Sunday, May 22, 2005

Defense Department: Detainees Tried to Flush Qurans

A Newsweek story posted on MSNBC now quotes a Defense Department spokesman as saying that Guantanamo Bay detainees, not their guards, desecrated the Quran in an attempt to spark unrest.
Log entries by the guards indicate that in about a dozen cases, the detainees themselves somehow damaged their Qur'ans. In one case a prisoner allegedly ripped up a Qur'an; in another a prisoner tore the cover off his Qur'an. In three cases, detainees tried to stuff pages from their Qur'ans down their toilets, according to the Defense Department's account of what is in the guards' reports.
Well, that's certainly different from The Newsweek blurb earlier, which sparked riots in Afghanistan resulting in the deaths of at least fifteen people. There's more:
In light of the controversy, one of these incidents bears special notice. Last week, NEWSWEEK interviewed Command Sgt. John VanNatta, who served as the prison's warden from October 2002 to the fall of 2003. VanNatta recounted that in 2002, the inmates suddenly started yelling that the guards had thrown a Qur'an on or near an Asian-style squat toilet. The guards found an inmate who admitted that he had dropped his Qur'an near his toilet. According to VanNatta, the inmate then was taken cell to cell to explain this to other detainees to quell the unrest. But the incident could partly account for the multiple allegations among detainees, including one by a released British detainee in a lawsuit that claims that guards flushed Qur'ans down toilets.
Why Newsweek didn't dig for these details before is anyone's guess. Possibly the furor over the original Quran desecration story jogged some people's memories.

In any case, while we shouldn't exonerate Newsweek for their sloppy reporting and use of anonymice (unidentified sources) in the original story, we should place most of the blame for the riot deaths on the rioters themselves, and the primitive, superstitious culture they represent. Clear thinking, intelligent people realize that the true value of religious texts lies not in the physical manifestation of those texts, but in the ideas that are represented. Flushing a Quran or a Bible down the toilet (or suspending a cross in a jar of urine) has no effect on those ideas, except in the ignorant minds of superstitious people.