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May 16, 2005

Newsweek Got Gitmo Right


by Calgacus*

Contrary to White House spin, the allegations of religious desecration at Guantanamo published by Newsweek on May 9, 2005, are common among ex-prisoners and have been widely reported outside the United States. Several former detainees at the Guantanamo and Bagram prisons have reported instances of their handlers sitting or standing on the Koran, throwing or kicking it in toilets, and urinating on it. Prior to the Newsweek article, the New York Times reported a Guantanamo insider asserting that the commander of the facility was compelled by prisoner protests to address the problem and issue an apology.

One such incident (during which the Koran was allegedly thrown in a pile and stepped on) prompted a hunger strike among Guantanamo detainees in March 2002. Regarding this, the New York Times in a May 1, 2005, article interviewed a former detainee, Nasser Nijer Naser al-Mutairi, who said the protest ended with a senior officer delivering an apology to the entire camp. And the Times reports: "A former interrogator at Guantanamo, in an interview with the Times, confirmed the accounts of the hunger strikes, including the public expression of regret over the treatment of the Korans." (Neil A. Lewis and Eric Schmitt, "Inquiry Finds Abuses at Guantanamo Bay," New York Times, May 1, 2005.)

The hunger strike and apology story is also confirmed by another former detainee, Shafiq Rasul, interviewed by the UK Guardian in 2003 (James Meek, "The People the Law Forgot," Dec. 3, 2003). It was also confirmed by former prisoner Jamal al-Harith in an interview with the Daily Mirror (Rosa Prince and Gary Jones, "My Hell in Camp X-Ray," Daily Mirror, March 12, 2004).

The toilet incident was reported in the Washington Post in a 2003 interview with a former detainee from Afghanistan:

"Ehsannullah, 29, said American soldiers who initially questioned him in Kandahar before shipping him to Guantanamo hit him and taunted him by dumping the Koran in a toilet. 'It was a very bad situation for us,' said Ehsannullah, who comes from the home region of the Taliban leader, Mohammad Omar. 'We cried so much and shouted, "Please do not do that to the Holy Koran."' (Marc Kaufman and April Witt, "Out of Legal Limbo, Some Tell of Mistreatment," Washington Post, March 26, 2003.)

Also citing the toilet incident is testimony by Asif Iqbal, a former Guantanamo detainee who was released to British custody in March 2004 and subsequently freed without charge:

"The behavior of the guards towards our religious practices as well as the Koran was also, in my view, designed to cause us as much distress as possible. They would kick the Koran, throw it into the toilet, and generally disrespect it." (Center for Constitutional Rights [.pdf], Aug. 4, 2004.)

The claim that U.S. troops at Bagram prison in Afghanistan urinated on the Koran was made by former detainee Mohamed Mazouz, a Moroccan, as reported in the Moroccan newspaper, La Gazette du Maroc. (Abdelhak Najib, "Les Américains pissaient sur le Coran et abusaient de nous sexuellement," April 12, 2005.) An English translation is available on the Cage Prisoners site (which describes itself as a "nonsectarian Islamic human rights Web site").

Tarek Derghoul, another of the British detainees, similarly cites instances of Koran desecration in an interview with Cage Prisoners.

Desecration of the Koran was also mentioned by former Guantanamo detainee Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost and reported by the BBC in early May 2005. (Haroon Rashid, "Ex-Inmates Share Guantanamo Ordeal," May 2, 2005.)

*Calgacus has been employed as a researcher in the national security field for 20 years.


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