Qur'an desecration controversy of 2005

Qur'an desecration controversy of 2005

The Qur'an desecration controversy of 2005 began when "Newsweek's" April 30 issue contained a report about U.S. prison guards or interrogators deliberately damaging a copy of Islam's holiest book, the Qur'an.A week later, the charge that Americans were "desecrating the book on which our entire faith is based," Hendrik Hertzberg wrote in "The New Yorker", proclaimed by Muslim leaders such as Imran Khan, inflamed the Muslim world.cite news
title=Big News Week
publisher=New Yorker magazine
author=Hendrik Hertzberg
date=May 30, 2005
] quotation
'For five days, nothing. Then, on May 6th, Khan, in a press conference in Islamabad, waved a copy of the offending issue and thundered, “This is what the U.S. is doing—desecrating the Koran.” And, rhetorically addressing Musharraf: “This war on terrorism is self-defeating if, on the one hand, you are demanding that we help them”—that is, us—“and, on the other hand, they are desecrating the book on which our entire faith is based.” Khan’s remarks were broadcast repeatedly throughout the Muslim world. The riots began on May 10th; in Afghanistan, seventeen people died and more than a hundred were injured.'

The "Newsweek" article, part of which was subsequently retracted, stated that allegations that U.S. personnel at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp had deliberately damaged a copy of the book by flushing it in a toilet in order to torment the prison's Muslim captives had been confirmed by government sources.

The "Newsweek" article stated that an official had seen a preliminary copy of an unreleased U.S. government report confirming the deliberate damage. Later on, the magazine retracted this when the (still) unnamed official changed his story. A Pentagon investigation uncovered at least five cases of Qur'an mishandling by U.S. personnel at the base, but insisted that none of these were acts of desecration. The Pentagon's report also accused a "prisoner" of damaging a copy of the Qur'an by putting it in a toilet. In 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union, suing under the Freedom of Information Act, secured the release of a 2002 FBI report containing a detainee's accusation of ill-treatment, including throwing a Qur'an into a toilet.cite news
title=Formica Report Annex #195 Sworn Statement of [redacted]
] This specific accusation had been made on several occasions by other Guantanamo detainees since 2002; "Newsweek"'s initial account of a government report confirming it sparked protests throughout the Islamic world and riots in Afghanistan, where pre-planned demonstrations turned deadly. A worldwide controversy followed.

The "Newsweek" affair turned the spotlight on earlier media reports of such incidents. Accusations of Qur'an desecration as a part of U.S. interrogations at prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as Guantánamo Bay had been made by a number of sources going back to 2002.


There were over a dozen pre-"Newsweek" reports in the mainstream media alleging U.S. Qur'an abuse, including the following:

* Several times in 2002 and in early 2003, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported complaints by detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison of desecration of the Qur'an by U.S. guards in Guantanamo.cite news
title=ICRC told US of Quran abuse in 2002
publisher=Al Jazeera
date=May 21, 2005
* In 2003, an Afghan former prisoner told the "Washington Post" that U.S. soldiers tormented him by throwing the Qur'an in the toilet.cite news
title=Pentagon Probes Detainee Reports Of Koran Dumping
pages=page A16
publisher=Washington Post
author=John Mintz
date= May 14, 2005
* The BBC reported on December 30, 2004 that the former Guantánamo prisoner Abdallah Tabarak maintained that "American soldiers used to tear up copies of the Koran and throw them in the toilet."
* In a book review dated January 16, 2005, the "Hartford Courant" reported that five British detainees, after their release, claimed that they "had seen other prisoners sexually humiliated, had been hooded, and were forced to watch copies of the Koran being flushed down toilets."
* "The Philadelphia Inquirer" reported on January 20, 2005 that there were complaints concerning guards who had "defaced their copies of the Koran and, in one case, had thrown it in a toilet."
* "The Miami Herald" reported on March 6, 2005 that three Guantánamo captives — Fawzi al Odah, 27, Fouad al Rabiah, 45, and Khalid al Mutairi, 29 — "separately complained to their lawyer that military police threw their Korans into the toilet."
* "The Miami Herald" also reported on March 9, 2005 that Guantánamo Base staff insulted Allah and "threw Korans into toilets."

The "Newsweek" report

On April 30, 2005 "Newsweek" magazine published an article claiming that an unnamed United States official had seen a government report supporting a "previously unreported" charge. Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash. [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7693014/site/newsweek/] of Qur'an (Koran) desecration at Camp X-Ray, a U.S. military detention facility in Guantánamo Bay. [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7693014/site/newsweek/] The prospect that U.S. personnel may have deliberately defaced the Qur'an provoked massive anti-U.S. demonstrations throughout the Islamic world, with at least 17 deaths during riots in Afghanistan.

