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US Pledges 'Transparent' Probe of Koran Desecration Charge


The United States Friday promised a full and open investigation of the allegation of Koran desecration at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility that has touched off anti-U.S. protests in the Muslim world. U.S. officials hope the demonstrations, some of them violent, may be subsiding.

Officials here say that although there was more lethal violence during the day in Afghanistan, the situation after Friday prayers in the region was generally calmer than expected.

They are hopeful concerned Muslims will heed calls by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. officials to reject incitement, while a Pentagon investigation of the matter goes forward.

What have been four days of protests in Afghanistan, Pakistan and some other countries were touched off by a report in the U.S. magazine Newsweek that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility desecrated a Koran to un-nerve detainees.

The top U.S. military officer, General Richard Meyers, said Thursday an initial look at camp records did not turn up any incident that would confirm the Newsweek report.

But at a news briefing here, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the issue was by no means closed, and that the investigation would be thorough and open. "The fact that we continue to say these things every day is because we are transparent about this, because we are up-front about this," he said. "We'll continue to be up-front about this. What will satisfy people in the field, I don't know for sure. All I know is that we'll be true to American principle. We will respect other religions. We will find and punish any errors and mistakes that occurred and we'll do it all in a transparent manner."

Bush administration officials have gone to some length to stress their concern about the matter, including Secretary Rice who began a Senate appearance Thursday with an appeal to Muslims around the world to reject any incitement to violence by those who she said would mischaracterize U.S. intentions.

Ms. Rice said disrespect for the Koran is abhorrent, and will not be tolerated by the United States.

Administration officials have also stressed the elaborate procedures that have been put in place at the Guantanamo facility since it opened in 2002 to facilitate religious practice by Muslim detainees.

Under questioning, spokesman Boucher said there are reports of incitement by local politicians at some of the anti-U.S. protests.

But he said administration officials understand the genuine feeling about the issue in the Muslim world, and are thus trying to explain the U.S. position and commitment to religious rights as clearly as possible.

Mr. Boucher said he was unaware of any U.S. citizens being injured in the protests.

He said as a precaution, U.S. consulates in three Pakistani cities, Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore had been temporarily closed, but that local American residents are being kept informed about safety and security issues through so-called warden messages from the diplomatic posts.

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