WASHINGTON – Terrorism suspects at the Guantanamo Bay prison told U.S. interrogators as early as April 2002, just three months after the first detainees arrived, that military guards abused them and desecrated the Quran, declassified FBI records say.
“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.”
Lawrence Di Rita, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, said Wednesday that U.S. military officials at Guantanamo Bay had recently found a separate record of the same allegation by the same detainee, and he was re-interviewed on May 14. “He did not corroborate his own allegation,” Di Rita said.
Asked why he felt certain that this detainee did not affirm his allegation out of fear of retaliation, Di Rita said, “It’s a judgment call, and I trust the judgment of the commanders more than I trust the judgment of al Qaeda.”
The statements about guards disrespecting the Quran echo public allegations made many months later by some detainees and their lawyers after the prisoners’ release from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The once-secret FBI documents show a consistency to the allegations and are the first indication that Justice and Defense department officials were aware in early 2002 that detainees were accusing their guards of mistreating the Quran.
One told an interrogator in March 2003 that guards had repeatedly mishandled the Quran. This detainee asked why the United States, as a supporter of freedom of religion, was using the Muslim holy book as a weapon.
Still another said in October 2002 that he and other detainees had been “beaten, spit upon and treated worse than a dog.”
Di Rita said the charges of deliberate Quran desecration by U.S. military personnel were “fantastic” and “not credible on their face” because U.S. commanders were careful not to inflame passions among the detainees.
“Commanders knew it was a very sensitive issue and they didn’t need the trouble,” the spokesman said.
Di Rita also said that the terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay had been trained to make such false claims.