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New Documents Reveal Guantánamo Prisoners Told FBI Of Koran Desecration In 2002

New documents released by the FBI include previously undisclosed interviews in which prisoners at Guantánamo complain that guards have mistreated the Koran, the American Civil Liberties Union and New York Civil Liberties Union said today. In one 2002 summary, an FBI interrogator notes a prisoner’s allegation that guards flushed a Koran down the toilet.

The disclosure comes on the heels of controversy over a Newsweek report saying that government investigators had corroborated an almost identical incident. Newsweek ultimately retracted its story because a confidential government source could not be confirmed.

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

According to the FBI documents, a detainee interviewed in August 2002 said that guards had flushed the Koran in the toilet. Others reported the Koran being kicked, withheld as punishment, and thrown on the floor, and said they were mocked during prayers.

The release of the FBI interviews follows the disclosure last week of Defense Department documents regarding other cases in which military personnel mistreated the Koran and used a religious symbol to taunt detainees.

In the documents released today, one detainee informs his FBI interviewers that using the Koran “as a reprisal or as an incentive for cooperation has failed,” and that the only result would be “the damage caused to the reputation of the United States once what had occurred was released to the world.” While another detainee acknowledged that there might be “a legitimate need to search the book for hidden items,” he objected to the abusive manner in which the searches were conducted.

“The United States government’s own documents show that it has known of numerous allegations of Koran desecration for a significant period of time,” said Amrit Singh, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Its failure to address these allegations in a timely manner raises grave questions regarding the extent to which such desecration was authorized by high-ranking U.S. officials in the first place.”

In addition to complaints about treatment of the Koran, the latest documents include reports of:

  • Beatings. On August 23, 2002, a detainee told an interviewer of being “kicked in the stomach and back by several individuals” after being turned over to U.S. authorities. On one occasion during prayer time, a soldier placed his foot on [his] head and sat on his head.” Another interviewer was told on August 28, 2002 of a detainee being “kicked violently in the jaw” after he tripped and fell while handcuffed.
  • Planned Suicides. Several detainees spoke of suicidal thoughts while in custody. In December 2002, one reported that “40-50 detainees intended to commit suicide after Ramadan ended because they were tired of being detained with no prospect of being released and they were tired of being mistreated by guards.”
  • Hunger Strikes. An interviewer noted that the “mental condition of the detainees is to the point where the detainees are participating in a hunger strike. [They] are upset with the way they are treated by the guards.” One man had not eaten in six days or changed his clothes and “insisted on being charged with a crime or released.”
  • Sexual Assaults. In April 2003, a detainee told interviewers that a female guard fondled his genitals while male guards held him down. She told him that she was having her menstrual period and “she wiped blood from her body on his face and head.” (A similar incident is described in a recently released book by former Guantánamo interrogator Erik Saar.)

The FBI released the documents last week in response to a federal court order that directed the FBI and other government agencies to comply with a request under the Freedom of Information Act filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.

To date, more than 35,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at here.

Tomorrow, the ACLU will return to court to argue that Defense Department and CIA are unlawfully withholding documents concerning abuse and torture of prisoners.

The FOIA lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Singh, Jameel Jaffer, and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur N. Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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