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White House: Koran Mishandling at Guantanamo Bay are Isolated Cases


Detainee is escorted by military police

The White House says the cases of American forces in Guantanamo Bay mishandling the Koran are isolated incidents.

A spokesman says the U.S. military adheres to the highest standards when it comes to respecting and protecting religious freedom and expects these standards to be met.

Friday the U.S. military provided details of five incidents in which it says soldiers or interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay detention center mishandled copies of the Koran, but the military says its investigation confirmed that no Koran was ever flushed in a toilet, as a now withdrawn magazine report claimed last month.

The U.S. Southern Command, which supervises the Guantanamo facility, said Friday that in specific incidents prisoners' Korans were kicked, stepped on, and drenched with water. In one incident, the report says a ventilation system carried a soldier's urine into a prisoner's cell, which got on the prisoner and his Koran. The report says that incident was accidental, but the soldier was removed from his post. It says the prisoner was given a new Koran and a new set of clothes.

All of the incidents happened in mid-2003 or earlier, except the accidental urine incident. The investigation also uncovered several other incidents of complaints by prisoners about handling of the Koran, but concluded that the incidents were either minor or could not be confirmed.

The report, issued late Friday, provides details to back up statements by the Guantanamo commander, Brigadier General Jay Hood. He said last week that there had been five incidents, but he did not provide details. The general also said, and Friday's report repeats, that military investigators found no evidence that a Koran was ever flushed in a toilet, as Newsweek magazine claimed in a report last month.

Newsweek later retracted the story after the Defense Department denied it, and the magazine's source reportedly said he was not sure of his information.

The report contributed to anti-U.S. anger among Muslims in several countries, anger that boiled over into riots in which as many as 16 people died.

In a series of news releases Friday, the Southern Command also published guidelines it issued in February for the handling of the Koran. That was before the Newsweek story was published, and officials have said the guidelines update an earlier effort to improve handling of the Koran at Guantanamo.

The guidelines say that only Muslim clergymen or interpreters, or the prisoners themselves, can even touch a Koran. When the clergymen or interpreters do so, they must put on clean gloves and may not do anything to show disrespect for the Muslim holy book, such as putting it on the floor or in any dirty areas. Guards are no longer allowed to touch the books at all.

Correspondent Al Pessin contributed to this report.

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