Bush Administration changes official position on legitimacy of Qur'an desecration allegations

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Saturday, June 4, 2005

The cover of the Qur'an

After an investigation of allegations that Islam's holy book the Qu'ran was mishandled in front of inmates at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Bush administration has acknowledged the credibility of some of these reports. According to Robert Burns of the Associated Press, U.S. military officials acknowledged that, "a Muslim holy book was splashed with urine," and "a detainee's Quran was deliberately kicked and another's was stepped on." The US government first denied a specific report that the Qu'ran had been flushed down a toilet at the prison facility, but on Friday agreed that similar allegations were indeed true.

On May 16, Newsweek magazine apologized to the victims of deadly riots that ensued due to a Newsweek article stating that U.S. officials defiled the Qur'an. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan criticized Newsweek's initial response to the incident, saying it was "puzzling." Later that day, Newsweek retracted the story, which the White House said was a "good first step".

On May 20, the International Red Cross (IRC) revealed in a rare public announcement that it had documented and reported to the United States credible information concerning desecration of the Qur'an by Guantanamo Bay personnel. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, acknowledged that allegations were made on "rare occasions" but were uncorroborated. Simon Schorno, a Red Cross spokesman, disputed the Pentagon's denial saying, "All information we received were corroborated allegations." He added that, "We certainly corroborated mentions of the events by detainees themselves," and that "the ICRC considers such reports "very seriously, and very carefully, and [we] document everything."

Irene Khan, Secretary General, Amnesty International

Scott McClellan explained in a press conference that the White House is not trying to tell Newsweek what to print. McClellan said, "Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that's all I'm saying. But, no, you're absolutely right, it's not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report."

On May 25, Amnesty International called for the shutdown on Guantanamo Bay due to numerous human rights violations, saying "The 'war on terror' appeared more effective in eroding international human rights principles than in countering international 'terrorism'." Amnesty International's view was shared by both the International Red Cross (IRC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The IRC has said it reported to the U.S. government detainee's reports of desecration of the Qur'an. In the foreword of the report, written by Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan, Guantanamo was compared to a Soviet-era gulag in that it is "entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law".

White House spokesman Scott McClellan responded saying the report's allegations were "ridiculous and unsupported by the facts. The United States is leading the way when it comes to protecting human rights and promoting human dignity. We have liberated 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have worked to advance freedom and democracy in the world so that people are governed under a rule of law and that there are... protections in place for minority rights, that women's rights are advanced so that women can fully participate in societies where now they cannot", as well as supporting the fight against AIDS in Africa.

About the allegations of abuse at Guantanamo, which McClellan has previously called isolated incidents, he said, "We hold people accountable when there is abuse. We take steps to prevent it from happening again, and we do so in a very public way for the world to see that we lead by example, and that we do have values that we hold very dearly and believe in."

On May 31, U.S. President George W. Bush dismissed the human rights report as "absurd" for its harsh criticism of U.S. treatment of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying the allegations were made by prisoners "who hate America." "It's an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world," Bush said of the Amnesty International report.

William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, defended the report, saying, "What is 'absurd' is President Bush's attempt to deny the deliberate policies of his administration." and "What is 'absurd' and indeed outrageous is the Bush administration's failure to undertake a full independent investigation". Irene Khan also responded saying, "The administration's response has been that our report is absurd, that our allegations have no basis, and our answer is very simple: if that is so, open up these detention centres, allow us and others to visit them."

And, on Friday, the U.S. military released the results of their investigation and confirmed that in 5 separate incidents, American guards at the Guantánamo Bay prison "mishandled" the Islamic holy book. However, they stress that guards were usually "respectful" of the Qur'an. One incident involved splashing a Koran with urine by urinating near an air vent while others involved kicking, stepping on and writing in Qur'ans.

Brigadier-General Jay Hood, the commander of the jail, looked into the allegations, published and then retracted by Newsweek, that American personnel flushed a Qur'an down a toilet. He said that the inquiry did not find any evidence supporting this particular allegation. "The inquiry found no credible evidence that a member of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay ever flushed a Qur'an down a toilet. This matter is considered closed."

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