Red Cross Reports Claims of Quran Abuse at Guantanamo
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There are new allegations today in the controversy over whether the Koran was desecrated by US interrogators in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The International Committee of the Red Cross says it told the Pentagon in 2002 and 2003 of instances when US soldiers and interrogators mishandled the Islamic holy book. This comes days after Newsweek retracted a story alleging desecration of the Koran at the detention center in Guantanamo. The report sparked deadly riots in Afghanistan and violence elsewhere and a firestorm back home. NPR's Jackie Northam has the latest.
JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:
The International Committee of the Red Cross is different from most other human rights groups. The Geneva-based organization prefers to stay well under the radar screen, quietly working to improve conditions for detainees and prisoners of war. Its strength is confidentiality. That's why when, on the rare occasion, the ICRC goes public, it makes an impact. This time the ICRC has waded into the controversy over whether the Koran was desecrated at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The ICRC says it has gathered and documented credible information that US soldiers and interrogators at Guantanamo handled the Koran with disrespect in the early days. Simon Schorno is the ICRC's spokesman in Washington.
Mr. SIMON SCHORNO (Spokesman, International Committee of the Red Cross): During our visits in Guantanamo, there were instances where the ICRC received reports from detainees about mishandling of the Koran in Guantanamo. We do not want to get into the details of this, but certainly there were several--there were multiple allegations that we followed up.
NORTHAM: Schorno is careful to point out that the ICRC is not confirming Newsweek's story about a Koran being flushed down the toilet by an interrogator at Guantanamo. But he says that the ICRC supports much of the information about the mistreatment of the Koran that's already in the public realm. For months other human rights groups and defense lawyers for Guantanamo detainees have been hearing from former and current prisoners about allegations of abuse of the Koran. Schorno says the ICRC finds the allegations are credible.
Mr. SCHORNO: Basically, we speak in private with detainees, discuss other issues with the detainee wishes to discuss with an ICRC delegate. And then we, you know, cross-check the information by speaking with a range of detainees.
NORTHAM: The ICRC sent its reports to military leaders at Guantanamo and the Department of Defense. The Pentagon confirmed that the ICRC shared, on what it calls rare occasions, allegations of the Koran being mishandled. Brian Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, says that the allegations were taken seriously and investigated.
Mr. BRIAN WHITMAN (Spokesman, Pentagon): And what we have found is that there have been some instances in which US personnel have mishandled the Koran. And there have been, quite frankly, just as many incidences that we have found in our logs, allegations, where detainees have themselves done something, either inadvertently or intentionally, to mishandle the Koran.
NORTHAM: And Whitman notes the ICRC did not witness any of the allegations. But the admission that the Pentagon had been receiving information about alleged Koran abuse isn't what the administration was saying earlier this week when the Newsweek retraction was still fresh and the administration was criticizing a weekly magazine for its journalistic standards. Today the talk was focused on steps taken to address any problems, including guidelines issued in 2003 for handling the Koran and an increased sensitivity to the Islamic religion, says Richard Boucher, State Department spokesman.
Mr. RICHARD BOUCHER (Spokesperson, State Department): If there are instances that are credible instances that are called to our attention of where those rules were not followed or the policy is not carried out thoroughly, then we investigate, we look into them, we make sure the practices are corrected and improved.
NORTHAM: An inquiry and an investigation into Guantanamo are expected to be made public sometime in the next few weeks. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.