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Detainee's account of flushed Quran comes into question

WASHINGTON—The prisoner who told FBI agents in 2002 that a Quran had been flushed down a toilet at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp did not repeat the allegation during recent questioning by Army investigators, the U.S. commander of the camp said Thursday.

"We have found no credible evidence that a member of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay ever flushed a Quran down a toilet," Maj. Gen. Jay W. Hood told reporters at the Pentagon.

But Hood said investigators did not specifically ask the prisoner about the alleged toilet incident when they re-interviewed him at Guantanamo May 14. Asked why, Hood indicated that the investigators didn't want to suggest to the prisoner what they were interested in.

"A toilet was not involved, nor did he give any indication of that," Hood said.

Hood's briefing came one day after the American Civil Liberties Union released a copy of a 2002 FBI memo that summarized the prisoner's account of the alleged flushing incident and 10 days after Newsweek magazine retracted an item that said military investigators had confirmed such an incident. White House officials had blamed the Newsweek item for sparking rioting in Afghanistan that left 15 dead.

Hood said that investigators had reviewed 31,000 documents and had identified 13 incidents of "alleged mishandling" of the Quran at the detention facility at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He said investigators concluded that most were accidental.

Of the 13 incidents, 10 were by guards and three by interrogators, Hood said. Most of those incidents occurred in the first year and a half after the prison camp was set up in January 2002, he said.

Investigators confirmed that five of the incidents involved inappropriate handling of the Quran, including four involving guards and one involving an interrogator, Hood said. He did not reveal details about the incidents, except to say they "could be broadly defined as mishandling."

Three of the five were deliberate and the other two were accidental, he said.

"None of these five incidents was a result of a failure to follow standard operating procedures in place at the time the incident occurred," Hood said, but disciplinary action had been taken in two of the incidents. Hood provided few details, but in response to a question said one guard had been transferred.

Investigators concluded that eight other alleged incidents were not intentional, Hood said. Six involved guards who touched the Quran while performing their duties and two involved interrogators who either touched or "stood over" the Quran. In one instance, he said, an interrogator placed two Qurans on a television set.

Hood said the investigation was continuing, but that the six cases involving guards had been resolved and no additional disciplinary action was expected. It was unclear whether action might still be pending against interrogators.

The FBI document released Wednesday recounted a prisoner's complaint to FBI agents in 2002 that a guard had thrown a Quran into a toilet. The allegation was among several quoted in summaries of FBI interviews made public in response to an ACLU lawsuit.

Hood said that Army investigators re-interviewed the prisoner May 14 at Guantanamo and asked him if a Quran had ever been "defiled, desecrated or mishandled," but did not ask him specifically about the toilet allegation.

In that interview, the prisoner, who has not been identified, said he had heard rumors of guards mishandling religious articles but had never witnessed the alleged acts, Hood said.

As for the FBI documents, "These are summaries of somebody else's interrogation," Hood said, in answer to a question of why the Army investigators did not bring up the toilet claim.

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(San Martin reports for The Miami Herald.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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