Brigadier General Jay Hood, the military commander at Guantanamo Bay, says U.S. officials have substantiated five cases of mishandling of the Koran by the military, but found no credible evidence that a Koran was placed in a toilet and flushed.
General Hood, the Joint Task Force Commander at Guantanamo Bay, says any and all allegations that U.S. forces mistreated and mishandled the Koran are currently undergoing a thorough investigation. He shared the preliminary findings Thursday:
"First off, I would like to you know that we have found no credible evidence that a member of the joint task force at Guantanamo Bay ever flushed a Koran down a toilet. 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."
He said only five of the 13 instances involved what could be broadly described as mishandling of the Koran. In two cases, he said, the guards were punished.
General Hood said the initial inquiry has also identified 15 instances in which detainees mishandled or inappropriately treated a Koran. One of these incidents was the specific example of a detainee who ripped pages out of his own Koran.
Earlier this month, Newsweek magazine published an article that said a soon-to-be-released military investigation had found that interrogators at Guantanamo had placed a Koran in a toilet and flushed it down to upset detainees under interrogation. The report was followed by widespread protests throughout the Muslim world. Demonstrations in Afghanistan and Pakistan turned violent and at least 15 people lost their lives.
Newsweek later retracted the story and said it was based on one government source who now said he could not be sure the military investigation had confirmed the Koran desecration.
Allegations about military police and interrogators desecrating the Koran date back to 2002 when the United States first began transferring detainees to Guantanamo. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Ritta says that since then the U.S. military tightened and clarified its procedures on the handling of the Koran. "I think it's safe to say that the policies and procedures down there are extraordinarily careful and the policies have been 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 the faith by the detainees," he said.
However, allegations of Koran desecration have continued to surface. Newly released documents show that detainees complained to FBI investigators about the disrespectful handling of the Koran on numerous occasions. The prisoners' accounts were part of more than 300 pages of documents the FBI turned over to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed suit against top Pentagon officials for prisoner abuse.
General Hood said that during the military inquiry into mistreatment of the Koran, investigators questioned the inmate who had told FBI investigators the Koran had been placed in a toilet. The inmate retracted his initial allegations. "We had a very good conversation with him where he said, no, that he wasn't beaten or abused but that he had heard rumors that other detainees were. We then proceeded to ask him about any incidences where he had seen the Koran defiled, desecrated or mishandled and he allowed as how he hadn't, but he had heard that guards at some other point in time had done this," he said.
General Hood refused to comment about specific instances where the Koran may have been inadvertently mishandled, but he said the details would be available once the investigation is complete.
General Hood said the U.S. military would continue to investigate any allegations of abuse or mistreatment of prisoners by guards or interrogators. As part of his investigation, he will also be reviewing standard operating procedures at Guantanamo and will revise them if necessary.