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A Study in Abuse

The media ignores the facts about Koran abuse and piles on the Army.

11:30 AM, Jun 6, 2005 • By JOHN HINDERAKER
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WHEN NEWSWEEK REPORTED that a Guantanamo Bay guard had flushed a detainee's Koran down a toilet, the Muslim world erupted in protests, some of which turned violent. Newsweek later retracted the story. More significantly, so did the detainee who made the original allegation--a fact that went largely unreported. Nevertheless, the U.S. military commissioned Brigadier General Jay Hood to look into allegations of Koran mishandling at the Guantanamo facility. General Hood delivered his report on June 3; it can be accessed here. The report, read together with the ensuing press coverage, suggests how far our public discourse has diverged from any realistic understanding of war, prisons, or human behavior.

The Hood report documents an exquisite concern for the religious sensibilities of Guantanamo's detainees. Consider the implications of this incident:

On 18 AUG 03, two detainees complained that the guards had violated the Koran search policy when they touched the surgical masks used to hang detainee Korans from cell walls during a security, safety, and welfare inspection. The incident was recorded in the electronic blotter system. The guards stated in the blotter log that they were not violating Koran search policy because they did not actually touch the Koran when they squeezed and felt for bulges in the surgical masks. The SOP in place at the time of the incident did not address searching the Koran through the masks.

Or this one:

On 5 JAN 03, a translator was called to translate during a search of a cell. The detainee residing in the cell refused to show his Koran during the search. The guards informed the detainee that if he did not show his Koran they would be forced to search it. The detainee did not comply. The MPs put on clean latex gloves and used a clean towel as they conducted the search. During the search, detainees in nearby cells continuously threw water at the MPs. As the translator departed the cell, the detainee spat on him. The translator recorded the incident in a sworn statement.

Or this:

On 18 AUG 03, at 1220 hours, a guard conducted a routine search of a detainee's cell. During the search, the guard accidentally knocked the detainee's Koran out of its holder (a surgical mask) and onto his bunk. The block NCO responded to the cell and explained to the detainee that the incident was an accident. The ICRC asked MG Miller, Commander JTF-GTMO, about the incident during a meeting on 09 OCT 03. MG Miller told the ICRC that he had investigated the incident and determined it to be an accident. A guard recorded the incident in sworn statement.

There can't be a single instance, in all of human history, where the spiritual sensitivities of captured enemy combatants have been so scrupulously regarded. This is borne out by those few cases where "abuse" was actually found; they are, in the words of the often-puzzling cliché, exceptions that prove the rule. Consider what the apology and disciplinary action taken in this instance tell us about the rarity of such events:

On 25 JUL 03, a contract interrogator apologized to a detainee for stepping on the detainee's Koran in an earlier interrogation. The memorandum of the 25 Jul 03, interrogation session shows that the detainee had reported to other detainees that his Koran had been stepped on. The detainee accepted the apology and agreed to inform other detainees of the apology and ask them to cease disruptive behaviors caused by the incident. The interrogator was later terminated for a pattern of unacceptable behavior, an inability to follow direct guidance and poor leadership. We consider this a confirmed incident.

In one widely-reported incident, several copies of the Koran got wet when guards tossed water balloons into the detainees' compound:

On 15 AUG 03, two detainees complained to the swing shift guards (14002200 hrs) that the detainees' Korans were wet because the night shift guards had thrown water balloons on the block. The swing shift guards recorded the complaints in the block blotter log in accordance with normal procedures. We have not determined if the detainees made further complaints or if the Korans were replaced. There is no evidence that this incident was investigated. There is no evidence that the incident, although clearly inappropriate, caused any type of disturbance on the Block. We consider this a confirmed incident.

The Hood report doesn't explain what led up to the water balloon bombardment, but in the murderous context of Islamist terrorism, it's hard to get exercised about "torture" via water balloons.

