than a dozen people were killed during violent anti-American demonstrations.

“Mishandling a Koran at Guantanamo Bay is a rare occurrence,” said Army Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, who oversees the camp. “We defined mishandling as touching, holding or the treatment of a Koran in a manner inconsistent with policy or procedure.”

The investigation cited four unconfirmed incidents of Koran mishandling by military officials and interrogators, including one in which a female military police officer was accused of tossing a Koran into a bag of wet towels to anger a detainee, and another in which an interrogator “put his foot on the Koran.”

Gen. Hood previously had refused to detail the five incidents of guards “mishandling” the Koran, citing the ongoing investigation. He had said there never has been a confirmed incident of guards flushing a Koran down the toilet.

Military officials said methods for handling Korans, which are offered in 13 languages to the 558 terror suspects detained here, are strictly designed to protect the Islamic holy book’s religious and cultural sanctity.

Military officials here have issued more than 1,600 copies of the Koran to detainees. The Defense Department noted detainees often get moved from their cells for interrogation sessions. In all, more than 28,000 interrogations have been conducted on the detainees.

“When one considers the many thousands of times detainees have been moved and cells have been searched since detention operations first began here in January 2002, I think one can only conclude that respect for detainee religious beliefs was embedded in the culture of the [military task force overseeing the prison] from the start,” Gen. Hood said.

An al Qaeda handbook preaches to operatives to level charges of torture once captured, a training regimen that administration officials say explains some of the charges of abuse at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

The American Civil Liberties Union last week posted on its Web site 2002 FBI documents regarding accusations from suspected al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at the detention center. The organization had won a court decision that forced the administration to release scores of e-mails between agents who had interviewed captives.

U.S. Southern Command also is investigating interrogation techniques at the prison camp, as well as the FBI-conveyed, unsubstantiated complaints. The U.S. Justice Department inspector general has begun a separate probe.

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