White House blames 'few' jailers in Koran uproar

CRAWFORD, Texas - The White House sought on Saturday to minimise damage from new revelations about US personnel mishandling the Koran at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison, accusing a few people of violating policy and the media of blowing "isolated incidents" out of proportion.

It was the administration’s latest broadside against the press over abuses at Guantanamo. Last month, the White House attacked Newsweek and went so far as to ask the magazine to help repair damage to America’s image.

The US military on Friday released details about five cases in which the Islamic holy book was kicked, stepped on and soaked in water.

In one case, a guard’s urine splashed onto a detainee and his Koran. Southern Command said a guard urinated near an air vent and "the wind blew his urine through the vent" and onto a detainee and his Koran.

"It is unfortunate that some have chosen to take out of context a few isolated incidents by a few individuals without making clear the policies and practices of the overwhelming vast majority, the 99.9 per cent, of our military personnel," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

McClellan said he was referring to "some media coverage and some commentary."

"There were three times as many confirmed incidents of (Koran) abuse by detainees, a number which were far worse than the few isolated incidents of mishandling by a few individuals that violated military policies and practices," McClellan added.

"The military expects its high standards to be met, and does not tolerate or condone it when individuals do not -- as this report makes clear," McClellan said.

The White House’s harsh response followed President Bush’s blunt dismissal last week of an Amnesty International report which described the US detention centre in Guantanamo as a gulag and said the United States was responsible for an upsurge in human rights violations around the world. Bush called the allegations "absurd."

Last month, the White House blamed Newsweek magazine for damaging America’s image in the Muslim world with a report that interrogators had flushed at least one copy of the Muslim holy book down a toilet to try to make detainees talk.

Former Guantanamo prisoners and lawyers for detainees have long accused US personnel at Guantanamo of putting the Koran into toilets.

With anti-American sentiment already strong in the Muslim world because of the US-led invasion of Iraq and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, the Newsweek report sparked violent protests in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and Gaza.

Under pressure, Newsweek retracted the report. But McClellan said at the time that the magazine should "help repair the damage that has been done, particularly in the region," by explaining "what happened and why they got it wrong."

- REUTERS

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