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Quran abuse: Red Cross warned US

May 20, 2005 13:50 IST
 The International Red Cross told US authorities about allegations that American personnel at the Guantanamo Bay detention center showed disrespect to Islam's holy book, the Quran, a spokesman said Thursday.

Delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross informed US authorities, who took action to stop the alleged abuse, said spokesman Simon Schorno. He declined to specify the nature of the incidents

We're basically referring in general terms to disrespect of the Quran, and that's where we leave it," Schorno told The Associated Press. "We believe that since, US authorities have taken the corrective measures that we required in our interventions."

Quran story sullied US image

About 15 people died in clashes with security forces in Afghanistan last week after Newsweek reported that US interrogators had flushed a Quran down a toilet at the prison camp for terrorist suspects at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The magazine later retracted the story.

Red Cross delegates, who have visited Guantanamo regularly since the arrival in January 2002 of the first of about 600 detainees, did not personally witness any instances of disrespect toward the Quran. Instead, Schorno said, they received an unspecified number of reports from detainees that this had occurred.

Schorno told the Chicago Tribune, which first reported the story Thursday, that the delegates gathered and corroborated enough similar, independent reports from detainees to raise the issue on numerous occasions with Guantanamo commanders and Pentagon officials.

"All information we received were corroborated allegations," he told the newspaper. "Obviously, it is not just one person telling us something happened and we just fire up." It was unclear what the Red Cross' corroboration process consisted of.

Questions remain

On Jan. 19, 2003, after the Geneva-based ICRC's reports, the Pentagon issued nearly three pages of guidelines for handling of the Quran. Since then, according to the Tribune, the Red Cross has not received any other complaints or documented similar incidents.

"We brought it to their attention and we believe there was a reaction, and that's really the objective of our reporting and interaction with the authorities," Schorno told the AP by telephone from Washington.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the ICRC's concerns about the handling of the Quran at Guantanamo were consistent with those the Pentagon has acknowledged, such as a Quran inadvertently dropping to the floor.

Whitman, however, declined to provide specifics on the ICRC's complaints. He said the ICRC raised issues on "rare occasion" about the handling of the Quran, and that the military was receptive to the group's concerns.

He refused to specifically say whether the ICRC had raised issues about a Quran being placed in a toilet. The Pentagon has said it has no evidence such an incident ever happened.

The basic instruction in the January 2003 guidelines, as described in the document, was to avoid touching a Quran whenever possible, and that when it is deemed a "military necessity" to do so, a chaplain or Muslim interpreter -- not a guard -- is to inspect the holy book.

"Handle the Quran as if it were a fragile piece of delicate art," the guidelines said. "Ensure that the Quran is not placed in offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet, or dirty/wet areas."

Pentagon officials said this week that they had not determined for certain what triggered the writing of the guidelines. Whitman said his best information was that the guidelines were not a result of the ICRC complaints.

Sam Cage in Geneva
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