Brigadier-General Jay Hood declined to specify the nature of the mishandling of the Quran at the prison for foreign terrorism suspects at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, other than saying it did not involve placing the Quran in a toilet.

An FBI agent quoted a detainee in an August 2002 document made public on Wednesday as saying guards had thrown a copy of the Quran in a toilet.

Hood said on Thursday that military investigators interviewed that man this month but did not ask him whether he had seen US personnel put the holy book in a toilet.

But Hood told a Pentagon briefing: "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 Quran down a toilet."

Discipline

Hood said two US Guantanamo staffers had been disciplined. One was transferred to other duties, Hood said. He did not describe the other case.

Giving preliminary findings of a 12-day-old military inquiry into the treatment of the Quran at Guantanamo, Hood said investigators turned up 13 allegations of mishandling the Quran, with five confirmed cases of "what could be broadly defined as mishandling of a Quran".

Four US guards and one interrogator were involved in the cases, three of which appeared to be deliberate mishandling and two accidental, Hood said.

Guantanamo detainees were
interviewed about prison abuse

Four of the five cases took place before written guidelines were issued in January 2003 on handling the Quran at Guantanamo, Hood said.

Hood also said US military investigators this month interviewed the detainee quoted in the August 2002 document.

Hood said this detainee did not mention during the 14 May interview that US personnel had placed a copy of the Quran in a toilet.

"The guards in the detention facility do not treat him well. Their behaviour is bad. About five months ago, the guards beat the detainees. They flushed a Quran in the toilet," the FBI agent wrote, summarising the detainee's comments.

Detainee interviewed

Hood said the detainee, whom US officials have not identified, said at the 14 May interview that he had not been beaten or abused but that he had heard rumours that other detainees had been.

"We then proceeded to ask him about any incidents where he had seen the Quran defiled, desecrated or mishandled, and he allowed as how he hadn't, but he heard that guards at some other point and time had done this," Hood said.

But Hood said investigators did not directly ask the detainee about the Quran being placed in a toilet. "I do not believe they used that word toilet," he said.

Quran kicked

FBI documents also contained accounts of detainees telling FBI agents that US personnel at Guantanamo kicked the Quran or threw it to the floor and beat prisoners.

The issue of whether the Quran had been thrown in a toilet at Guantanamo has generated controversy globally in recent weeks.

There have been reports that US
guards kicked the Quran

The Bush administration denounced a 9 May Newsweek article, later retracted by the magazine, that stated US interrogators at Guantanamo had flushed the Quran down a toilet to try to make detainees talk.

Violent protests erupted in some Muslim countries after the article's publication, and at least 16 people died in rioting in Afghanistan.

The United States now holds about 520 detainees at Guantanamo, a high-security prison opened in January 2002 for non-US citizens caught in the US "war on terrorism".

Unconfirmed allegations

Eight allegations of mishandling the Quran were not confirmed, Hood said.

These involved six in which guards either accidentally touched a copy of the Quran, touched it within the scope of their duties or did not touch the book at all, he said.

Two additional incidents involved interrogators who either touched or stood over the Quran, Hood said.

Hood said the inquiry turned up 15 incidents in which detainees themselves "mishandled or inappropriately treated the Quran," including one case in which a detainee ripped pages from his own Quran.

Hood said investigators have combed through 31,000 pages of documents, such as day-to-day logs at the base, but did not say how many people had been interviewed in the inquiry.