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Former Guantanamo inmates say Americans abused Koran

Pentagon denies the allegations

LAHORE, Pakistan -- Pakistanis freed from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said yesterday that they saw American interrogators throw, tear, and stand on copies of Islam's holy book, and one former detainee said naked women sat on prisoners' chests during questioning.

The Pentagon denied the accusations and said Al Qaeda training manuals instruct prisoners to make false charges.

The men acknowledged they were aware of the international furor caused by previous reports about Koran desecrations.

Seventeen Pakistanis were freed yesterday from a jail in this eastern city, where they had been held since their release nine months ago from the US prison in Cuba. A Pakistani official said each had been ''declared innocent by America" and cleared of involvement in terrorism by Pakistani intelligence.

The allegations of the men, who spoke to reporters after joyful family reunions outside the jail in Lahore, could not be confirmed independently. The Associated Press briefly interviewed six men separately. All six said they were arrested in Afghanistan after going there to fight the US-led coalition that ousted the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network.

''During interrogation, whenever I would make a reference to the Koran, they would hit me in the face with a copy. They would tear it into pieces. They would tell me that Koran teaches us terrorism," said Salahuddin Ayubi, 31, of Rajanpur in eastern Pakistan. ''They would throw the Koran against the roof, which would tear it into pieces, and they would say, 'This is the real source of terrorism.' "

Hafiz Ahsan, 26, a Lahore tailor, also said he saw interrogators abuse the Koran.

''Our interrogators would stand on the Koran, and they would ask, 'Call your God and ask him to rescue you,' " he said. ''They would throw Koran in a bucket of urine. They would tear the Koran and throw it at our faces."

He said inmates staged a hunger strike in protest and were then tortured with electric shocks.

Lieutenant Commander Flex Plexico, a Pentagon spokesman, said inmates at Guantanamo are treated humanely and there are ''adequate standard operating procedures in place to ensure detainee religious faith is respected."

He also said, ''That these detainees are now making allegations of abuse at Guantanamo seems to fit the standard operating procedure in Al Qaeda training manuals."

A Pentagon report released this month confirmed five cases in which US guards at Guantanamo mishandled the Koran, including incidents in which one copy of the book was splashed with urine and another was stepped on.

The report concluded that none of the guards flushed the Muslim holy book down the toilet -- an explosive allegation that surfaced in a Newsweek magazine report. The magazine later retracted the report.

The freed detainees said they had learned about the controversy from other inmates and prison officials.

Many Pakistanis went to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban, and scores ended up in Guantanamo. Pakistani officials say as many as 11 Pakistanis are among the 540 detainees still held. They say 67 Pakistanis have been freed from Guantanamo, and virtually all have been in Pakistani custody since their return.

One of the freed men, Khalil-ur Rahman, 21, from the eastern town of Gujrat, said female interrogators at Guantanamo stripped in front of prisoners despite pleas for them not to -- echoing allegations leveled by other inmates, though not by the other five inmates who spoke to AP yesterday.

''Girls would interrogate us," Rahman said. ''They would take off their clothes in front of us. They would make different poses in front of us and they would sit on our chests. This was shameful."

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