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Pentagon details Koran mistreatment

Inquiry confirms five incidents

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon yesterday described five confirmed incidents of Koran mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay, in which the Muslim holy book was kicked, stepped on, soaked by water balloons, defaced with a scrawled obscenity, and in one recent case accidentally sprayed with urine.

None of the confirmed incidents involve a Koran being flushed down a toilet, the allegation which contributed to anti-US riots around the Muslim world after Newsweek reported that it had been confirmed by an investigation into abuses at the base. Newsweek later retracted its report, saying its source was no longer certain that alleged incident was part of the investigation.

But the six-page summary of Koran incidents, released yesterday by US Southern Command in Miami, confirmed for the first time in detail all the Koran-related incidents contained in more than 30,000 records from the interrogation prison operation.

The internal inquiry, led by Brigadier General Jay Hood to address concerns raised by the Newsweek report, found 19 incidents alleging the mishandling of the Koran by guards or interrogators. It also found two incidents in which detainees threw their own Korans down their toilets.

Hood, the Guantanamo commander, said that five of the 19 incidents involving guards or interrogators were confirmed, four more could not be conclusively determined, and 10 others were dismissed because they involved the touching of a Koran during the normal performance of a soldier's duties.

''Mishandling of a Koran at Guantanamo Bay is a rare occurrence," Hood said in a statment. ''Mishandling of a Koran here is never condoned."

Hood had released preliminary numbers from his investigation at a Pentagon briefing last week. But at the time he declined to describe any of the incidents other than by saying that none involved a Koran being placed in a toilet or waste bucket.

Although the US military has largely dismissed complaints of abuses at Guantanamo Bay over the past several years, the protests prompted the Bush administration to blame the media for the negative image of the base and to take unprecedented efforts to try to persuade the world that the Koran toilet incident never happened.

Nevertheless, the protests -- during which at least 17 people in Afghanistan were killed -- have continued in Muslim countries. Yesterday, thousands in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, chanted slogans against President Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, calling them enemies of Islam. There was no reported violence.

In Tanzania yesterday, between 2,000 and 3,000 Muslims staged a 2-mile march through the capital, Dar es Salaam, after Friday prayer services, burning a US flag and calling on the US ambassador to officially apologize to Muslims for the alleged desecration.

Many of the alleged incidents found in US records date back to 2002 and 2003, before Hood took over command of the operation. In early 2003, the base instituted a policy whereby only Muslims -- chaplains or translators -- would touch Korans during routine searches for contraband or prisoner cell transfers.

To some devout Muslims, it is blasphemy for a nonbeliever to touch the book. The details of the confirmed incidents provided yesterday, however, represent incidents that went well beyond that:

In late January 2002, shortly after the prison operation began, guards kicked a detainee's Koran. There was no evidence this incident was investigated further.

In July 2003, an interrogator stepped on a Koran while questioning a detainee. The interrogator later apologized to the detainee, and was himself later fired ''for a pattern of unacceptable behavior, an inability to follow direct guidance, and poor leadership."

In August 2003, night shift guards threw water balloons at detainees who were locked in their cells, soaking them and leading to complaints by two detainees that their Korans had gotten wet. The records showed no evidence that the ''clearly inappropriate" incident was investigated or that the Korans were replaced.

Also in August 2003, a detainee complained because a ''two-word obscenity had been written in English" on the cover of his Koran. Because the detainee spoke English, the military said it was uncertain whether he or a guard had written the obscenity on the book.

And in March 2005, a detainee living in a medium-security part of the prison complex where detainees sleep in bunk houses complained that urine had come through an air vent and splashed him and his Koran. A guard later admitted that he was at fault; he had left his observation post to urinate and wind had blown his urine into the air vent. The guard was reprimanded and assigned to different duties away from prisoners. The detainee was given a fresh uniform and a new Koran.

The report contained four mentions of Korans and toilets. One involved a detainee who complained to an interrogator in April 2003 that a female guard had thrown a Koran into a bag of wet towels to anger prisoners and that a different guard had told prisoners that ''the Koran belonged in the toilet." That detainee was later released from Guantanamo.

In July 2002, the report said, a detainee dropped his Koran while being restrained by guards preparing to move him out of his cell. Nearby prisoners started shouting to others that the guards had dropped the Koran, and as the rumor spread from block to block, ''the story changed to say the guards had ripped pages out of the Koran, and later it changed to say that guards had thrown the Koran in the toilet."

The report also listed 15 incidents in which detainees mishandled their own Korans, including several which involved detainees urinating on other prisoners' Korans and two which involved putting pages of their own Korans in their toilets. In February 2004, a guard said a detainee placed two Korans in his toilet and said ''he no longer cared about the Koran or his religion."

There was a similar incident in January 2005, when a detainee told a guard he placed the holy book in the toilet because he wanted to be moved to a different cellblock.

There were also 10 incidents in which guards searched cells and accidentally touched a Koran or knocked one out of its holder, a surgical mask each detainee was issued to tie to his cell wall in order to keep the Koran off the ground, in accordance with the respect Islam mandates for its holy book. The report said all these incidents were unintentional and in line with guards' duties.

Hood said Koran abuse was rare when put in the context of how many prisoners and guards have moved through since the prison opened in January 2002. About 540 people are being held without trial at the base; several hundred have been released.

 More Abu Ghraib images ordered (By Alan Wirzbicki, Globe Correspondent)
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