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Officials confirm guards improperly handled Quran

WASHINGTON – U.S. investigators have confirmed five cases where guards and an interrogator improperly handled the Quran at Guantanamo Bay prison, and two cases led to disciplinary action over their treatment of the Muslim holy book, the Pentagon said Thursday.

The prison’s commander also said that a detainee recanted his 2002 allegation that a Quran was flushed down a toilet – even though investigators never asked him specifically about the toilet allegation when they re-interviewed him two weeks ago.

Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, who heads the prison in Cuba, said he found “no credible evidence” of a Quran being placed in a toilet. He said the detainee in question told investigators May 14 that he had only heard talk of guards mistreating detainees’ religious items but never witnessed such incidents.

U.S. treatment of Muslim religious rights at the prison for war-on-terror detainees has come under greater scrutiny in recent weeks after Newsweek reported – then later retracted – an allegation of a Quran put into a toilet. The Pentagon responded sharply to that story, saying it had contributed to riots in Afghanistan that killed at least 17 even though a top U.S. general earlier disputed that link.

But Thursday’s news conference confirmed that U.S. personnel at the military prison didn’t always handle the book properly, a situation that prompted complaints from the heavily Muslim population. The Pentagon generally has downplayed those complaints, saying that al Qaeda detainees are trained to lie to interrogators.

Hood said investigators found a total of 13 complaints related to how U.S. personnel treated detainees’ Qurans and considered five credible allegations that could be “broadly defined as mishandling of a Quran.” He refused to detail the incidents, but said three appeared to be deliberate in nature.

None of the incidents related to the Quran being mishandled on purpose during an interrogation in hopes of softening up a prisoner, he said.