Pentagon Reports on Incidents of Quran Abuse

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The Pentagon releases new details about five specific cases in which it says the Quran was mishandled by U.S. military guards and interrogators dealing with Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

More details are emerging about the treatment of the Koran by US interrogators and guards at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Late yesterday the Pentagon released a report describing five cases in which US personnel desecrated copies of the Koran. The military's report is the result of a three-week investigation which began when Newsweek magazine alleged that a US interrogator had flushed a Koran down a toilet. That article was later retracted. NPR's national security correspondent Jackie Northam joins us.

Jackie, thanks for being with us.

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And, in a nutshell, what did the inquiry find?

NORTHAM: Well, it found that there were several cases where US guards and interrogators did, in fact, mishandle the Koran. There was one case where an interrogator deliberately stepped on a Koran, and there was another case where a guard kicked a copy of the holy book. There is also one instance where a prisoner said that a two-word obscenity was written on the inside cover of his Koran, and the military couldn't confirm who wrote it, whether it was a guard or an interrogator, or a detainee himself. And there's another instance where the military found that a guard inadvertently urinated on a copy of the Koran. Apparently, he urinated next to an air vent outside and...

SIMON: Yeah.

NORTHAM: ...it somehow made its way into the cell, splashed on the detainee and on his copy of the Koran, as well. So those were just several of the things that the report found.

SIMON: And there were also desecrations by 15 detainees?

NORTHAM: Yes, that's right. Exactly. There are, you know--and those include several instances, actually, where the prisoner ripped out pages of the Koran and ripped them up into small pieces. There was another case where one of the detainees used the Koran as a pillow. Now what's unclear in this report that's come out is that--what led the detainee to do that, what led the prisoner to take his holy book and desecrate it in that manner, and that's just one of the many unanswered questions that we have. The military--the government has said, though, that `Lookit, you know, we've handed out 1,600 copies of the Koran and all we've got is five cases of the US personnel mishandling it.' So...

SIMON: Well, let me ask about those five cases. Is it--does this report say if those five cases are, in a sense, aberrations or part of a deliberate overall policy?

NORTHAM: Aberrations, absolutely. Isolated incidents, not systematic at all. Nothing to do with a policy whatsoever. Again, there's not enough contextual information in this report to understand what happened. It's very succinct in its details.

SIMON: And what happens now?

NORTHAM: Well, more details may come out in an investigation that's making its way through the Pentagon right now. The report on that--it's called the Schmidt report, and it's several months long, this report, and it should, hopefully, answer some questions. It was launched after FBI documents came to light that said, `Lookit, FBI agents felt that there were too harsh of interrogation techniques going on down there.' The other thing that's happening is Republican Senator Arlen Specter is now looking into launching an investigation as well, hearings, into how the US treats its foreign-born detainees, so there are a couple things that are on the horizon right now, Scott.

SIMON: NPR's national security correspondent Jackie Northam, thank you.

NORTHAM: Thanks very much.

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