WASHINGTON – U.S. military officials say no guard at the Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects flushed a detainee's Koran down the toilet, but they disclosed that a Muslim holy book was splashed with urine. In other newly disclosed incidents, a detainee's Koran was deliberately kicked and another's was stepped on.
On March 25, a detainee complained to guards that "urine came through an air vent" and splashed on him and his Koran. A guard admitted he was at fault, but a report released Friday evening offering new details about Koran mishandling incidents did not make clear whether the guard intended the result.
In another confirmed incident, water balloons thrown by prison guards caused an unspecified number of Korans to get wet, and in a confirmed but ambiguous case, a two-word obscenity was written in English on the inside cover of a Koran.
The findings, released after normal business hours Friday evening and after the major TV networks had aired their evening news programs, are among the results of an investigation last month by Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, the commander of the detention center in Cuba. A Newsweek magazine report — later retracted — that a U.S. soldier had flushed one Guantanamo Bay detainee's Koran down a toilet triggered the investigation.
The story stirred worldwide controversy, and the Bush administration blamed it for deadly demonstrations in Afghanistan.
Hood said in a written statement released with the new details that his investigation "revealed a consistent, documented policy of respectful handling of the Koran dating back almost 2 1/2 years."
Lawrence Di Rita, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, did not address the confirmed incidents of mishandling the Muslim holy book. Reached while traveling with Rumsfeld in Asia, he said U.S. Southern Command policy calls for "serious, respectful and appropriate" handling of the Koran.
"The Hood inquiry would appear to affirm that policy," Di Rita said.
Hood said that of nine mishandling cases that were studied in detail by reviewing thousands of pages of written records, five were confirmed. He could not determine conclusively whether the other four took place.
In one of the unconfirmed cases, a detainee in April 2003 complained to FBI and other interrogators that guards "constantly defile the Koran." The detainee alleged that in one instance a female military guard threw a Koran into a bag of wet towels to anger another detainee, and he also alleged that another guard said the Koran belonged in the toilet and that guards were ordered to do these things.
Hood said he found no other record of this detainee mentioning any Koran mishandling. The detainee has since been released.
In the March incident, as described in the report, the guard had left his observation post to go outside to urinate. The wind blew his urine through an air vent into the cell block. The guard's supervisor reprimanded him and assigned him to gate guard duty, where he had no contact with detainees, for the rest of his assignment at Guantanamo Bay.
In another of the confirmed cases, a contract interrogator stepped on a detainee's Koran in July 2003 and then apologized. "The interrogator was later terminated for a pattern of unacceptable behavior, an inability to follow direct guidance and poor leadership," the Hood report said.
Hood also said his investigation found 15 cases of detainees mishandling their own Korans. "These included using a Koran as a pillow, ripping pages out of the Koran, attempting to flush a Koran down the toilet and urinating on the Koran," Hood's report said. It offered no possible explanation for the detainees' motives.
In the most recent of those 15 cases, a detainee on Feb. 18 allegedly ripped up his Koran and handed it to a guard, stating that he had given up on being a Muslim. Several guards witnessed this, Hood reported.
Last week, Hood disclosed he had confirmed five cases of mishandling of the Koran, but he refused to provide details. Allegations of Koran desecration at Guantanamo Bay have led to anti-American passions in many Muslim nations, although Pentagon officials have insisted that the problems were relatively minor and that U.S. commanders have gone to great lengths to enable detainees to practice their religion in captivity.
Hood said last week he found no credible evidence that a Koran was ever flushed down a toilet. He said 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.
Other prisoners who were returned to their home countries after serving time at Guantanamo Bay as terror suspects have alleged Quran desecration by U.S. guards, and some have said a Koran was placed in a toilet.
There are about 540 detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Some have been there more than three years without being charged with a crime. Most were captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 and were sent to Guantanamo Bay in hope of extracting useful intelligence about the Al Qaeda terrorist network.