Inmates Alleged Koran Abuse
Thursday, May 26, 2005
Detainees told FBI interrogators as early as April 2002 that mistreatment of the Koran was widespread at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and many said they were severely beaten by captors there or in Afghanistan, according to FBI documents released yesterday.
The summaries of FBI interviews, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of an ongoing lawsuit, include a dozen allegations that the Koran was kicked, thrown to the floor or withheld as punishment. One prisoner said in August 2002 that guards had "flushed a Koran in the toilet" and had beaten some detainees.
But the Pentagon said yesterday that the same prisoner, who is still in custody, was reinterviewed on May 14 and "did not corroborate" his earlier claim about the Koran.
"We still have found no credible allegations that a Koran was flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in a statement last night.
The newly declassified accounts, written primarily in 2002 and 2003, were released in the aftermath of an international uproar over a now-retracted story by Newsweek magazine, which reported that an internal military investigation had confirmed that a Koran was flushed down a toilet. Some administration officials have blamed the story for sparking riots overseas that left 16 people dead.
The disclosures came on the same day that Amnesty International released a report calling Guantanamo Bay "the gulag of our time" and labeling the United States "a leading purveyor and practitioner" of torture and mistreatment of prisoners. Amnesty and the Constitution Project, a legal advocacy group, made separate demands yesterday for an independent investigation into allegations of detainee abuse at U.S. facilities.
While detainees and others have lodged complaints of abuse at Guantanamo Bay, this is only the second major release of internal FBI memos on the subject. The accounts released yesterday by the ACLU consist of summaries of FBI interrogations of Guantanamo Bay detainees and therefore do not provide corroboration of the allegations.
Some captives said they witnessed mistreatment of the Koran. Three told FBI interrogators that they had only heard about incidents from other inmates, the records show.
Yet the interviews underscore that U.S. government officials were made aware of allegations of prisoner abuse and Koran mistreatment within months of the opening of Guantanamo Bay in early 2002, and echo allegations made by the International Committee of the Red Cross and a Muslim chaplain, as well as the detainees and their attorneys.
Pentagon officials said last week that they had not investigated claims of Koran desecration because they had not been presented with any specific or credible allegations of such activity. But they also said that they were reviewing allegations related to mistreatment of the Muslim holy book.
Whitman said in his statement last night that al Qaeda members have been trained to lie about their treatment during incarceration, and that officials at Guantanamo Bay have had "a great deal of sensitivity to the importance of the Koran and other religious items and practices and . . . extensive procedures were put in place to respect the cultural dignity of the Koran." In January 2003, the Pentagon issued rules for handling the holy book.
FBI officials said the interviews were conducted to gather intelligence, but the records show that dozens of prisoners volunteered allegations of abuse and complained bitterly that poor treatment was causing many to refuse to cooperate with interrogators. Numerous prisoners reported hearing plans for mass suicides, and another "asked agents to kill him."