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FBI Files Show Guantanamo Detainees Reported Desecration of Koran Beginning in 2002

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One prisoner interviewed in August 2002, said that guards had flushed the Koran in the toilet. Others reported the Koran being kicked, withheld as punishment and thrown on the floor. On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union released these newly declassified documents. [includes rush transcript]

Newly declassified documents released by the FBI reveal detainee claims of Koran desecration by US guards at Guantanamo as early as 2002. The documents were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and include numerous summaries of FBI interviews with prisoners.

One prisoner interviewed in August 2002, said that guards had flushed the Koran in the toilet. Others reported the Koran being kicked, withheld as punishment and thrown on the floor.

  • Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is White House spokesperson Scott McClellan last week.

REPORTER: 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?

SCOTT 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.

REPORTER: Well, with respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it’s appropriate for you at that podium speaking with the authority of the President of the United States to tell an American magazine what they should print?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: I’m not telling them. I’m saying that we would encourage them to help —

REPORTER: Pressuring them.

SCOTT McCLELLAN: No, I’m saying we would encourage them —

REPORTER: Not pressure?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad, and Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. You know, I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that’s all I’m saying.

REPORTER: Scott, are you going to —

SCOTT McCLELLAN: No, you’re absolutely right. It’s not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report.

AMY GOODMAN: White House spokesperson Scott McClellan at a news conference last week. Since then, media outlets and human rights groups have revealed scores of allegations of abuse of the Koran by U.S. interrogators and others. McClellan has now retreated on claims that _Newsweek_’s retracted story cost lives in Afghanistan. This is from a White House news conference on Monday.

REPORTER: 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 —

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Actually, I don’t think you are actually characterizing what was said accurately.

REPORTER: By whom?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Now, as I said last week, and as President Karzai said today, and as General Myers had said previously, the protests 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.

REPORTER: President Karzai seemed to think that wasn’t what led to the violence.

SCOTT 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.

REPORTER: So, could it be said that the Newsweek article played a role but was not —

SCOTT McCLELLAN: John, I think we have 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.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Scott McClellan, White House press spokesperson. Joined now by Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. We’re going to talk about the Newsweek controversy in a minute and talk about which lies actually took lives over the last few years. But can you talk about the latest documents that have just been declassified from the F.B.I.?

DONNA LIEBERMAN: Yeah. The ACLU is getting thousands of pages every couple of weeks from the F.B.I., and the most recent batch of documents includes a couple — several documents which are F.B.I. interviews with detainees, in which they accuse their jailers of beatings and a whole range of violence against them and of abusing the Koran. Included in those documents are complaints of throwing the Koran on the floor, withholding it, kicking it, and also flushing it down the toilet.

AMY GOODMAN: These documents have just come out.

DONNA LIEBERMAN: These have just come out. The government releases them to us and to the press at the same time.

AMY GOODMAN: And who are the detainees who are saying this? Are these released detainees?

DONNA LIEBERMAN: No. These — when you read the documents, it’s revealing, because if you remember when in the old days when people would ask for their F.B.I. files, and there are huge blank spots on the papers, well, it’s just like that. And literally, there are pages with just everything whited out and just a couple of sentences. And these are documents created by the F.B.I. They’re internal memos on the interviews with the detainees while they are in custody, and they’re revealing.

AMY GOODMAN: And who did they say was doing the desecration of the Koran?

DONNA LIEBERMAN: Well, the desecration was done by the guards. We don’t have names. Those are all blanked out. We don’t have the names of the detainees who are making the complaints, but the internal F.B.I. memos document time and time again that there are complaints of physical violence, which is beyond comprehension and of abuse, religious abuse, and the kicking or flushing down the toilet of the Koran is just part of it. There are allegations — there are complaints here of the use of female guards by the United States to sexually abuse and harass the detainees, as well, using their sexuality and what they believe to be the Muslim views of sexuality and bodies to humiliate and intimidate and make it impossible for people to practice their religion, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, these are F.B.I. documents?


AMY GOODMAN: Are there others from other agencies?

DONNA LIEBERMAN: Oh, absolutely. We have — our Freedom of Information Act request, which has been going on for years now, and which the government has resisted every way it possibly can. We have to go to court in order to get an order for the government to comply. We have gone after the documents of the Department of Defense, the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. The F.B.I. is the only agency that has fully complied thus far. And the C.I.A. is resisting big-time. In fact, the case is on in court today. We have asked for, in addition to written verbal documents, we have asked for pictures and videos, and the C.I.A. — you will like this — claims that it can’t release photographs because that would violate the Geneva Conventions, because it would compromise the privacy of the detainees.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s in court today?

DONNA LIEBERMAN: That’s in court today. Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Donna Lieberman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, New York chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. When we come back, we’ll continue to talk about the Newsweek controversy, and talk about what this means for journalism today. Who’s telling lies? When were they told? And when do the lies take lives? Stay with us.

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