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Lawyer: Detainees sought to protect Qurans

A defense lawyer for a Guantanamo Bay detainee said Wednesday that his client was protecting the Quran from guards when he participated in a May 18 clash. The military denied this contention.
A detainee looks into the window of a cell at Camp 4 inside the maximum security prison Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on Aug. 26, 2004, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A detainee looks into the window of a cell at Camp 4 inside the maximum security prison Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on Aug. 26, 2004, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.Mark Wilson / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Guantanamo Bay detainee who participated in a clash with U.S. military guards last month said it was sparked when guards tried to search prisoners’ Qurans, contradicting the military’s account of the melee, his defense attorney said Wednesday.

The detainee also denied the contention by military officials that prisoners in the May 18 clash in Guantanamo Bay lured guards into a cell by staging a suicide attempt, defense attorney Kristin Wilhelm told The Associated Press.

The military, in its account soon after the clash occurred at the prison in southeast Cuba, said 10 prisoners used makeshift weapons to battle 10 guards. It was one of the most violent incidents at Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. holds about 460 men on suspicion of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Military holds firm
Base spokesman U.S. Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand said Wednesday that the military sticks by its account of the clash and stressed Guantanamo guards never touch or handle the detainees’ Qurans.

Durand said guards were ambushed by detainees in a well-planned operation after they responded to a staged suicide attempt. A review of the events affirmed that the guard force “acted appropriately and with minimal force,” he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

He said that numerous detainees involved in the May 18 incident told the military that part of the ambush plan was to claim abuse of the Quran to rally detainees to fight and to use as a “cover story” after the clash ended.

“Seeing these false allegations come to light confirms what detainees told us: Some detainees would falsely claim abuse of the Koran (Quran) to elicit worldwide media attention with hopes of inciting violence in the Islamic world,” he said.

Durand denied allegations that the incident was a spontaneous act by detainees in defense of the Quran.

“The Koran is shown tremendous respect at Guantanamo. Our guard force does not touch or handle the detainees’ Korans, period,” he said.

Allegedly looking for hoarded medicine
Wilhelm said the detainee, a Yemeni whom she could not further identify because of Pentagon rules, told her the guards demanded that prisoners turn over their Qurans so they could be searched for hoarded medicine, which the military said had been used in two suicide attempts earlier in the day elsewhere at the prison camp.

One detainee offered to collect the Qurans and search them in front of the guards, but the military guards refused and entered the cell block, setting off the fight, she said. She said the prisoners used only a floor lamp against the guards and that it quickly ended when one detainee succumbed to pepper spray used by military police.

“There was no mention of a suicide attempt and there was no mention of luring a guard into the cell block,” the attorney said of her conversations with her detainee client.

Wilhelm and another lawyer from her firm, John Chandler, met with the detainee on May 26. Their notes from the meeting were declassified by the military on Wednesday. Their firm represents five prisoners from Yemen.

Wilhelm and Chandler were among the first defense lawyers to visit Guantanamo after the May 18 clash and provided the first detainee account of the incident.

Procedures ‘far exceed’ standards
Former detainees at Guantanamo have alleged in the past that military personnel at Guantanamo have intentionally mishandled the Quran. The military has repeatedly denied the charges.

Durand said Wednesday that when a Quran is handled, it is handled by the detainee himself or by a Muslim translator.

“We have consulted with numerous Islamic leaders on the subject and have been informed that our procedures far exceed the accepted standard that only requires that the Koran (Quran) be handled with respect and dignity. We do this in deference to the detainees religious beliefs and to affirm our respect for Islam,” Durand said.