U.S. Brigadier General Jay Hood, who commands the detention facility, said yesterday that five instances are known to have taken place at the U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay facility. But he declined to provide details and did not specify the nature of the mishandling.
"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 of those by interrogators," Hood said. "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 as a result of a failure to follow standard operating procedures in place at the time the incident occurred."
Hood told journalists in Washington that two military staffers faced disciplinary action for their conduct, one recently.
He said there were 15 instances in which the detainees themselves "mishandled or inappropriately treated the Koran."
The news conference came a day after American Civil Liberties Union made public FBI documents containing claims of Koran defiling.
In a document dated 1 August 2002, a detainee accused U.S. personnel at Guantanamo of flushing a Koran down a toilet. Hood said yesterday that U.S. military investigators this month interviewed the detainee cited in the FBI document. He said the detainee -- whose name was withheld -- has told investigators that he had not witnessed any Koran desecration but had only heard about it.
The commander of the Guantanamo facility said it is the only such allegation that is known by investigators.
"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," Hood said.
Earlier this month, the U.S. magazine "Newsweek" published an item that stated that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo had flushed a Koran down a toilet in order to place pressure on prisoners.
The article, which the magazine later retracted due to sourcing issues, is sparked violent protests in several Muslim countries. At least 15 people were killed in violent demonstrations in Afghanistan.
The United States said the article caused harm and damaged its image in Muslim countries.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) subsequently said that it had informed the United States in 2002 and 2003 that detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison had reported instances of disrespect toward the Koran.
"These reports and allegations, we obviously communicated straight away to the relevant U.S. authorities," Florian Westphal, deputy spokesperson of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva, told RFE/RL. "We do believe that corrective measures were taken afterwards, at least we know that since 2003 we've had not further allegations and reports of this nature from detainees."
In January 2003, the U.S. military issued guidelines to personnel at the Guantanamo facility outlining how to handle the Koran.
The memorandum required that all U.S. staffers ensure that the Koran is not placed in offensive areas.
Mona Siddiqui, director of the Center for the Study of Islam at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, said the U.S. military is starting to recognize issues that it previously failed to consider.
"I would hope very much that what comes out of this is that; it is a learning curve but it is also a humbling curve for the military that when the world is looking very critically looking at Guantanamo they can take at least some measures to say that despite the situation, we are going to try to make every effort to make sure that we don't put unnecessary pressure on, unnecessary harm, or create unnecessary damage within the community that are under arrest," Siddiqui said.
She said the confirmed cases of Koran mishandling will cause shock and anger among Muslims, who consider the holy book the word of God.
"For Muslims its not just a book that they read -- it is a book of faith," Siddiqui said. "You can compare it to the Torah of the Jews, or you can compare it to the Christian Bible in terms of how it is venerated -- expect that for Muslims because it is seen literally as the very word of God, it is venerated literally as well. Which means that if you are literally pure should you touch it and that you read it knowing that this is your encounter with God."
U.S. officials have repeatedly said that they are very respectful toward Islam and its holy book.
Hood, the commander of Guantanamo detention facility, said yesterday that the U.S. military is committed to respecting the Koran and the right of detainees to practice their faith.