WASHINGTON, May 20: The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said that it had received ‘credible’ reports about US personnel at Guantanamo Bay disrespecting the Holy Quran, but the Pentagon moved quickly to correct the situation. Breaking their customary silence, ICRC officials in Washington said they had not only received ‘credible’ reports about the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran, but also had raised the issue “several times” with the Pentagon.

Spokesman Simon Schorno said the allegations were made by detainees to ICRC representatives who visited the detention facility throughout 2002 and 2003. But he also said the Red Cross heard no more allegations about mishandling of the Quran after the Pentagon issued a set of guidelines about how US personnel should handle the holy book.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters on Thursday that Pentagon issued the guidelines in January 2003. He said the US worked closely with the ICRC and acknowledged the group “had heard some concerns about the handling of Holy Quran, which it shared with the US”.

“The fact that the ICRC documented these allegations and formalized them, I think makes a difference,” Mr Schorno said. “We researched them and found they were credible allegations.”

Although Red Cross employees did not personally witness any mishandling of the Holy Quran, he said, they documented and corroborated enough reports from detainees to share them with Pentagon and Guantanamo officials in confidential reports. Mr Schorno said the Red Cross would not have raised the issue if it had been an isolated incident, but he would not offer specifics about the number of complaints.

US officials have often downplayed such complaints about Quran desecration because they came from detainees. New York-based rights group, Human Rights Watch, said that it also had received reports from Muslim detainees — at Guantanamo Bay, in Afghanistan and in Iraq — that US interrogators had repeatedly sought to offend their Islamic beliefs in order to humiliate them.

“Several detainees have alleged to Human Rights Watch and others that US interrogators disrespected the Quran,” said a statement issued by the group. US officials have acknowledged that investigations are ongoing into reports of religious intolerance — including desecration of the Quran — by interrogators at Guantanamo Bay.

“We do listen when people raise questions about the handling of the Quran, and we have made very clear what our policies are,” Mr Boucher said.

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