Allegations that US guards mistreated the Koran, including flushing it in a lavatory, were lent extra weight on Wednesday by the publication by a US human rights group of documents detailing allegations by prisoners at Guanta’namo Bay.
The release of the documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information act by the American Civil Liberties Union, coincided with a call by Amnesty International for the US to regain its moral authority by showing greater respect for human rights.
In interviews with Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, prisoners at Guanta’namo alleged that guards abused the Koran by dropping it on the floor, kicking it, and on one occasion flushing it in a toilet.
Following pressure from the White House, Newsweek last week retracted an article after an anonymous source said he was no longer sure whether a Pentagon investigation into abuses at Guanta’namo would refer to allegations that the Koran had been flushed in a toilet.
The White House last week suggested that the Newsweek report had triggered riots in Afghanistan in which 16 people were killed. But President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who was visiting Washington this week, said the riots “were in reality not related to the Newsweek story”.
Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney, said: “The US government’s own documents show that it has known of numerous allegations of Koran desecration for a significant period of time.
“Its failure to address these allegations in a timely manner raises grave questions regarding the extent to which such desecration was authorised by high-ranking US officials in the first place.”
The Pentagon on Wednesday said it investigated all “credible allegations” of illegal conduct by US personnel. It questioned some allegations that have emerged from prisoners at Guanta’namo.
“It is important to note that al-Qaeda training manuals emphasise the tactic of making false abuse allegations,” said a Pentagon spokesman. “That these detainees are now making allegations of abuse at [Guanta’namo] seems to fit the standard operating procedure in al-Qaeda training manuals.”
In releasing its annual report on human rights on Wednesday, Irene Khan, Amnesty’s secretary general, said: “The US, as the unrivalled political military and economic superpower, sets the tone of governmental behaviour worldwide. . . By thumbing its nose at the rule of law and human rights, what message does the US send to repressive regimes who have little regard for the rule of law anyway?”
The report denounces a deepening erosion of human rights standards that had come largely as a consequence of the US war on terror. A “pick and choose” approach to international law was being replaced by a “erode where you can, select if you must, and subvert where you will” approach, Ms Khan said.
The US “double standards” were most vividly captured by the photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. Amnesty was also critical of US detentions at Guantanamo, and the failure of the US government to clarify the fate of detainees who are held in secret detention in other countries.