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Probe finds 5 Quran mishandling cases

Guantanamo Bay commander: 'No credible evidence' of flushing

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba)
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The commander of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said Thursday an investigation had identified five incidents in which the Quran appears to have been mishandled by his personnel.

But Brig. Gen. Jay Hood said he has found "no credible evidence" that personnel at the military prison flushed a Quran in a toilet.

Hood spoke to reporters on the interim findings of his investigation after spending the afternoon briefing defense committees on Capitol Hill.

The five suspect incidents were among 13 involving alleged mishandling that were culled from a review of about 31,000 documents representing three years worth of records.

Ten allegedly were by guards and three by interrogators, said Hood, who has held his job since March 2004.

"We found that in only five of those 13 incidents, four by guards and one by an interrogator, there was what could be broadly defined as mishandling of a Quran," 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 added.

In six of the 13 incidents, a guard "either accidentally touched a Quran, touched it within the scope of his duties, or did not actually touch the Quran at all," he said. "We considered each of these incidents resolved."

In the other two incidents -- both involving interrogators -- "we found that a Quran was either touched or stood over during an interrogation. The first incident does not appear to be mishandling, as it involved placing two Qurans on a television," Hood said.

"The Quran was not touched during the second incident, and the interrogator's action during the interrogation was accidental."

Investigators also identified 15 separate incidents where detainees themselves mishandled or inappropriately treated the Quran, said Hood, who noted he believes current guidance for the guard force on the island "is adequate."

He said it was important to understand the population held at the detention center on the U.S. naval base.

"This is not a benign group of people," he said. "Enemy combatants are detained because they represent a clear threat and danger to the United States and our allies."

Hood credited information gathered from the detainees with having "undoubtedly saved the lives of U.S. and coalition forces abroad" and having "thwarted threats posed to innocent civilians at home and abroad."

Still, the security personnel at the prison "are committed to respecting the cultural dignity of the Quran and the detainees' practice of faith."

Hood said "every effort" has been made to provide detainees with Islamic religious articles and to accommodate their religious practices.

He said he would not detail the specifics involved in the alleged incidents of mishandling until the investigation is complete.

Punishment carried out

Hood did address FBI documents released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union in which one detainee alleged in August 2002 that guards had flushed a copy of the Quran in a toilet.

The ACLU obtained the records after a federal court ordered the FBI to hand them over in a lawsuit brought by the rights group under the Freedom of Information Act. (Full story)

Hood said the man who had made the complaint was interviewed again later.

"We then proceeded to ask him about any incidents where he had seen the Quran defiled, desecrated or mishandled, and he allowed as how he hadn't, but he had heard guards at some point in time had done this," Hood said.

The man did not repeat his earlier charge that had referenced a toilet, said Hood, who acknowledged that the detainee was not asked specifically about his previous complaint.

In two cases, punishment has been meted out to the guards or the interrogators involved, Hood said, adding that he would not specify the nature of the punishment until "this thing is complete."

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero criticized U.S. treatment of detainees Wednesday.

"The United States government continues to turn a blind eye to mounting evidence of widespread abuse of detainees held in its custody," he said in a news release.

"If we are to truly repair America's standing in the world, the Bush administration must hold accountable high-ranking officials who allow the continuing abuse and torture of detainees."

A recent Newsweek magazine article alleged that U.S. investigators concluded that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Quran, in one instance by flushing the Muslim holy book down a toilet.

Newsweek subsequently retracted the report, saying its government source raised doubts about his information after publication.

The Bush administration blamed the report, at least in part, for deadly violence that erupted in early May, when thousands of demonstrators marched in Afghanistan and other parts of the Muslim world.

But Newsweek and some U.S. officials said the article was not to blame for the violence.

CNN's Kelli Arena, Justine Redman and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

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