Detainees told FBI interrogators as early as April 2002 that mistreatment of the Koran was widespread at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and many said they were severely beaten by captors there or in Afghanistan, according to FBI documents released yesterday.
The summaries of FBI interviews, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of an ongoing lawsuit, include a dozen allegations that the Koran was kicked, thrown to the floor or withheld as punishment. One prisoner said in August 2002 that guards had “flushed a Koran in the toilet” and had beaten some detainees.
But the Pentagon said yesterday that the same prisoner, who is still in custody, was reinterviewed on May 14 and “did not corroborate” his earlier claim about the Koran.
“We still have found no credible allegations that a Koran was flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in a statement last night.
The newly declassified accounts, written primarily in 2002 and 2003, were released in the aftermath of an international uproar over a now-retracted story by Newsweek magazine, which reported that an internal military investigation had confirmed that a Koran was flushed down a toilet. Some administration officials have blamed the story for sparking riots overseas that left 16 people dead.
The disclosures came on the same day that Amnesty International released a report calling Guantanamo Bay “the gulag of our time” and labeling the United States “a leading purveyor and practitioner” of torture and mistreatment of prisoners. Amnesty and the Constitution Project, a legal advocacy group, made separate demands yesterday for an independent investigation into allegations of detainee abuse at U.S. facilities.
While detainees and others have lodged complaints of abuse at Guantanamo Bay, this is only the second major release of internal FBI memos on the subject. The accounts released yesterday by the ACLU consist of summaries of FBI interrogations of Guantanamo Bay detainees and therefore do not provide corroboration of the allegations.
Some captives said they witnessed mistreatment of the Koran. Three told FBI interrogators that they had only heard about incidents from other inmates, the records show.
Yet the interviews underscore that U.S. government officials were made aware of allegations of prisoner abuse and Koran mistreatment within months of the opening of Guantanamo Bay in early 2002, and echo allegations made by the International Committee of the Red Cross and a Muslim chaplain, as well as the detainees and their attorneys.
Pentagon officials said last week that they had not investigated claims of Koran desecration because they had not been presented with any specific or credible allegations of such activity. But they also said that they were reviewing allegations related to mistreatment of the Muslim holy book.
Whitman said in his statement last night that al Qaeda members have been trained to lie about their treatment during incarceration, and that officials at Guantanamo Bay have had “a great deal of sensitivity to the importance of the Koran and other religious items and practices and . . . extensive procedures were put in place to respect the cultural dignity of the Koran.” In January 2003, the Pentagon issued rules for handling the holy book.
FBI officials said the interviews were conducted to gather intelligence, but the records show that dozens of prisoners volunteered allegations of abuse and complained bitterly that poor treatment was causing many to refuse to cooperate with interrogators. Numerous prisoners reported hearing plans for mass suicides, and another “asked agents to kill him.”
One prisoner said he and other detainees had been “beaten, spit upon and treated worse than a dog” at Guantanamo Bay and added that military canine units received better treatment. Another prisoner complained about sexual assaults of other captives and said he believed the treatment “might create a new terrorist.”
About a dozen of the FBI interviews included allegations that guards or interrogators at Guantanamo Bay either mishandled the Koran to outrage prisoners or engaged in religiously offensive behavior that included, in one instance, throwing a prisoner’s prayer cap in the trash.
The records also include numerous allegations that guards or interrogators at Guantanamo Bay used sexually suggestive techniques designed to humiliate Muslim men. One said he was forced to stand naked in front of a female interrogator. Another said he was “touched sexually” by male guards.
The government has said two female interrogators at Guantanamo Bay have been reprimanded for sexually related techniques, including one for smearing ink on a detainee and telling him that it was menstrual blood.
The FBI records also include at least 19 separate allegations of beatings or other severe violence on the part of guards or others in control of the prisoners in Afghanistan or at Guantanamo Bay. One captive said he was kicked in the stomach, back and head by U.S. military personnel at an unknown location and suffered a broken shoulder.
“The evidence that there was systemic and widespread abuse of detainees in U.S. custody continues to mount and the government continues to turn a blind eye to this evidence,” said Amrit Singh, an ACLU lawyer.
In releasing its annual report on human rights yesterday, Amnesty International called for an independent investigation into alleged abuse at U.S. detention facilities. Executive Director William F. Schulz asked for the prosecution of the “architects of torture policy” at the highest levels of the Bush administration.
“The refusal of the U.S. government to conduct a truly independent investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and other detention centers is tantamount to a whitewash, if not a coverup, of these disgraceful crimes,” Schulz said in a news conference at the National Press Club. He later called on foreign governments to investigate leaders such as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld if the United States is unwilling to do so.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said: “The allegations are ridiculous and unsupported by the facts. The United States is leading the way when it comes to protecting human rights and promoting human dignity.”
The Constitution Project, based at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute, urged Congress to begin an independent investigation similar to the one conducted by the Sept. 11 commission to examine how abuse occurred and to develop policies to prevent such incidents.