Saturday, June 04, 2005

It's still Newsweek's fault...

A military inquiry has found that guards or interrogators at the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba kicked, stepped on and splashed urine on the Koran, in some cases intentionally but in others by accident, the Pentagon said on Friday.

The splashing of urine was among the cases described as inadvertent. It was said to have occurred when a guard urinated near an air vent and the wind blew his urine through the vent into a detainee's cell. The detainee was given a fresh uniform and a new Koran, and the guard was reprimanded and assigned to guard duty that kept him from contact with detainees for the remainder of his time at Guantánamo, according to the military inquiry.

The investigation into allegations that the Koran had been mishandled also found that in one instance detainees' Korans were wet because guards on the night shift had thrown water balloons on the cellblock.

In another case, a two-word obscenity was written in English on the inside cover of a Koran, but investigators could not determine whether a guard or detainee had written it.

Last week, the head of the investigation, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, commander of the Guantánamo Joint Task Force, announced at the Pentagon that his preliminary findings had uncovered five cases in which the Koran was mishandled at the prison, but he refused to provide details.

In releasing those details in a final report on Friday, General Hood emphasized that any abuse of the Koran was unusual and that the military had gone to great lengths to be sensitive to the detainees' religious faiths, including issuing more than 1,600 Korans at the detention center.

"Mishandling a Koran at Guantánamo Bay is a rare occurrence," General Hood said in a statement released by the military's Southern Command. "Mishandling of a Koran here is never condoned."

The investigation was started about three weeks ago after Newsweek magazine published an article asserting that a separate inquiry by the military was expected to find that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet at the detention center. The magazine later retracted the article, but the assertion led to violence in the Muslim world that left at least 17 people dead.

General Hood said last week that there was no credible evidence to substantiate the claim that a Koran had ever been flushed down a toilet at the prison.
Frankly, what's truly amazing about this article is what it says that is known to be wrong. Only the White House has said that the Newsweek article prompted violence in "the Muslim world" (which part is that? Did we divide up the globe between the three religions of Abraham, and nobody told me?). That has been specifically denied by Hamed Kharzai, and by Gen. Richard Meyers. The desecration of the Koran has been alleged by numerous sources, so many that the Pentagon's insistent claim of "no credible evidence" now sounds as legalistic and carefully parsed as "what the meaning of 'is,' is." And it all fits the pattern of word-games that have become the hallmark of this Administration.

So now we learn that the Koran wasn't flushed down a toilet, but was treated as a toilet, albeit in a way so convoluted and bizarre one has to wonder about the veracity of the excuse of "inadvertance." Now we are told there are only five instances deemed "credible" by the Pentagon, the same Pentagon that finds it entirely credible that all acts of torture and humiliation, while conducted across the globe at U.S. military prisons almost simultaneously, and all conducted by U.S. soldiers put in charge by superior officers, is the act of "bad apples" and individuals, and no one with command authority has any, well, authority in the matter. So while there is no "credible" evidence of intentional desecration of Korans (It's now the Britney Spears defense: "Oops! I did it again!"), there's plenty of evidence of negligence. As the article points out, why this evidence is credible is not explained in the report. Perhaps the distinction is being made as to where the desecrations took place, since the Human Rights Watch report alleges most desecrations occurred at Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta, the camps that preceded Gitmo. Perhaps it's all in the timing. Perhaps it's a question of what "credibility" means:

"The fact that ICRC documented these allegations, documented them and formalized them, I think makes a difference," [ICRC spokesperson Simon] Schorno said. "We researched them and found they were credible allegations."

Although Red Cross employees did not personally witness any mishandling of Qurans, Schorno said, they documented and corroborated enough reports from detainees to share them with Pentagon and Guantanamo officials in confidential reports.

Schorno said the Red Cross would not have raised the issue if it had been an isolated incident, but he would not offer specifics about the number of complaints.
And there is, of course, the simple fact that this problem is not restricted to Gitmo, nor is it simply a problem of negligence on the part of a few guards. This press release was issued Thursday.

“In detention centers around the world, the United States has been humiliating Muslim prisoners by offending their religious beliefs,” said Reed Brody, special counsel for Human Rights Watch.

On December 2, 2002, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized a list of techniques for interrogation of prisoners at Guantánamo, which included “removal of all comfort items (including religious items),” “forced grooming (shaving of facial hair, etc.),” and “removal of clothing.” Each of these practices is considered offensive to many Muslims. These techniques were later applied in Afghanistan and Iraq as well.

The purpose of these techniques, Human Rights Watch said, is to inflict humiliation on detainees, which is strictly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.

Several former detainees have said that U.S. interrogators disrespected the Koran. Three Britons released from Guantánamo have alleged that the Koran was kicked and thrown in the toilet. A former Russian detainee, Aryat Vahitov, has reportedly made the same claim. A former Kuwaiti detainee, Nasser Nijer Naser al-Mutairi, has said that the throwing of a Koran on the floor led to a hunger strike at Guantánamo that ended only after a senior officer expressed regret over the camp's loudspeaker. Human Rights Watch also interviewed detainees who described a protest at a U.S. detention site at Kandahar airbase in Afghanistan in early 2002 that was set off by a guard’s alleged desecration of the Koran.

Erik Saar, a former Army translator at Guantánamo, has described a female interrogator wiping a detainee with what the prisoner was made to believe was menstrual blood.

U.S. personnel have also used dogs as part of the interrogation process, which—in addition to inducing fear—many Muslims consider to be unclean. In December 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld approved “using detainees’ individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce stress” at Guantánamo. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then the top U.S. commander in Iraq, authorized Abu Ghraib interrogators in September 2003 to “exploit Arab fear of dogs. ” The interrogators then used dogs on detainees in a manner that was captured in the Abu Ghraib photographs.
But, of course, the Pentagon didn't bring any of this up in its new briefing to reporters, so it cannot be mentioned in this front page NYT article.

"but it's alright, it's alright
for we lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the
road we're traveling on
I wonder what's gone wrong
I can't help it, I wonder what has gone wrong"
-Paul Simon, "American Tune"

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