The other incident that was widely reported following the Hood report's issuance involved an unlucky soldier who couldn't wait to relieve himself until he went off duty, and chose an unfortunate spot:

On 25 MAR 05, a detainee complained to the guards that urine came through an air vent in Camp 4, and splashed on him and his Koran while he laid near the air vent. A guard reported to a Block NCOIC that he was at fault. The guard had left his observation area post and went outside to urinate. He urinated near an air vent and the wind blew his urine through the vent into the block. The Sergeant of the Guard (SOG) responded and immediately relieved the guard. The SOG ensured the detainee received a fresh uniform and a new Koran. The Joint Detention Operations Group (JDOG) commander reprimanded the guard and assigned him to gate guard duty where he had no contact with detainees for the remainder of his assignment at JTF-GTMO. This incident was recorded in a series of contemporaneous sworn statements made by Camp 4 guard force members. There is no record that this incident caused any type of disturbance in the block. We consider this a confirmed incident.

Read in its entirety, the Hood report documents an extraordinary level of sensitivity to the detainees' religious concerns. Altogether, the investigators confirmed five instances where intentional or unintentional mishandling of the Koran apparently occurred, and four more where the guards' conduct "may have been inappropriate." This superlative record should be seen as a tribute to the training and discipline of the Army's guards and translators.

The Army did find, however, 15 instances of blatant Koran abuse at Guantanamo. All were committed by detainees. For example:

On 14 MAY 03, a guard observed a detainee rip his Koran into small pieces. The guard recorded the incident contemporaneously in a sworn statement.

On 5 JUN 03, a guard observed two detainees accuse a third detainee of not being a man. In response, the detainee urinated on one of their Korans. The detainees resided in adjacent cells. The event was recorded in FBI FD-302s, on 5 JUN 03 and 19 JUN 03.

On 19 JAN 05, a detainee tore up his Koran and tried to flush it down the toilet. Four guards witnessed the incident and it was recorded in the electronic blotter system.

On 23 JAN 05, a detainee ripped pages out of his Koran and threw them down the toilet. The detainee stated he did so because he wanted to be moved to another camp. Four guards witnessed the incident and it was recorded in the electronic blotter system.

If one were to sum up the Hood report in a headline, it might be: "Army Documents Extraordinary History of Respect for Koran." Or, "No Truth to Claims of Koran Abuse." Or perhaps: "Koran Abuse? Blame the Detainees." But that isn't how the story was played. Here were the headlines in England: "U.S. Admits Koran Abuse at Cuba Base", and "US Admits Guard Soiled Koran at Guantanamo". The London Times, not normally noted for anti-Americanism, led off with this summary:

An American guard at Guantanamo Bay urinated on a copy of the Koran while others kicked, stepped on and soaked copies with water balloons, the Pentagon admitted last night.

In India, the headline was "Guantanamo Guards Guilty".

Reuters' story on the report omitted any mention of the detainees' treatment of the Koran, and began:

The U.S. military for the first time on Friday detailed how jailers at Guantanamo mishandled the Koran, including a case in which a guard's urine splashed onto the Islamic holy book and others in which it was kicked, stepped on and soaked by water.

Anti-Americanism in foreign news coverage is perhaps not surprising. Here at home, however, the slant was not much different. The San Francisco Chronicle, not previously known for its solicitude for things spiritual, headlined: "U.S. Tells How Koran Was Defiled". The Los Angeles Times echoed, "Pentagon: Koran Defiled". Newsday wrote, "Quran Abuses Verified", while ABC headlined, "U.S. Confirms Gitmo Soldier Kicked Quran". Such headlines could be multiplied indefinitely. Many papers dwelt especially on the few drops of urine that inadvertently landed on a Koran, which inevitably prompts the recollection that only 16 years ago, the federal government not only tolerated the immersion of a crucifix in a jar of urine as a work of "art," but actually paid for it.

It seems that the Army--or maybe it's the United States--just can't win. It is almost inconceivable that the Hood report could have been more favorable to the Guantanamo guards and interrogators, yet the international and American press treated it as a confession of wrongdoing, at times with a hint that the Newsweek allegation had proven true after all. Little (frequently, nothing) was made of the fact that it was the Muslim detainees, not American guards or interrogators, who had perpetrated precisely the acts that were the excuse for anti-American riots in the Muslim world.

No matter how virtuous American conduct may be, the many members of the press raise the bar higher, with no regard for the realities of warfare, the inevitable sordidness of prison life, or the frailties of human nature. It is hard to see any purpose in this hypercriticism--no other country, except perhaps Israel, is held to such an extraordinary standard--other than to make it impossible for the United States to detain and interrogate prisoners. Or to fight a war.

John Hinderaker is a contributor to the blog Power Line and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard.