WASHINGTON – A day after the Pentagon released details of Koran mishandling at Guantanamo Bay (search), the White House sought to downplay the issue, saying the incidents should not be blown out of proportion.
"It is unfortunate that some have chosen to take out of context a few isolated incidents by a few individuals," presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said in a statement.
The Pentagon confirmed Friday evening — after the networks' evening news shows had aired — that a U.S. soldier had deliberately kicked a prisoner's holy book. The report also said prison guards had thrown water balloons in a cell block, causing an unspecified number of Korans to get wet; a guard's urine had splashed on a detainee and his Koran (search); an interrogator had stepped on a Koran during an interrogation; and a two-word obscenity had been written in English on the inside cover of a Koran.
Despite the confirmed mishandling of the holy Muslim book, Pentagon officials said the problems were relatively minor. U.S. commanders have gone to great lengths to enable prisoners to practice their religion at the detention center for alleged terrorists in Cuba.
White House officials also noted that the probe found instances of Guantanamo inmates mishandling their own Korans. Brig. Gen. Jay Hood (search), the commander of the detention center and leader of the investigation, discovered 15 such occasions.
"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' actions.
Two weeks ago, a now-retracted Newsweek report alleged that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Koran down a toilet.
The story stirred worldwide controversy and the Bush administration blamed it for deadly demonstrations in Afghanistan. Saying America's image abroad had suffered irreparable damage, the White House responded with a verbal offensive against the media.
McClellan declined to answer questions about whether the White House issued misleading statements, whether the credibility of the Bush administration had been tarnished or whether the Pentagon report would hamper Bush's efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East.
On her goodwill trip to the Middle East last month, first lady Laura Bush (search) said Newsweek should not be solely blamed for the deadly protests that followed its report.
"In the United States if there's a terrible report, people don't riot and kill other people," she said. "And you can't excuse what they did because of the mistake — you know, you can't blame it all on Newsweek."
"We've had terrible happenings that have really, really hurt our image of the United States," she said. "And people in the United States are sick about it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.