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The Koran case, electoral reform and others

Persistent reports of US interrogators mistreating the Koran

Sir: Joan Smith rightly notes that, amid all the fuss about the Newsweek story about alleged desecration of the Koran, the wrong targets are being blamed ("Don't blame Newsweek for riots in Pakistan", 18 May). If anything, she understates the problem when saying that the story has not been "categorically disproved".

Newsweek has been forced to issue a humiliating retraction. The White House speaks of the "lasting damage" that the Newsweek report has done. But a strong argument can be made that responsibility for the worst damage rests with the US government itself.

The Newsweek reference was far from new: we have repeatedly heard credible allegations about American interrogators mistreating copies of the Koran - tearing out pages, or throwing it into the toilet - for more than two years. Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed several former Guantanamo detainees in 2003 and 2004 who described a protest at a detention facility at Kandahar airbase, set off by a guard's mistreatment of a copy of the Koran. Similar allegations, from a variety of former detainees, appeared in the US press as early as March 2003. More recently, Erik Saar, a former army translator at Guantanamo, said that guards routinely tossed the Koran on the ground.

Extremist voices played their part in the eruption of violence. But Washington itself played a key role in creating the explosive mix. Human Rights Watch has published a series of reports on mistreatment of detainees in Afghanistan and elsewhere. To this day, there has been no credible high-level investigation into abuse and deaths in US custody. Such glaring omissions must be rectified, if there is to be any chance of repairing the deadly damage done by the shortsighted policy of the United States.

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