Red Cross reveals it told U.S. officials about Koran disrespect on multiple occasions

Friday, May 20, 2005

Red Cross
Red Cross

An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesman in Washington revealed Wednesday it had documented and reported to the United States credible information concerning desecration of the Koran by Guantanamo Bay personnel between January 2002 and January 2003.

The ICRC rarely discloses publicly the contents of the confidential reports it gives to governments.

Simon Schorno, Red Cross spokesman, said the ICRC's concerns were mentioned multiple times to Pentagon officials in their reports.

ICRC delegates have had access to Guantanamo Bay detainees since 2002 and have compiled and corroborated independent reports from detainees about desecration of the Koran numerous times to Guantanamo Bay commanders and Pentagon officials, said Mr. Schorno. The ICRC representatives never observed any such incidents themselves, however.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, acknowledged that allegations were made on "rare occasions" but were uncorroborated.

Mr. Schorno disputed the Pentagon's denial saying, "All information we received were corroborated allegations." He added that, "We certainly corroborated mentions of the events by detainees themselves," and that "the ICRC considers such reports "very seriously, and very carefully, and [we] document everything."

The reports ceased after January 19, 2003, when the Defense Department issued three pages of guidelines on proper treatment of Korans, according to Mr. Schorno. On Wednesday Mr. Schorno gave credit for addressing the issue, saying, "We brought it up to the attention of the authorities, and it was followed through."

Some Muslim news agencies are still reacting to last week's Newsweek article alleging Korans had been thrown into Guantanamo Bay toilets. The Jordanian newspaper Al-Dustur reported that some Middle Eastern TV stations were broadcasting images of Korans shredded by US forces in one Iraqi mosque.

New York-based Human Rights Watch special counsel Reed Brody said Wednesday that the White House's response to Newsweek's report of the desecrations should be fully investigated and that "those who ordered or condoned this abuse, [should] not attack those who have tried to report on it."

However, Scott McClellan explained in a press conference last Tuesday that the White House is not trying to tell Newsweek what to print. McClellan said, "Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. 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. But, no, you're absolutely right, it's not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report."