Despite what rioting Islamic fanatics around the world want to believe, the U.S. did not authorize any interrogators to desecrate the Koran to rattle Muslim detainees at Gitmo—at least not according to a military intelligence memo I've obtained.
Distributed in early 2003 by an Army JAG officer, the sensitive internal document lists approved techniques for interrogating Taliban and al-Qaida detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, and none of those techniques include defiling the book Muslims hold sacred. No flushing it down the commode or laying it in the toilet seat; no stomping or spitting on it.
"That would be a really dumb-assed approach," asserts an Army intelligence officer who interrogated the detainees and leaked the document to me. It would only anger them and harden their resolve not to talk. "I can't think of a good angle where tearing up the Koran or mishandling it would be helpful," concurs another veteran Army interrogator.
Instead, interrogators used the Koran and other religious items as an incentive for cooperating with them, a smart tactic that was approved by high command for Gitmo detainees. Those who cooperated got copies of the Koran and even finger prayer beads, and were also allowed to keep their bushy beards, which Islamists wear as a sign of devotion to their faith. Those who didn't cooperate were denied such privileges, and even that relatively mild tactic was banned by the end of 2003 thanks to complaints lodged through the Red Cross.
The interrogation policy is spelled out in a Jan. 8, 2003, memo written by a JAG officer and circulated among Army intelligence officials at Gitmo, the Bagram base in Afghanistan, and U.S. Central Command in Tampa. "At GTMO there is authorization to use the following techniques in interrogation," advises Lt. Col. Daeyvid S. O'Lochlayne. Listed among Category II interrogation techniques for uncooperative detainees are:
*"Removal of comfort items, including religious items;"
*"Forced grooming (i.e., shaving of facial hair)."
The two techniques appear to be the only ones tied to religion. And according to the written policy, interrogators were barred from applying them without the permission of their commanders.
By August 2003, the practice of using religious items to motivate cooperation among detainees stopped, something even the Red Cross confirms in its February 2004 report on treatment of prisoners in Iraq. "Since August 2003, the detainees have been provided the Koran," it notes. Prayer beads also were no longer withheld.
"Command pansied out on that and just issued them to everybody," grouses one Army interrogator—“despite Geneva Conventions stating that a detaining power is only required to return identification."
(Lest anyone shed a tear for Gitmo detainees temporarily deprived of religious comfort items, they should remember that they were captured after 9/11 as enemy combatants who might have information about future terrorist attacks. U.S. intelligence believed getting them to talk was critical to the safety of Americans.)
And contrary to foreign notions that our military deliberately defiled the Koran, the Pentagon specifically banned such acts around the same time it OK'd the interrogation techniques. On Jan. 19, 2003, it issued rules requiring that the Koran not be placed on "the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet, or dirty/wet areas."
This is in keeping with long-standing Army doctrine. One rule of interaction with enemy prisoners of war states: "Respect religious articles and materials."
Far from desecrating the Koran, Gitmo authorities passed it out along with prayer beads and halal meals amid calls to prayer. That's right: Hewing to politically correct norms, the infidel captors of these poor oppressed Islamic supremacists bent over backwards to accommodate their religious needs.
Early in 2002, they brought in a Muslim chaplain by the name of Abuhena M. Saifulislam to minister to them around the clock. He passed out paperback Korans, called detainees to prayer, counseled them in Arabic and Urdu and even trained Gitmo guards in Muslim sensitivity. In a touching tribute to his Muslim brothers, Saifulislam even made sure they received pork-free meals. And upon his recommendation, Gitmo detainees were treated to a traditional meal of dates and lamb after sunset at the end of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice.
Meanwhile, a section of an Army training guide I obtained titled "Cultural Awareness-Islam 101" orders American troops deployed in Muslim countries not to "eat or smoke in public during their holy periods when they are fasting." It even admonishes them to hide their religious beliefs around Muslims. "Don't try to convert an Arab to your religion," it warns. "Don't display religious items."
So the bad guys behind barbed wire can be religious—but not our soldiers
That in mind, it's hard to see how genuinely offended the Muslim population could be down there at Gitmo, and by extension Afghanistan and Pakistan. For the most part, we catered to their religious needs, ironically nourishing the very source of the murderous hatred that got them locked up in the first place.
Paul Sperry, a Hoover Institution media fellow and Investor's Business Daily veteran, is author of the just-released book, INFILTRATION: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington (Nelson Current, 2005). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.