Inquiry Finds 'No Credible Evidence' Koran Ever Flushed Down Toilet
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 27, 2005 A military inquiry has found "no credible evidence" that any member of the joint task force at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ever "flushed" a Koran down a toilet, the organization's commander said here May 26.
Speaking at a late-day Pentagon press briefing May 26, Army Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood said that over the past 12 days officials have conducted an "extensive inquiry" into allegations that the Islamic holy book was mishandled by U.S. personnel at the enemy-combatant detention facility in Guantanamo. Officials have reviewed more than three years' worth of records and some 31,000 documents, Hood said.
The military investigation stems from a May 9 Newsweek magazine story, later retracted, that claimed guards at the prison had flushed a Koran down the toilet. The story based its allegations on an interrogation conducted by FBI personnel at Guantanamo Bay in July of 2002.
"From the beginning of the inquiry, I directed that we look into all alleged Koran mishandling allegations, and specifically focused on whether any member of the joint task force had flushed a Koran down a toilet," Hood said. "First off, I'd like you to 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."
Military guards at Guantanamo Bay are careful to provide proper respect to the tenets of Islam, with particular care being paid to respecting the Koran.
Media touring the facility's Camp Delta in February were shown how each detainee's Koran is hung from the cell wall in a surgical mask to provide a clean place, off the floor or bed. The intent is to hold the holy book "in a place of reverence," a Navy guard explained.
In each cell block a painted arrow points toward Mecca, Saudi Arabia, so the detainees know which way to face during their daily prayers. During Ramadan, detainees were allowed to break their daily fast with water and dates at the appropriate time, and prayer calls are broadcast over loudspeakers five times a day.
"I want to assure you that we are committed to respecting the cultural dignity of the Koran and the detainees' practice of faith," Hood said at his Pentagon briefing. "Every effort has been made to provide religious articles associated with the Islamic faith, accommodate prayers and religious periods, and provide culturally acceptable meals and practices."
Hood said the current investigation has turned up 13 incidents of alleged mishandling of the Koran by Joint Task Force personnel - though, he added, most mishandling was done inadvertently.
He said that 10 of the mishandling incidents were by a guard and three by interrogators. "We found that in only five of those 13 incidents -- four by guards and one by an interrogator -- there was what could be broadly defined as mishandling of a Koran," Hood said.
"None of these five incidents was a result of a failure to follow standard operating procedures in place at the time the incident occurred," he pointed out, noting most of the incidents in question occurred in the early days of the detention facility, before proper operating procedures had been put in place.
Hood said the investigation also revealed six more incidents where guards either "accidentally touched" the Koran, touched it within the scope of his duties, or did not actually touch the Koran at all. "We consider each of these incidents resolved," he said.
Hood said there were two more incidents where interrogators "either touched or stood over" the Koran during an interrogation.
"The first incident does not appear to be mishandling, as it involved placing two Korans on a television," Hood pointed out. "The Koran was not touched during the second incident, and the interrogator's action during the interrogation was accidental."
Investigators also identified 15 incidents where "detainees mishandled or inappropriately treated the Koran." He said one incident involved a detainee who "ripped pages out of their own Koran."
Hood said it is important to remember that the detainees at Guantanamo are "not a benign group of people."
"These are enemy combatants detained because they represent a clear threat and danger to the United States and our allies," he added.
The now-retracted Newsweek story refers to a detainee who claimed during interrogation that guards at the facility beat detainees and flushed a Koran down a toilet.
But Hood said the detainee told the recent military investigators a different story. The detainee said, "no, that he wasn't beaten or abused, but that he had heard rumors that other detainees were," Hood said. "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," Hood emphasized. "But he had heard guards -- that guards at some other point in time had done this.
"(The detainee) went on to describe to his interrogator that that was a problem that was only in the old camp," Hood said. "I believe he meant referring to Camp X-Ray."
Camp X-Ray was a temporary facility used when detainees were first brought to Guantanamo Bay in early 2002. More suitable holding facilities were opened in April 2002.
Hood said "guards and the detainees well understand the procedures that are used for us to look at a Koran today."
Nevertheless he said, task force personnel will continue to review the "adequacy of our procedures" and develop recommendations to improve practices and processes outlined in our standard operating procedures for handing the Koran.
(AFPS writer Kathleen T. Rhem contributed to this article.)