Religious abuses at Gitmo

More evidence as to why Newsweek's blunder doesn't debunk the greater mess of allegations about mistreatment of detainees -- religious coercion included -- at the U.S. military prison.

Published May 19, 2005 7:55PM (EDT)

For several days we've been pointing out here in War Room why Newsweek's blunder with the Quran-abuse story doesn't debunk the greater mess of allegations about detainee mistreatment -- religious coercion included -- at Gitmo. Despite that numerous conservative pundits, and the Bush White House, are eager to claim that it does. Today, Human Rights First has more: Detainees held at the U.S. military base in Cuba told their U.S. lawyers about the use of tactics intended to degrade their religious beliefs in a series of interviews beginning in October 2004; the depositions were recently declassified by the Pentagon, and were published today on the watchdog group's Web site. The charges are consistent with other allegations by detainees at U.S.-run detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with Defense Department reports that have already been made public.

According to the report, one of the detainees alleges that an interrogator told him "a holy war was occurring, between the Cross and the Star of David on the one hand, and the Crescent on the other." Guards allegedly interfered with detainees' prayers. In another incident, a guard allegedly placed a detainee's shoes on his Koran. And one detainee charges that "copies of the Koran were sometimes thrown on the floor."

Such tactics wouldn't legally qualify as torture, if they were in fact used. (And it certainly appears that they were; there are similar accounts from the FBI and from former U.S. interrogators themselves, not to mention the U.S. government's own directives -- also detailed by Human Rights First on its site.) But strategically such tactics look pretty damn stupid when it comes to winning the so-called war of ideas. It seems that U.S. interrogators and their bosses weren't too smart about weighing the relatively small benefit of using religious coercion to get information from detainees at Gitmo -- many of whom turned out to be useless for intelligence purposes -- against the cost of further enraging much of the Muslim world, once the word inevitably got out.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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