5 cases of Quran mistreatment confirmed

Former Guantanamo detainees told McClatchy Newspapers that U.S. soldiers and interrogators mistreated the Quran in detention facilities at Bagram Air Base, Kandahar Airfield and Guantanamo.

Former detainees interviewed in Jordan, Russia, Kuwait, Pakistan and Afghanistan said that from late 2001 to early 2002, soldiers at Kandahar dropped Qurans into buckets used as latrines.

“I saw the soldiers, many times, drop the Quran on the floor, in the garbage and in buckets of feces,” said Airat Vakhitov, a Russian who was held at Kandahar for about six months in 2002 before he was transferred to Guantanamo.

It's an incendiary allegation: A 2005 Newsweek magazine report that Qurans were dumped in toilets at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, which the magazine later retracted, sparked riots in Afghanistan and other countries that killed more than a dozen people.

A U.S. military investigation of Quran-abuse allegations in the aftermath of the 2005 riots documented nine incidents of alleged mishandling of the Quran at Guantanamo, five of which were confirmed.

In a Justice Department study released May 20, the FBI said its agents on two occasions witnessed “disrespectful statements, handling or actions involving the Quran” at Guantanamo.

Senior defense officials repeatedly turned down requests for interviews, but Pentagon spokesman Col. Gary Keck said, “We heard many times the allegations about Qurans thrown into buckets that were used as latrines. There have been some (instances) where it's been substantiated, I think.”

Afterward, Keck quickly sent an e-mail to the reporter saying that he assumed that the conversation wasn't for reporting purposes.

Told that the reporter considered all conversations with public affairs officials to be on the record, but that there were no immediate plans to use the interview material, Keck sent a second note, saying, “My only concern here is that I have researched nothing specifically on the information we discussed, so if you need an on-the-record quote, I would have to try to determine the facts. I was speaking in general on the subject of detention operations, it is not my expertise. I would hate for you to use inaccurate information.”

Keck didn't supply any additional information in subsequent conversations.