The "Newsweek" article, by reporter Michael Isikoff, was one of over a dozen such reports of similar incidents that had surfaced in prior months in the U.S. and U.K. media, but the first involving a U.S. government source acknowledging an inquiry into the event. The Isikoff article was later retracted by "Newsweek," which nonetheless defended both its reporter and the story, stating "neither we nor the Pentagon had any idea it would lead to deadly riots." The case turned the spotlight on other reports of desecration of the Qur'an at Guantánamo.

The article went largely unnoticed for five days. On May 6, a popular member of the Pakistani parliament, Imran Khan, held a press conference. Khan, who is a sharp critic of both Islamist terrorism and of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, criticized his country's government, saying, "This war on terrorism is self-defeating if, on the one hand, you [Musharraf] are demanding that we help them and on the other hand, they are desecrating the book on which our entire faith is based." Khan's press conference was rebroadcast throughout the Muslim world.

The "Newsweek" report cited an anonymous source, said to be a senior government official, who claimed to have seen a confidential investigative report documenting the alleged incident — in which interrogators, "in an attempt to rattle suspects, reportedly flushed a Qur'an down a toilet." However, on May 16, "Newsweek" retracted the statement that the abuse had been uncovered by an "internal military investigation." after the source of the story was later unable to confirm where he had seen the information. In its May 23 issue, "Newsweek" stated that:

: "Our original source later said he couldn't be certain about reading of the alleged Qur'an incident in the report we cited, and said it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts. Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we. But we regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst."

"The New York Times" quoted Isikoff as saying:

: "Neither "Newsweek" nor the Pentagon foresaw that a reference to the desecration of the Koran was going to create the kind of response that it did. The Pentagon saw the item before it ran, and then they didn't move us off it for 11 days afterward. They were as caught off guard by the furor as we were. We obviously blame ourselves for not understanding the potential ramifications."

International reaction

On May 10 and continuing the following week, many violent anti-American protests took place, and in some areas these turned into deadly riots. In Afghanistan, demonstrations that began in the eastern provinces and spread to Kabul were reported to have caused at least seventeen deaths. The United Nations, as a precautionary measure, withdrew all its foreign staff from Jalalabad, where two of its guest houses were attacked, government buildings and shops were targeted, and the offices of two international aid groups were destroyed. Demonstrations also took place in Palestine, Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan and Indonesia, leading to the death of at least 15 people.cite news
title=Afghan anti-US violence escalates
date= 12 May, 2005
] cite news
title=Karzai condemns anti-US protests
date= 14 May, 2005

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, "The report had real consequences, people have lost their lives. Our image abroad has been damaged." However, in a press release issued by the United States Department of State on May 12, General Richard B. Myers claimed that the "Newsweek" story was not a chief cause of the riots: "He has been told that the Jalalabad, Afghanistan, rioting was related more to the ongoing political reconciliation process in Afghanistan than anything else." cite web
title=Afghan Riots Not Tied to Report on Quran Handling, General Says: Army investigating allegations of mishandling at Guantanamo Bay facility
publisher=United Stated Department of State
author=Jacquelyn S. Porth
date=12 May 2005

On May 27, thousands of demonstrators gathered in what "The New York Times "referred to as "waves of protest" in Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and the Middle East, "mostly centered on Friday prayer gatherings." The "Times" reported that U.S. flags were burned at some demonstrations, and that, although most of the protests were peaceful, overt calls for an "Islamic revolution" were loudly supported by the crowds in Pakistan, further complicating a difficult political situation for General Musharraf.

A Red Cross spokesperson Simon Schorno confirmed that U.S. personnel at Camp X-rayFact|date=April 2008 had displayed "disrespect" to the Qur'an, and that U.S. officials knew of this activity. Delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross informed U.S. authorities, who took action to stop the alleged abuse, said Schorno. He declined to specify the nature of the incidents.

