The International Committee of the Red Cross told the Pentagon as early as 2002 that detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison complained of US officials mishandling the Quran, Red Cross and Pentagon officials have said.
The ICRC revelation came as Washington sought to defuse anger in the Muslim world after a US news magazine reported the Muslim holy book was flushed down the toilet at the Guantanamo prison.
The magazine later retracted the article.
The ICRC told the Pentagon on Thursday that multiple times in 2002 and early 2003, prisoners at Guantanamo said US officials showed disrespect for the Muslim holy book, said Simon Schorno, an ICRC spokesman.
"The US government took corrective measures and those allegations have not resurfaced," Schorno said.
The ICRC spokesman declined to specify if the allegations included the flushing of the Quran down the toilet or if US officials used the disrespect as part of interrogations.
Accusing US personnel
Former Guantanamo prisoners and lawyers for detainees have for months accused US personnel at Guantanamo Bay of putting the Quran into toilets. Pentagon officials said this week they did not consider such statements as credible allegations meriting investigation.
Muslims consider the Quran the
literal word of God
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the ICRC has come to the Pentagon "on rare occasion" with allegations made by detainees at Guantanamo. Whitman said ICRC representatives acknowledge they did not observe the actions that prompted the complaints.
"Out of respect to the ICRC and the relationship that we have, I'm not going to talk about the specific representations that they've made," Whitman said.
"They are consistent with the type of things that we have talked about, what we have found in log entries (at Guantanamo), to include things like a Quran inadvertently falling to the floor."
In January 2003, the US military issued guidelines to personnel at the base outlining how to handle and inspect detainees' Qurans.
The memorandum included the order: "Ensure that the Quran is not placed in offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet or dirty/wet areas."
"The guidelines didn't come out of nowhere. You don't get such orders unless there's some problem, concern or controversy," a US official, who asked not to be named, said.
"I'm not going to talk about the specific representations that they've made"
Bryan Whitman, Pentagon spokesman on Pentagon-Red Cross issues discussed
Whitman said that "to the best of my knowledge" the concerns presented by the ICRC did not prompt the memo. "I am not aware of any specific precipitating event," Whitman said.
Muslims consider the Quran the literal word of God and treat each book with reverence. The US Southern Command, responsible for Guantanamo, Cuba, began a fact-finding inquiry last week in the aftermath of the Newsweek report into whether US personnel at Guantanamo put the Quran in toilets.
The Pentagon has said it has thus far found nothing to substantiate the allegation.
Anti-American sentiment has been strong in the Muslim world because of the US-led invasion of Iraq and ensuing prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.
The Newsweek report sparked violent protests in Afghanistan, where 16 people were killed and more than 100 injured, and in Pakistan, Indonesia and Gaza.
The Pentagon said it currently holds about 520 non-US citizens at Guantanamo, many there for nearly three and a half years. Most were caught in the Afghanistan war.