The U.S. Defense Department says an inquiry has so far not confirmed an incident reported by Newsweek magazine, in which an interrogator at the Guantanamo detention facility allegedly put a Koran into a toilet in order to upset some prisoners. The department also says demonstrations in Afghanistan Wednesday and Thursday that left eight people dead and have been widely attributed to anger over the alleged incident, were in fact not related to it.
The top U.S. military officer, General Richard Myers, says the general in charge of all U.S. military operations in that part of the world went to Guantanamo himself two days ago to supervise the investigation into the alleged incident. General Myers reports the investigators began by looking through the interrogation logs for the period in question, in 2002, and could not find any incident listed that would confirm the Newsweek report.
"They have looked through the logs, the interrogation logs, and they can not confirm yet that there was ever the case of the toilet, except for one case, a log entry which they still have to confirm, where a detainee was reported by a guard to be ripping pages out of a Koran and putting them in the toilet to stop it up as a protest, but not where the U.S. did it," he explained.
Officials say the review of the logs is not the end of the investigation, but they could not say what the next steps might be. They note that all of the soldiers who were working at the detention center more than two years ago would have moved on to other assignments. That period was shortly after the facility was opened to house enemy combatants who were taken into custody in Afghanistan. About 200 of the original detainees have been released or transferred to their home countries, including the one whose lawyer made the allegation about the abuse of the Koran.
General Myers also told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday that the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Carl Eichenberry, disagrees with the reports that protests in the city of Jalalabad were caused by anger over the alleged Koran incident.
"It is the judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eichenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran, but more tied up in the political process and the reconciliation process that President Karzai and his cabinet are conducting in Afghanistan. He thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine," he explained.
U.S. officials have emphasized in recent days that the religious practices of the mostly Muslim detainees at Guantanamo are respected, and that they are provided with copies of the Koran, the opportunity to pray and other things needed for their religious observance, including appropriate food. Officials say the guards at the prison receive special training to sensitize them to Islamic religious issues.
Also on Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice called any disrespect for the Koran abhorrent, and said it will never be tolerated by the United States. She promised that the military will fully investigate the allegation, and that if it is true appropriate action will be taken.