JOHN SEIGENTHALER, anchor: The Pentagon released a new report confirming five separate incidents where the Quran, Islam's holiest book, was mishandled at the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The new information was given to reporters at 7:15 last night, after the network newscasts had already aired in most of the country. Today, the White House responded to the report by accusing a few guards at Guantanamo of violating policy, and accusing the news media of blowing what it called "isolated incidents" out of proportion. NBC's Rosiland Jordan has the story.
ROSILAND JORDAN reporting: The conclusion from the Pentagon: no widespread US military abuse of the Quran at Guantanamo Bay, and no evidence a US military guard flushed a Quran down the toilet. That allegation--reported and then retracted by Newsweek--had set off deadly riots in several Muslim countries. But the three-week-long review did turn up five instances where the Quean was mishandled: February, 2000, military guards kicked a Quran in a detainee's cell; July 25th, 2003, a contract interrogator apologized for stepping on a detainee's Quran during a previous interrogation; August 15th, 2003, Qurans were soaked with water when guards threw water balloons in a cell block; August 21st, 2003, a guard wrote a two-word obscenity inside a Quran; and just this year on March 25th a detainee and his Quran were covered in urine that came through an air vent when a guard relieved himself. The guard immediately reported the incident to his superiors and was re-assigned. The report says that in at least two cases US personnel were punished. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita said in a statement, "Southcom's policy of handling is obviously serious, respectful and appropriate." But critics--including Amnesty International, which recently compared Guantanamo to a Soviet gulag--said it's time for the military to prove it.
Mr. WILLIAM SCHULTZ (Amnesty International): This was a military investigation, and that's why it's so important that independent outside investigators, including human rights groups, be given access to Guantanamo Bay.
JORDAN: Meantime, a White House spokesman calls it, quote, "unfortunate that some in the media are blowing these cases of Quran abuse out of proportion and are ignoring the good behavior by nearly everyone on the base." But the head of an Islamic civil rights group says it's time for major changes.
Mr. NIHAD AWAD (Council on American-Islamic Relations): There are many things that can be done, one of them is shutting down Guantanamo. Prosecute the detainees or release them in a public and fair court.
JORDAN: A Senate panel will soon take up the question of what rights detainees have in hopes of striking a balance between protecting America from attack and protecting the detainees' legal rights. Rosiland Jordan, NBC News, the White House.