U.S. Long Had Memo on Handling of Koran

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By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 17, 2005

More than two years ago, the Pentagon issued detailed rules for handling the Koran at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, requiring U.S. personnel to ensure that the holy book is not placed in "offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet, or dirty/wet areas."

The three-page memorandum, dated Jan. 19, 2003, says that only Muslim chaplains and Muslim interpreters can handle the holy book, and only after putting on clean gloves in full view of detainees.

The detailed rules require U.S. Muslim personnel to use both hands when touching the Koran to signal "respect and reverence," and specify that the right hand be the primary one used to manipulate any part of the book "due to cultural associations with the left hand." The Koran should be treated like a "fragile piece of delicate art," it says.

The memo, written a year after the first detainees were brought to Guantanamo from Afghanistan, reflects what U.S. officials said was a specific policy on handling the Koran, one of the most sensitive issues to Muslims. The Pentagon does not have a similar policy regarding any other major religious book and takes "extra precautions" on the Muslim holy book, officials said.

"They're not supposed to in any way disrespect or desecrate the Koran, and there are a very specific set of rules the military has on handling the Koran," State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said yesterday. "We made it clear that our practices and our policies are completely different" from allegations in a Newsweek article that the magazine formally retracted yesterday. The Newsweek report said that U.S. military investigators had confirmed that a U.S. interrogator at Guantanamo had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet.

The Pentagon memo, among other directives, barred military police from touching the Koran. If a copy of the book was to be moved from a cell, the memo said, it must be placed on a "clean, dry detainee towel" and then wrapped without turning it over at any time. Muslim chaplains must then ensure that it is not placed in any offensive area while transported.

In an effort at damage control, the State Department transmitted the Newsweek retraction to all U.S. embassies in Islamic countries yesterday along with statements by top Bush administration officials about U.S. respect for the Koran.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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