Wednesday, June 1, 2005


Probe alleged abuses
at Cuba detention center


Amnesty International has suggested that the U.S. detention center in Cuba has become "the gulag of our times."

PRESIDENT Bush has dismissed allegations that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were abused as an "absurd" charge based on claims made by "people who hate America," but anti-American demonstrations throughout the Muslim world cannot be so casually ignored. An independent investigation is needed to determine whether and to what extent abuses occurred at the detention center.

The president was responding to an Amnesty International assertion that the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay had become "the gulag of our times," an allusion to the appalling Soviet prison camps. Vice President Dick Cheney said he was "offended" by the accusation, and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the report "absolutely irresponsible."

The recent attention was prompted by a Newsweek magazine report that a military investigation was expected to confirm that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet at the detention center. Newsweek retracted the story following riots that killed at least 17 people in Muslim countries.

Newly released FBI documents show that detainees complained repeatedly about disrespectful handling of the Koran, and that an agent wrote that a detainee told him that guards "flushed a Koran in the toilet." Whether it actually happened cannot be verified, but Gen. Jay W. Hood, the prison commander, has acknowledged that five cases "could be broadly defined as mishandling" of the Koran.

"Inside the Wire," a book co-authored by Erik Saar, a former Army sergeant who worked as a translator at the center in 2003, alleged that sexual interrogation tactics and beatings of detainees occurred there. But Saar suggests that some if not most of the claims about mishandling the Koran might have been fabricated.

"The detainees actually liked to complain about how the Koran was handled because they viewed it as a cause to rally around" and that would get the attention of the center's authorities, he said in a recent interview.

Mishandling of the Koran might have been caused by ignorance or insensitivity about a book that religious Muslims revere as the literal word of God. "They didn't realize you shouldn't handle the book roughly," a former interrogator told the New York Times in a recent interview.

The Associated Press reported that tales of alleged abuse and forced confessions were included in some 1,000 pages of transcripts of tribunals aimed at whether the detainees had been enemy combatants. The wire service obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information lawsuit.

The tribunals ordered 38 of the detainees released but did not confirm or disprove the allegations of abuse. That does not mean the accusations can be cast aside without risking loss of the hearts and minds of potential Muslim allies.

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