Thursday, May 12, 2005

Senior Defense Department officials yesterday said there is no evidence corroborating a news report that interrogators flushed a Koran down a toilet to intimidate Muslim prisoners held at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that in an unconfirmed incident, a Guantanamo prisoner flushed pages from a Koran down a toilet in an attempt to clog it.

Newsweek magazine reported May 9 that U.S. interrogators at the prison had desecrated the Muslim holy book. The report was blamed for prompting a series of violent demonstrations this week in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the homelands of many of the more than 500 men held at Guantanamo.

Gen. Myers told reporters in Washington that Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, the head of U.S. Southern Command, has ?been in Guantanamo for the last couple of days digging into this issue to see if there was a time when the Koran was not respected.?

?They have looked through the logs, the interrogation logs, and they cannot confirm yet that there was ever the case of the toilet incident,? Gen. Myers said.

He did note ?a log entry, which they still have to confirm, where a detainee was reported by a guard to be ripping pages out of a Koran and putting them in a toilet to stop it up as a protest,? he said. ?But not where the U.S. did it.?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, testifying before a panel of lawmakers, urged Muslims to resist calls for violence over the Newsweek report.

?We have heard from our Muslim friends around the world about their concerns on this matter. We understand and we share their concerns,? Miss Rice said. ?Sadly, some people have lost their lives in violent demonstrations.?

Afghans engaged in a third day of violent demonstrations yesterday. Earlier this week, stones were hurled at a U.S. military convoy in Kabul and police opened fire on demonstrators, killing four and injuring dozens.

The Newsweek article cited ?internal FBI e-mails? as saying Guantanamo interrogators, ?in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur’an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash.?

The Associated Press reported yesterday that demonstrations over the Newsweek article were spreading in Afghanistan, as police clashed with anti-U.S. protesters and Afghan students burned an American flag in Kabul.

But Gen. Myers said senior U.S. military officials in Afghanistan reported that the violence was ?not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran but more tied up in the political process? involving actions by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Army Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, thought one of the demonstrations, which occurred in Jalalabad about 80 miles east of Kabul, ?was not at all tied to the article in the magazine,? Gen. Myers said.

Miss Rice yesterday said: ?I want to speak directly to Muslims in America and throughout the world: Disrespect for the Holy Koran is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be tolerated by the United States.?

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