WASHINGTON (AFP) - Detainees interviewed byJust last week, amid a violent outbreak in Afghanistan - allegedly sparked by reports concerning similar abuse by Newsweek - the White House claimed that this abuse "did not occur" and that Newsweek was somehow responsible for these deaths, despite indications that the violence had little to do with the Newsweek story. agents at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba complained repeatedly that military guards and interrogators mistreated the Koran, with one alleging that the Muslim holy book had been flushed in a toilet, documents show.
The documents -- FBI summaries of interviews with detainees at the military-run prison in 2002 and 2003 -- show that the treatment of the Koran was a key point of contention between detainees and their guards, one that prompted hunger strikes and threats of mass suicide.
Most complaints dealt with the handling of the Koran by guards or its being taken away from detainees as a form of punishment. In some cases, the detainees admitted to not having witnessed the alleged mistreatment themselves.
But detainees also alleged that the Koran had been thrown or kicked by guards, and one said it had been flushed in a toilet, according to the documents.
In a summary dated August 1, 2002, a detainee told his FBI interviewer that he personally had nothing against the United States but that the guards at the detention facility "do not treat him well.
"Their behavior is bad. About five months ago, the guards beat the detainees. They flushed a Koran in the toilet. The guards dance around when the detainees are trying to pray. The guards still do these things," the summary said.
May16:After Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai had disputed the involvement of Newsweek in the violence (which was perpetrated by Afghan soldiers against peaceful demonstrators), McClennan seemed to back-off on his claims:
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I find it puzzling that Newsweek now acknowledges that the facts were wrong, and they refuse to offer a retraction. There is a certain journalistic standard that should be met, and in this case it was not met. The report was not accurate, and it was based on a single anonymous source who cannot personally substantiate the report, so the -- so they cannot verify the accuracy of the report
Q Scott, you said that the retraction by Newsweek magazine of its story is a good first step. What else does the President want this American magazine to do?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's what I talked about yesterday. This report, which Newsweek has now retracted and said was wrong, has had serious consequences. People did lose their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged; there is lasting damage to our image because of this report. And we would encourage Newsweek to do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done, particularly in the region.
And I think Newsweek can do that by talking about the way they got this wrong, and pointing out what the policies and practices of the United States military are when it comes to the handling of the Holy Koran. The military put in place policies and procedures to make sure that the Koran was handled -- or is handled with the utmost care and respect. And I think it would help to point that out, because some have taken this report -- those that are opposed to the United States -- some have taken this report and exploited it and used it to incite violence.....
Q Back on Newsweek. Richard Myers, last Thursday -- I'm going to read you a quote from him. He said, "It's a judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eichenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran." He said it was "more tied up in the political process and reconciliation that President Karzai and his cabinet were conducting." And he said that that was from an after-action report he got that day.
So what has changed between last Thursday and today, five days later, to make you now think that those -- that that violence was a result of Newsweek?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, clearly, the report was used to incite violence by people who oppose the United States and want to mischaracterize the values and the views of the United States of America. The protests may have been pre-staged by those who oppose the United States and who may be opposed to moving forward on freedom and democracy in the region, but the images that we have seen across our television screens over the last few days clearly show that this report was used to incite violence. People lost their lives --
Q One other question. Karzai was quite definite in saying that he didn't believe that the violence in Afghanistan was directly tied to the Newsweek article about Koran desecration. Yet, from this podium, you have made that link. So --
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I don't think you're actually characterizing what was said accurately.
Q By whom?
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said last week, and as President Karzai said today, and as General Myers had said previously, the protest may well have been pre-staged. The discredited report was damaging. It was used to incite violence. But those who espouse an ideology of hatred and oppression and murder don't need an excuse to incite violence. But the reports from the region showed how this story was used to incite violence.
Q But Karzai seemed to think that that wasn't what led to the violence, that it was --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right, he actually -- he talked about -- President Karzai spoke about how the demonstrations were aimed at undercutting the progress being made toward democracy in Afghanistan, and the progress on elections. They have elections coming up soon. And I spoke about that, as well, last week.
Q So could it be said that the Newsweek article played a role, but was not --
MR. McCLELLAN: John, I think we've made our views known when it comes to the discredited report. There are some that want to continue to defend what is a discredited report that has been disavowed by Newsweek, and that's their business. We're perfectly willing to trust the American people to make their own judgment about it.
McClellan was asked about the new FBI Documents on March 25th, and instead of responding to the revellation that the Newsweek Story was indeed correct, instead claimed that the Department of the Defense continues to claim to have no information (Which is lot like the guy coming out of the convenience store with a smoking gun saying - "I didn't rob nobody!")
Q Scott, there's an FBI memo that's been released today through a Freedom of Information request. It dates from August 23, 2002, and recounts the interrogation -- the interview of a detainee at Bagram. And in this memo, the FBI recounts that this detainee says he had nothing against the United States, but the guards in his detention facility do not treat him well, their behavior is bad; about five months ago, the guards beat the detainees and they flushed a Koran in the toilet.
Now, there has been some statements coming from some administration officials since the Newsweek retraction of its story that a Koran was flushed down the toilet, that the United States government had no knowledge of any such allegation.
MR. McCLELLAN: This is referring to a detainee, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think what the Department of Defense has said is that they have found nothing to substantiate any such allegation.
Not surprisingly, Fox News has followed the White House lead in continuing to deny the abuse based on Pentagon sources.
Di Rita, the chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search ), said that U.S. military officials at Guantanamo Bay had recently found a separate record of the same allegation by the same detainee, and he was re-interviewed on May 14. "He did not corroborate his own allegation," Di Rita said.
Asked why he felt certain that this detainee did not affirm his allegation out of fear of retaliation, Di Rita said, "It's a judgment call, and I trust the judgment of the commanders more than I trust the judgment of Al Qaeda."