:"We're basically referring in general terms to disrespect of the Qur'an, and that's where we leave it", Schorno told The Associated Press. "We believe that since, U.S. authorities have taken the corrective measures that we required in our interventions."cite news
title=Dozens Have Alleged Koran's Mishandling
publisher=Los Angeles Times
author=Richard A. Serrano, John Daniszewski
date=May 22, 2005
] cite news
title=Red Cross 'raised Koran concerns'
date= 19 May, 2005

Shehzad Tanweer, who participated in the 7 July 2005 London bombing, may have had his ideology reinforced by allegations of Qur'an abuse. His cousin Mohammad Saleem noted that "Incidents like desecration of the Koran have always been in his mind." cite news
title=Cousin listened to boasts about suicide mission
publisher=The Times
author=Daniel McGrory, Zahid Hussain
date=July 22, 2005

Other news reports

* "The New York Times" reported on May 1, 2005 that " [Mr. al-Mutairi] said ... a protest of guards' handling of copies of the Koran, which had been tossed into a pile and stepped on, a senior officer delivered an apology over the camp's loudspeaker system, pledging that such abuses would stop."
*Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg gave an interview in June 2005 in which he claimed to have witnessed "incidents that provoked fury, including the placing of Qur’ans in an area used as a latrine." [http://iqna.ir/NewsBodyDesc_en.asp?lang=en&ProdID=21308]

US military findings

On June 3, 2005, a U.S. military investigation by the base commander, Brigadier General Jay Hood, reported four (possibly five) incidents of "mishandling" of the Qur'an by U.S. personnel at Guantánamo Bay. Hood said his investigation "revealed a consistent, documented policy of respectful handling of the Qur'an dating back almost two and a half years."cite news
title=Koran Inquiry: Description of Incidents
author=Jay Hood
date=June 3, 2005

CBC News reported::"The U.S. Pentagon confirmed Friday a list of abuses involving the Qur'an, Islam's holy book, by American personnel at Guantánamo Bay, but said the incidents were relatively minor."cite news
title=U.S. admits abuses to Qur'an in Guantanamo
date=June 4 2005

According to the Hood report:
*a soldier intentionally kicked a Qur'an;
*an interrogator intentionally stepped on a Qur'an;
*a guard's urine came through an air vent, unintentionally splashing a detainee and his Qur'an;
*water balloons thrown by prison guards at one another unintentionally caused a number of Qur'ans to get wet; and
*a two-word obscenity was written in English on the inside cover of a Qur'an (whether US personnel were responsible for this act, however, could not be confirmed). The report laid out the circumstances of these incidents and disciplinary actions taken. It also stressed that such mishandling was rare, and that guards were usually respectful of the Qur'an, following strict regulations the military laid down for handling the Qur'an.cite news
title=Excerpts from Joint Task Force Guantanamo Headquarters, Detention Operations Group Standard Operating Procedures
author=Jay Hood
date=February 1, 2005
] (The Qur'an handling policy was codified in a policy letter in January 2003 in response to reports by the Red Cross of Quran abuse.cite news
author=Jay Hood
date=June 3, 2005
] )

The Hood report also listed 15 reported incidents of detainees mishandling their own copies of the Qur'an, including complaints made by other detainees.One of these cases involved a prisoner "attempting to flush a Qur'an down the toilet and urinating on the Qur'an."

The statement did not provide any explanation about why the detainees might have abused their own holy books.

Independent findings

The recent book Inside the Wire by Guantanamo military translator Erik Saar and Viveca Novak reports such situations as a female interrogator taunting the prisoner sexually and wiping what seemed to be menstrual blood on the detainee. (It appears to have been ink; Saar reports that the prisoner was unable to clean himself and hence unable to pray.)

FBI documents and other reports

The "Newsweek" article and the ensuing controversy turned the spotlight on other reports of Qu'ran desecration and spurred additional investigations by others. After a verdict by a federal court on May 25, 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained documents from the FBI interrogations of Guantánamo Bay detainees dating back to August 2002. The documents stated that some detainees had claimed to have witnessed Qur'an desecration (including "flush [ing] a Koran in the toilet"), among other acts, on many occasions by their guards — in a document dated August 1, 2002. The pertinent excerpt reads as follows:

" [P] rior to his capture, [name redacted] had no information against the United States. Personally, he has nothing against the United States. The guards in the detention facility do not treat him well. Their behavior is bad. About five months ago, the guards beat the detainees. They flushed a Koran in the toilet. The guards dance around when the detainees are trying to pray. The guards still do these things."cite news
title=Investigation on redacted
date=August 2 2002

The ruling of the court forcing the release of this and other documents came under the Freedom of Information Act [http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N25430006.htm]

The ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said, in a news release, that "The United States government continues to turn a blind eye to mounting evidence of widespread abuse of detainees held in its custody."

The FBI declared that it could not investigate the matter, as it was up to the Defense Department to do so. For its part, the Pentagon, through its spokesman Lawrence Di Rita, appeared to have transitioned from flat denials to vagueness and unsettled syntax: "There have been instances, and we'll have more to say about it as we learn more, but where a Qur'an may have fallen to the floor in the course of searching a cell." Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, told reporters that "past accusations have had credibility issues."

