June 4, 2005

Military Details Koran Incidents at Base in Cuba


New York Times

WASHINGTON, June 3 - A military inquiry has found that guards or interrogators at the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba kicked, stepped on and splashed urine on the Koran, in some cases intentionally but in others by accident, the Pentagon said on Friday.

The splashing of urine was among the cases described as inadvertent. It was said to have occurred when a guard urinated near an air vent and the wind blew his urine through the vent into a detainee's cell. The detainee was given a fresh uniform and a new Koran, and the guard was reprimanded and assigned to guard duty that kept him from contact with detainees for the remainder of his time at Guantánamo, according to the military inquiry.

The investigation into allegations that the Koran had been mishandled also found that in one instance detainees' Korans were wet because guards on the night shift had thrown water balloons on the cellblock.

In another case, a two-word obscenity was written in English on the inside cover of a Koran, but investigators could not determine whether a guard or detainee had written it.

Last week, the head of the investigation, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, commander of the Guantánamo Joint Task Force, announced at the Pentagon that his preliminary findings had uncovered five cases in which the Koran was mishandled at the prison, but he refused to provide details.

In releasing those details in a final report on Friday, General Hood emphasized that any abuse of the Koran was unusual and that the military had gone to great lengths to be sensitive to the detainees' religious faiths, including issuing more than 1,600 Korans at the detention center.

"Mishandling a Koran at Guantánamo Bay is a rare occurrence," General Hood said in a statement released by the military's Southern Command. "Mishandling of a Koran here is never condoned."

The investigation was started about three weeks ago after Newsweek magazine published an article asserting that a separate inquiry by the military was expected to find that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet at the detention center. The magazine later retracted the article, but the assertion led to violence in the Muslim world that left at least 17 people dead.

General Hood said last week that there was no credible evidence to substantiate the claim that a Koran had ever been flushed down a toilet at the prison.

The final report released on Friday said that four of the five incidents took place after January 2003, after written procedures governing the handling of the Koran had been put in place. That contradicted an account provided last Thursday by General Hood, who was asked directly whether all five of the incidents had taken place before January 2003, and replied: "Not all of them. One of them occurred since then."

A spokesman for the task force, Capt. Jeffrey Weir, said in a telephone interview that he could not explain General Hood's comments last week. "Maybe he misspoke," Captain Weir said. "I'm not sure why he would have put it that way."

The military released the findings of the investigation about 7:15 p.m., Eastern time, well after the broadcasts of the network television evening news programs. A Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, denied that the military was trying to bury bad news late on a Friday night, a tactic often used by government agencies. "It was completed and we try not to hold these things after their reviews are completed," Mr. Whitman said in a telephone interview.

Military policy acknowledges that some Muslims consider a non-Muslim touching the Koran as a desecration.

"The Southern Command policy of Koran handling is serious, respectful and appropriate," said Lawrence Di Rita, the Pentagon spokesman, who was traveling with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at a security conference in Singapore. "The Hood inquiry would appear to affirm that policy."

The report said investigators had examined nine alleged incidents in which the Koran was mishandled, either intentionally or unintentionally, and confirmed five of them. Four involved guards at the detention center; one involved an interrogator.

According to the military's statement on Friday, this is what happened in the five confirmed incidents of Koran abuse.

In February 2002, a detainee complained during an interrogation that guards at Camp X-Ray had kicked the Koran of a detainee in a neighboring cell four or five days earlier, the inquiry's report said. The interrogator reported the complaint on Feb. 27, and confirmed that the guards were aware of the complaint.

The report said there was no evidence of any investigation into the incident, and investigators did not say why they believed it was credible or who might have been responsible.

On July 25, 2003, a contract interrogator apologized to a detainee for stepping on the detainee's Koran in an earlier interrogation. The detainee accepted the apology and agreed to tell other detainees and ask them to stop disruptive behavior caused by the incident.

The interrogator was later fired for "a pattern of unacceptable behavior, an inability to follow direct guidance and poor leadership," the military statement said.

On Aug. 15, 2003, two detainees complained to one set of guards that their Korans were wet because guards on the night shift had tossed water balloons on the cellblock. The complaints were recorded in the cellblock's log, but there was no indication that the incident was ever investigated. Investigators described the guards' conduct as "clearly inappropriate" but said it did not cause any disturbance among detainees.

Less than a week later, on Aug. 21, a detainee who spoke conversational English complained that someone had written a two-word obscenity in English in his English-version Koran. The complaint was recorded in an electronic log. "It is possible," the military's statement said, "that a guard committed this act; it is equally possible that the detainee wrote in his own Koran."

On March 25, 2005, a detainee complained to the guards that urine had come through an air vent in his cellblock, and splashed him and his Koran as he lay near the vent. A guard who had left his observation post to urinate outside acknowledged that he was to blame. He had urinated near the vent, and the wind blew it into the vent, from which it splashed into the cell.

The senior guard on duty immediately relieved the guard, and ordered that the detainee receive a fresh uniform and a new Koran. The guard was reprimanded and assigned to duty where he had no contact with detainees for the remainder of his assignment at the detention center.

General Hood's report found 10 other alleged incidents, 7 involving guards and 3 involving interrogators, where the military personnel accidentally touched the Koran, touched a Koran within the scope of their regular duties or did not touch the Koran at all.

The inquiry concluded that none of these events involved mishandling of the Koran, but that some were clearly alarming to detainees, including a case in late 2002 in which an unidentified marine, during an interrogation, was said to have squatted down in front of a detainee "in an aggressive manner."

In the process, the report said, the marine "unintentionally squatted down over the detainee's Koran," and "this provoked a visible reaction from the detainee."

The report also found 15 incidents in which detainees had mishandled the Koran.

The military's statement said the investigation had examined 31,000 documents, both on paper and electronically; classified and unclassified computer drives used by task force personnel; and legal documents and news articles for any mention of possible abuses of the Koran.

General Hood concluded that the current policy regarding the handling of the Koran was appropriate, but the military statement said that some additional minor changes, which it did not describe, were under review.