WASHINGTON - The Pentagon released new details yesterday about mishandling of the Quran at the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorism suspects, confirming that a soldier deliberately kicked the Muslim holy book and that an interrogator stepped on a Quran and was later fired for "a pattern of unacceptable behavior."
In other confirmed incidents, a guard's urine came through an air vent and splashed on a detainee and his Quran; water balloons thrown by prison guards caused an unspecified number of Qurans to get wet; and in a confirmed but ambiguous case, a two-word obscenity was written in English on the inside cover of a Quran.
The findings, released after normal business hours last night, are among the results of an investigation last month by Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, the commander of the detention center in Cuba, that was triggered by a Newsweek magazine report - later retracted - that a U.S. soldier had flushed a Guantanamo Bay detainee's Quran down a toilet.
The story stirred worldwide controversy, and the Bush administration blamed it for deadly demonstrations in Afghanistan.
Hood said in a written statement released yesterday evening, along with the new details, that his investigation "revealed a consistent, documented policy of respectful handling of the Quran dating back almost 2 1/2 years."
A spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Lawrence Di Rita, did not address the confirmed incidents of mishandling the Muslim holy book. Reached while traveling with Rumsfeld in Asia, Di Rita said U.S. Southern Command policy calls for "serious, respectful and appropriate" handling of the Quran.
"The Hood inquiry would appear to affirm that policy," Di Rita said.
Hood said that of nine mishandling cases that were studied in detail by reviewing thousands of pages of written records, five were confirmed to have happened. He could not determine whether the four others took place.
In one of those four unconfirmed cases, a detainee complained to FBI and other interrogators in April 2003 that guards "constantly defile the Quran." The detainee alleged that in one instance a female military guard threw a Quran into a bag of wet towels to anger another detainee, and he also alleged that another guard said the Quran belonged in the toilet and that guards were ordered to do these things.
Hood said he found no other record of this detainee mentioning any Quran mishandling. The detainee has since been released.
In the most recent confirmed case, Hood said a detainee complained March 25 of urine splashing on him and his Quran. An unidentified guard admitted at the time that "he was at fault," the Hood report said, although it did not say whether the act was deliberate. The guard's supervisor reprimanded him and assigned him to gate guard duty, where he had no contact with detainees for the remainder of his assignment at Guantanamo Bay.
As described in the Hood report, the guard had left his observation post and went outside to urinate. He urinated near an air vent, and the wind blew his urine through the vent into the cell block. The incident was not explained further.
In another of the confirmed cases, a contract interrogator stepped on a detainee's Quran in July 2003 and then apologized. "The interrogator was later terminated for a pattern of unacceptable behavior, an inability to follow direct guidance and poor leadership," the Hood report said.
Hood also said his investigation found 15 cases of detainees mishandling their own Qurans. "These included using a Quran as a pillow, ripping pages out of the Quran, attempting to flush a Quran down the toilet and urinating on the Quran," Hood's report said. It offered no explanation for those alleged abuses.
In the most recent of those 15 cases, on Feb, 18 a detainee is alleged to have ripped up his Quran and handed it to a guard, stating that he had given up on being a Muslim. Several of the guards witnessed this, Hood reported.
Last week, Hood disclosed that he had confirmed five cases of mishandling of the Quran, but he refused to provide details. Allegations of Quran desecration at Guantanamo Bay have led to anti-American passions in many Muslim nations, although Pentagon officials have insisted that the problems were relatively minor and that U.S. commanders have gone to great lengths to enable detainees to practice their religion in captivity.
Hood said last week that he found no credible evidence that a Quran was ever flushed down a toilet. He said a prisoner who was reported to have complained to an FBI agent in 2002 that a military guard threw a Quran in the toilet has since told Hood's investigators that he never witnessed any form of Quran desecration.
Other prisoners who were returned to their home countries after serving time at Guantanamo Bay as terrorism suspects have alleged Quran desecration by U.S. guards, and some have said a Quran was placed in a toilet.
There are about 540 detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Some have been there more than three years without being charged with a crime.