James Jaffer, an attorney working for the ACLU, was quoted by the "New York Times" as stating that errors in the "Newsweek" story had been used to discredit other investigative efforts conducted by his organization and other groups "that were not based on anonymous sources, but [on] government documents, reports written by FBI agents."

Many questioned the veracity of such accounts, noting that the FBI, in 2004, had released a [http://web.archive.org/web/20050331091340/http://www.usdoj.gov/ag/trainingmanual.htm captured Al-Qaeda training manual] which Bush Presidency spokesmen claim shows that Al-Qaeda members are trained to make false accusations once captured. However, most of the accusations of Qur'an "toilet" desecrations now on the public record have been made by former detainees who were released by the U.S. government after being held without trial, and thus would seem to be low-probability candidates for al-Qaeda membership.

The SERE connection

Several reports have alleged a connection between events at Guantanamo Bay and a Pentagon-funded program known as SERE, which stands for "Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape."

On May 16, 2005, Juan Cole published an email from a former SERE attendee who reported abuse of the Christian holy book in training.cite news
title=Guantanamo Controversies: The Bible and the Koran
author=Juan Cole
date= May 16, 2005
] The emailer had no direct knowledge of operations at Guantanamo, but noted that this tactic sounded similar to that alleged in the Newsweek story.

In July 2005, an article in "The New Yorker" magazine suggested that the SERE program involved a number of techniques which paralleled those allegedly used at Guantánamo Bay, including the desecration of religious texts. The writer contacted Juan Cole's anonymous source who said that in 1999 he attended a Navy SERE program in California. [http://www.newyorker.com/online/content/articles/050711on_onlineonly01]

:So the Bible trashing happened when this guy had us all in the courtyard sitting for one of his speeches. They were tempting us with a big pot of soup that was boiling - we were all starving from a few days of chow deprivation. He brought out the Bible and started going off on it verbally - how it was worthless, we were forsaken by God, etc. Then he threw it on the ground and kicked it around. It was definitely the climax of his speech. Then he kicked over the soup pot and threw us back in the cells.

The SERE program's chief psychologist, Col. Morgan Banks, issued guidance in early 2003 for "behavioral science consultants" who helped to devise Guantánamo's interrogation strategy -- although Banks has emphatically denied that he advocated the use of SERE counter-resistance techniques to break down detainees. However, General James T. Hill, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, confirmed that a team from Guantanamo went "up to our SERE school and developed a list of techniques" for "high-profile, high-value" detainees. According to an op-ed in the November 14, 2005 "New York Times" by M. Gregg Bloche and Jonathan H. Marks, two lawyers with no first-hand knowledge of SERE, "General Hill had sent this list -- which included prolonged isolation and sleep deprivation, stress positions, physical assault and the exploitation of detainees' phobias -- to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who approved most of the tactics in December 2002. Some within the Pentagon warned that these tactics constituted torture, but a top adviser to Secretary Rumsfeld justified them by pointing to their use in SERE training, a senior Pentagon official told us last month."cite news
title=Doing Unto Others as They Did Unto Us
publisher=New York Times
author=Gregg Bloche, Jonathon H. Marks
date=November 14, 2005

ee also

* Creighton Lovelace
* Christianah Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin


External links

* [http://msnbc.msn.com/id/7693014/site/newsweek/ Gitmo: SouthCom Showdown] – original May 9, 2005 "Newsweek" story
* [http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/05/16/newsweek.quran/ Newsweek retracts Quran story]
* [http://www.aclu.org/torturefoia/search/search.html Government Documents] -- searchable ACLU archive of documents released under court order via the Freedom of Information Act, featuring recently declassified documents about reported Guantanamo Qur'an desecration
* [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7857154/site/newsweek/ The Editor's Desk] – "Newsweek's" May 23, 2005 apology
* [http://hrw.org/press/2003/01/wr2003.htm Human Rights Watch report]
* [http://www.gulfnews.com/Articles/OpinionNF.asp?ArticleID=165181 Did Newsweek Really Err?]
* [http://www.alternet.org/columnists/story/22026/ Molly Ivins: Don't Blame Newsweek]
* [http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2005/05/mil-050526-dod02.htm Transcript of press conference featuring Guantanamo Commander Brigadier General Jay Hood]
* [http://www.townhall.com/columnists/charleskrauthammer/ck20050603.shtml Gitmo Grovel: Enough Already] commentary by Charles Krauthammer
* [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/03/AR2005060301654.html Pentagon Details Abuse Of Koran]
* [http://www.newyorker.com/printables/fact/050711fa_fact4 The Experiment] "New Yorker" article about SERE techniques at Guantanamo Bay

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