Friday, May 27, 2005

More on the Pentagon's Koran Fib

The Nation

More on the Pentagon's Koran Fib
David Corn

Let's consider a Tale of Two Pentagon Press Briefings.

Last week, amidst the fury over Newsweek's Koran-in-a-john item, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita told the Pentagon press corps that the Defense Department had received no credible allegations of Koran desecration at Guantanamo. Roll the tape:

Q: Larry, just to be clear, there have been numerous allegations by detainees who have been released --

MR. DI RITA: Mm-hmm.

Q : -- by attorneys who have talked to detainees, alleging mistreatment of the Koran, including instances where it was supposedly thrown into a toilet. Are you saying that none of those allegations were credible, and that none of them have -- have any of them been investigated, and were any substantiated?

MR. DI RITA: We've found nothing that would substantiate precisely -- anything that you just said about the treatment of a Koran. We have -- other than what we've seen, that it's possible detainees themselves have done with pages of the Koran -- and I don't want to overstate that either because it's based on log entries that have to be corroborated.

That was a pretty clear, categorical statement. Credible allegations of Koranic abuse? Nada, said Di Rita. The next day--as I noted here and elsewhere--the International Committee of the Red Cross blew apart Di Rita's spin when its officials told reporters that in 2002 and 2003 they had reported to the Pentagon that Gitmo detainees were saying that US officials there had dissed the Koran and that the Red Cross considered these accusations credible. Then yesterday, the ACLU released FBI records it had obtained noting that Guantanamo prisoners had complained of disrespectful handling of the Koran. So none of this was credible? Let's be generous to Di Rita and stipulate that. How then does Di Rita explain what was said in the Pentagon press room today when Brigadier General Jay Hood, commander of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay, briefed the journalistic troops. Roll the next tape:

First off, I'd like you to know that we have found no credible evidence that a member of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay ever flushed a Koran down a toilet. We did identify 13 incidents of alleged mishandling of the Koran by Joint Task Force personnel. Ten of those were by a guard and three by interrogators.

We found that in only five of those 13 incidents, four by guards and one by an interrogator, there was what could be broadly defined as mishandling of a Koran. None of these five incidents was a result of a failure to follow standard operating procedures in place at the time the incident occurred.

We have determined that in six additional incidents involving guards that the guard either accidentally touched the Koran, touched it within the scope of his duties, or did not actually touch the Koran at all. We consider each of these incidents resolved.

Waitaminute. Last week Di Rita said there were no credible allegations and, thus, nothing to investigate. Yet today Hood disclosed there were 13 "incidents of alleged mishandling of the Koran," and five were confirmed. It turns out that not only were there credible allegations, there were actual "incidents." Would Di Rita care to explain this? Would he care to retract his briefing, apologize, and promise to do better? Anyone in the WHite House care to express outrage over Di Rita's untruthful assertion?