The U.S. military for the first time on Friday detailed how jailers at Guantanamo mishandled the Koran, including a case in which a guard’s urine splashed through a vent onto the Islamic holy book and others in which it was kicked, stepped on and soaked in water.
U.S. Southern Command, responsible for the prison for foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, described five cases of “mishandling” of a Koran by U.S. personnel confirmed by a newly completed military inquiry, officials said in a statement.
In the incident involving urine, which took place this past March, Southern Command said a guard left his observation post, went outside and urinated near an air vent, and “the wind blew his urine through the vent” and into a cell block.
It said a detainee told guards the urine “splashed on him and his Koran.” The statement said the detainee was given a new prison uniform and Koran, and that the guard was reprimanded and given duty in which he had no contact with prisoners. Army Capt. John Adams, a spokesman at Guantanamo, said the inquiry deemed the incident “accidental.”
Southern Command said a civilian contractor interrogator apologized in July 2003 to a detainee for stepping on his Koran. The interrogator “was later terminated for a pattern of unacceptable behavior, an inability to follow direct guidance and poor leadership,” the statement said.
In August 2003, prisoners’ Korans became wet when night-shift guards threw water balloons in a cell block, the statement said. In February 2002, guards kicked a prisoner’s Koran, it added.
In the fifth confirmed incident of mishandling a Koran, Southern Command said a prisoner in August 2003 complained that “a two-word obscenity” had been written in English in his Koran. Southern Command said it was “possible” a guard had written the words but “equally possible” the prisoner himself had done it. It did not offer an explanation of the detainee’s possible motive.
“Mishandling a Koran at Guantanamo Bay is a rare occurrence. Mishandling of a Koran here is never condoned,” Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, commander of the Guantanamo prison who headed the inquiry, said in the statement released after business hours on Friday night.
Hood disclosed on May 26 that the inquiry, announced May 11, had turned up five cases of “mishandling of a Koran” by U.S. personnel at Guantanamo, but declined at the time to describe the incidents other than saying they did not involve flushing one down a toilet.
Southern Command launched the inquiry after a May 9 Newsweek article, later retracted by the magazine, that stated U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo had flushed a Koran down a toilet to try to make detainees talk. Violent protests erupted in some Muslim countries following the article’s publication and at least 16 people died in rioting in Afghanistan.
In the statement, Hood reiterated that the inquiry found “no credible evidence” that a member of the military joint task force at Guantanamo ever flushed a Koran down a toilet. “The matter is considered closed,” Hood stated.
Chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita, in Singapore with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, said Southern Command’s policy on proper handling of the Koran was “serious, respectful and appropriate. The Hood inquiry would appear to affirm that policy.”
Hood said there were four additional incidents of “alleged mishandling” of the Koran that “we cannot determine conclusively if they actually happened.” These involved prisoners’ complaints that jailers kicked and put a foot on the Koran, threw it into a bag of wet towels, and told a detainee the book “belonged in the toilet.”
Hood said the inquiry “reviewed every available detainee record,” including a search of 31,000 pages of documents such a day-to-day logs, court papers filed by prisoners and allegations in 38 news articles. But officials said they were aware of only one interview conducted in the inquiry.
The United States holds about 520 detainees at Guantanamo, most caught in Afghanistan, and has classified them “enemy combatants” not entitled to rights given to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. The high-security prison opened in January 2002 for non-U.S. citizens caught in the U.S. war on terrorism, and many prisoners have been held more than three years without charges.
President Bush and Rumsfeld this week defended Guantanamo from criticism by Amnesty International, which called the jail the “gulag of our times.”