FBI agents witnessed possible mistreatment of the Koran at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including at least one instance in which an interrogator squatted over Islam‘s holy text in an apparent attempt to offend a captive, according to bureau documents released yesterday.
In October 2002, a Marine captain allegedly squatted over a copy of the Koran during intensive questioning of a Muslim prisoner, who was “incensed” by the tactic, according to an FBI agent. A second agent described similar events, but it is unclear from the documents whether it was a separate case.
In another incident that month, interrogators wrapped a bearded prisoner’s head in duct tape “because he would not stop quoting the Koran,” according to an FBI agent, the documents show. The agent, whose account was corroborated by a colleague, said that a civilian contractor laughed about the treatment and was eager to show it off.
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The reports amount to new and separate allegations of religiously oriented tactics used against Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. After an erroneous report of Koran abuse prompted deadly protests overseas in 2005, the U.S. military conducted an investigation that confirmed five incidents of intentional and unintentional mishandling the book at the detention facility. They acknowledged that soldiers and interrogators had kicked the Koran, had stood on it and, in one case, had inadvertently sprayed urine on a copy.
The reports released yesterday were the result of an internal survey conducted in 2004 by the FBI, which asked nearly 500 employees who had served at Guantanamo Bay to report possible mistreatment by law enforcement or military personnel. More than two dozen incidents were reported, including some that the government had revealed in earlier document releases.
The new documents were turned over as part of an ongoing lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.
In them, FBI employees said they had witnessed 26 incidents of possible mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, including previously reported cases in which prisoners were shackled to the floor for extended periods of time or subjected to sexually suggestive tactics by female interrogators.
In a previously unreported allegation, one interrogator bragged to an FBI agent that he had forced a prisoner to listen to “Satanic black metal music for hours,” then dressed as a Catholic priest before “baptizing” him.
One agent reported being told that while questioning male captives, female interrogators would sometimes wet their hands and touch detainees’ faces in order to interrupt their prayers. Such actions would make some Muslims consider themselves unclean and unable to continue praying.
Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement last night that “the issues and facts raised” in the documents “are not new” and that 12 reviews have showed there were no Defense Department policies that condoned abuse.
“The Department of Defense policy is clear — we treat detainees humanely,” Carpenter said. “The United States operates safe, humane and professional detention operations for enemy combatants who are providing valuable information in the war on terror.”
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said all the information from the survey has been turned over to the Defense Department’s inspector general.
An FBI memorandum that accompanied the documents emphasized that none of the incidents involved agency or Justice Department employees. It said the reports concerned personnel from other government agencies or outside contractors.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Security Program, said the new documents highlight the need for more focused and aggressive investigation of allegations of detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay. He questioned how aggressively the FBI pursued the allegations by its employees, because authorities conducted follow-up interviews in only nine of the 26 cases.
“More comprehensive investigation is needed, not only into the scope of abuses but into the root causes and policies that led to those incidents,” Jaffer said.
Some previously reported tactics mentioned in the new documents include wrapping a prisoner in an Israeli flag, subjecting others to extreme heat and cold, and aggressively using strobe lights on others.
Such approaches were allowed under aggressive Pentagon detention policies in place at the time, and the new documents include several instances in which interrogators appear to cite such approval as justification for their actions.
But one FBI agent who visited Guantanamo Bay in the fall of 2003 described a tactic called the “frequent flyer program,” in which detainees who were deemed uncooperative were placed on a list to be subjected to special sleep-deprivation tactics. The prisoners were moved frequently from cellblock to cellblock at intervals of two to four hours to interrupt their sleep, the agent said.
In September, the Pentagon adopted new interrogation rules, outlawing harsh techniques adopted at Guantanamo Bay, detention facilities in Iraq and other prisons overseas since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.