U.S. officials have substantiated five cases in which military guards or interrogators mishandled the Quran of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay but found "no credible evidence" to confirm a prisoner's report that a holy book was flushed in a toilet, the prison's commander said Thursday.
Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, who commands the detention center in Cuba, told a Pentagon news conference that a prisoner who was reported to have complained to an FBI agent in 2002 that a military guard threw a Quran in the toilet has told Hood's investigators that he never witnessed any form of Quran desecration.
The unidentified prisoner, questioned at Guantanamo on May 14, said he had heard talk of guards mishandling religious articles but did not witness any such acts, Hood said at a Pentagon news conference.
‘No credible evidence’ of flushing
"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 Quran down a toilet," Hood said. "We did identify 13 incidents of alleged mishandling of the Quran by Joint Task Force personnel. Ten of those were by a guard and three by interrogators."
Of 13 alleged incidents, five were substantiated, he said. Four were by guards and one was by an interrogator. Hood said the five cases "could be broadly defined as mishandling" of the holy book, but he refused to discuss details. In three of the five cases, the mishandling appears to have been deliberate. In the other two, it apparently was accidental.
"None of these five incidents was a result of a failure to follow standard operating procedures in place at the time the incident occurred," Hood said.
Allegations of Quran abuse have led to heated discussion — and even deadly demonstrations in Afghanistan — since a Newsweek magazine report, later retracted, that U.S. officials had confirmed a Quran was flushed in a toilet.
“Their behavior is bad,” one detainee is quoted as saying of his guards during an interrogation by an FBI special agent on July 22, 2002. “About five months ago the guards beat the detainees. They flushed a Quran in the toilet.”
Rumsfeld's spokesman says prisoner recanted
Earlier Thursday, Lawrence Di Rita, spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, told reporters that U.S. investigators had reinterviewed the unidentified prisoner on May 14.
“He has said it didn’t happen,” Di Rita said. A day earlier the spokesman had said the detainee had not corroborated his original story when he was re-questioned, but on Thursday the spokesman went a step further.
“So the underlying allegation, the detainee himself within the last two weeks said that didn’t happen,” Di Rita said.
Another spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said the detainee “indicated, when asked about the desecration, that he was not knowledgeable of anything.”
In a fresh disclosure Thursday, the ACLU released copies of an FBI document dated Nov. 25, 2003, that referred to “information concerning impersonation by (Defense Department) interrogators at Guantanamo representing themselves to be officials of the FBI and U.S. State Department.”
Most of the rest of the document was blacked out by censors before it was released to the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act.
FBI e-mails released to the ACLU last December had indicated that military interrogators had impersonated FBI agents, but this was the first time that impersonation of State Department officials was alleged.
Di Rita said this was being checked as part of a broader investigation of known FBI records on misconduct at Guantanamo.
Quran reports mostly 'nonsense'
The Pentagon has been under fire from a number of critics for alleged mistreatment of Muslims held prisoner at Guantanamo Bay since January 2002 and in Iraq and Afghanistan more recently. Di Rita insisted on Thursday that although investigations at Guantanamo Bay are not yet complete, it appears that many of the charges are groundless.
“Most of them are nonsense,” he said, referring specifically to those related to alleged desecration of the Quran at Guantanamo Bay.
Di Rita said it was not reasonable to believe that U.S. guards or interrogators would intentionally abuse the Quran.
“As we understand it at the moment, we know that they have been extremely cautious, that the interrogators and the police are trained to know that this is a high-sensitivity issue so don’t use it because it’s too sensitive,” he said. “And then what we’re trying to determine is: Are there people who violated that? And so far we haven’t been able to develop any chain of indications that would suggest that.”