Shortly following news reports alleging that copies of the Koran were desecrated at Guantanamo Bay, American officials at the highest level were quick to note that it is government policy to ensure that the Muslim holy books are treated with "utmost care" and "respect." During a White House press briefing on May 17, 2005, spokesman Scott McClellan discussed how the allegations were being "exploited" and "used to incite violence" in the Muslim world.
In Saudi Arabia, members of the royal family, leading religious figures, and members of the state-controlled press spoke out on this issue. Some called for American soldiers to be tried by Shari’a, or Islamic law - implying a possible death sentence.
Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release that was posted on the website of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., on May 12. It stated: "The Kingdom urges the concerned United States authorities to launch a prompt investigation into these allegations. If these allegations proved true, it would be necessary to hold those responsible accountable for their actions and deter any repetition of such actions which are offensive to the Muslim community worldwide."
In a Friday sermon broadcasted live on May 20 on Saudi TV from Islam's holiest site, the Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia's highest-ranking government-appointed cleric, Sheik Abd Al-Rahman Sudais, responded to the allegations. "We are demanding that the transgressors who erred and performed this despicable act be interrogated and that the heaviest and the most preventive punishments be imposed on them," he said. It should be noted that Sheikh Al-Sudais planned to visit North America in May 2004, but Canadian members of Parliament initiated a debate that barred him from entering the country after reading MEMRI-translated quotations from sermons in which he supported jihad against the West, and criticized America and Jews.
A report on May 22 in the Saudi Gazette elaborated on how some Saudis wanted to retaliate. The report stated that 18 Saudi scholars demanded that those involved in the alleged desecration of the Koran be tried by an Islamic court. The scholars also demanded the revival of a Saudi boycott of American products and for all Saudis detained at Guantanamo to be released. According to one report in Al-Jazeerah.info on May 15, "Insulting the Koran or the Prophet Mohammed is regarded as blasphemy and punishable by death in Saudi Arabia."
"Americans Interested in Koran After Abuse Scandal" headlined a June 21 article in the Saudi Gazette. The report said that the Council on American-Islamic Relations offered free copies of the Koran to Americans so that they can learn about Islam. The report added, "one copy was being requested almost every minute," and quoted the head of CAIR, Nihad Awad, as saying Americans want to better understand Islam.
As well, the lawyers for the 158 Saudi detainees at Guantanamo were quoted as saying that the Koran debacle could benefit their clients and could lead to their release.
The Saudi press was particularly critical. On May 20, Al-Watan cited historical "crimes" by America in Japan and Vietnam to suggest the Koran episode was only the latest in a long series of crimes – and that more should be expected. The article went on to suggest that America could make up for the Koran desecration if it were to "handover the criminal perpetrator to justice and let him stand in a cage similar to those built on Guantanamo."
With the debate surrounding the alleged desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo, it is easy to forget that those being held at the detention center are terrorists. If one were to believe the rhetoric coming from Saudi Arabia, its citizens held there are completely innocent and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But as we learned on September 11, 2001, this is not the case.