WASHINGTON – Investigators have confirmed five cases in which military personnel mishandled the Koran of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay (search) since 2002, but they have found no "credible evidence" that a holy book was flushed in a toilet.
The investigation also found 15 incidents in which detainees mishandled or inappropriately treated the Koran (search), including one case of a detainee ripping pages from his holy book, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, (search) the Guantanamo Bay prison commander who led the investigation, told reporters Thursday.
Hood emphasized that his probe is not yet complete. It was launched about two weeks ago in response to a Newsweek magazine story that said U.S. officials had confirmed a Koran was flushed in a toilet. The story stirred worldwide controversy and the Bush administration blamed it for deadly demonstrations in Afghanistan.
Newsweek later retracted its report.
Hood, who has commanded the U.S. naval prison compound in Cuba since March 2004, told a Pentagon news conference that a prisoner who was reported to have complained to an FBI agent in 2002 that a military guard threw a Koran in the toilet has since told Hood's investigators that he never witnessed any form of Koran desecration.
The unidentified prisoner, re-interviewed at Guantanamo on May 14, said he had heard talk of guards mishandling religious articles but did not witness any such acts, Hood said. The prisoner also stated that he personally had not been mistreated but that he had heard fellow inmates talk of being beaten or otherwise mistreated.
The general said he could not speculate on why the prisoner did not repeat his earlier statement about a guard flushing a Koran in a toilet. The statement was contained in an Aug. 1, 2002, FBI summary of an FBI (search) agent's July 22, 2002, interrogation of the prisoner. A partly redacted version of the summary was made public this week.
The prisoner did not specifically recant his earlier allegation; Hood said the prisoner was not asked in the May 14 interview whether he had made the specific statement in 2002 as reported by the FBI. Instead he was asked more broadly whether he had seen the Koran "defiled, desecrated or mishandled."
"He allowed as how he hadn't, but he heard that guards at some other point in time had done this," Hood said, adding that this allegation from the 2002 FBI report was the only one Hood found that involved a toilet.
Other prisoners who were returned to their home countries after serving time at Guantanamo Bay as terror suspects have alleged Koran desecration by U.S. guards, and some have said a Koran was placed in a toilet.
"I'd like you to know that we have found no credible evidence that a member of the Joint Task Force (search) at Guantanamo Bay ever flushed a Koran down a toilet," Hood said. "We did identify 13 incidents of alleged mishandling of the Koran by Joint Task Force personnel. Ten of those were by a guard and three by interrogators."
Of the 13 alleged incidents, five were substantiated, he said. Four were by guards and one was by an interrogator. Hood said the five cases "could be broadly defined as mishandling" of the holy book, but he refused to discuss details.
In three of the five cases, the mishandling appears to have been deliberate. In the other two, it apparently was accidental.
Lawrence Di Rita, spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search), said at the news conference with Hood that at this point it should be clear that any mishandling of the Koran was largely inadvertent.
"I think it's safe to say that the policies and procedures down there are extraordinarily careful, and they're — as I said — policies that we've released, and people can judge for themselves. But I think people will see that the atmosphere down there is one of great respect for the practice of faith by detainees," he said.
In an indication of the Pentagon's eagerness to discredit the allegation, Hood briefed reporters on the interim findings of his investigation even though the Pentagon's standard practice is to withhold comment on the progress of any official investigation until it has been completed. Hood did not say how much longer his inquiry would last. Earlier Thursday he was on Capitol Hill to brief members of Congress.
Hood said eight of the 13 alleged incidents of Koran mishandling that he looked into were not substantiated. Six of those eight involved guards who either accidentally touched a Koran, "touched it within the scope of his duties" or did not touch it at all. "We consider each of these incidents resolved," Hood said.
The other two cases in which the allegation was not substantiated involved interrogators who either touched or "stood over" a Koran during an interrogation, Hood said. In one case not deemed to be mishandling, an interrogator placed two Korans on a television. In the other case, which Hood did not describe fully, a Koran was not touched and Hood said the interrogator's unspecified "action" was accidental.