An Afghan man released from Guantanamo Bay said he saw guards throwing the Quran, but all such abuse stopped late last year after a loudspeaker announcement that U.S. soldiers have no right to touch Islam's holy book.
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Moheb Ullah Borekzai made the comments Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press, three days after he was freed from the prison camp in Cuba and flown home to Afghanistan. There have been repeated accusations of Quran abuse at Guantanamo, including an allegation last month by a Russian Muslim cleric formerly held at the prison that guards regularly put the holy book in a toilet, although he said he never witnessed that himself.
Borekzai said that during his three years at Guantanamo he never saw or heard claims from other prisoners of guards abusing the Quran by placing it in toilets. But he said he had seen guards throw the Quran two or three times.
"We would always put the holy Quran in a high place, for example, in a drawer or on a shelf," he said, speaking in a guesthouse in the Afghan capital, Kabul. "They (the guards) would just throw it on the ground or on the bed. ... I, myself, have seen them throwing the Quran."
Such mistreatment of the Quran made the prisoners "very angry," he said, adding that late last year guards "changed their procedures."
"The Americans made a promise that U.S. soldiers have no right to touch the Quran ... They announced (it) on loudspeakers," Borekzai said. "There has been no abuse of the Quran since last year."
During Muslim prayer times, guards now are silent and are "not even talking to each other," Borekzai said.
A spokesman at U.S. Southern Command in Miami, which oversees the prison, did not immediately respond to e-mailed questions about Borekzai's comments. In the past, the military has insisted that guards are instructed not to touch the Quran.
U.S. officials acknowledged in May they had substantiated five cases in which military guards or interrogators mishandled the Quran. These included a Muslim holy book that was splashed with urine, a detainee's Quran that was deliberately kicked and one that was stepped on. However, there was case of the Quran being thrown by guards.
In May, Newsweek magazine published a story -- later retracted -- that claimed interrogators at Guantanamo flushed the holy book down a toilet.
The Bush administration blamed the report for deadly demonstrations in Afghanistan and protests throughout the Middle East.
Guantanamo holds 520 prisoners, while more than 230 others have been released or transferred to the custody of their home governments. Most were captured during the U.S. war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. Only a few have been charged with any crime.
Borekzai was one of two Afghans released this week. Both were accused of being members of the former Taliban regime, they said.
An attempt to interview Habir Russol, the other freed Afghan detainee, about prison guards' handling of the Quran was not successful because he had left Kabul for his home in the eastern province of Khost.
The two men Wednesday claimed that 180 Afghans at Guantanamo were on a hunger strike to protest alleged mistreatment and to push for freedom.
On Thursday, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said some 50 Guantanamo prisoners declared three days ago that they were on a hunger strike, but some already were eating again. The spokesman said he did not know why they went on strike, and the health of the striking detainees is being monitored.
Neil Koslowe, a Washington-based lawyer for 12 detainees from Kuwait, said several inmates told him during a June 20-24 visit to Guantanamo that there was a "widespread" hunger strike over the amount and quality of their drinking water, reported AP.