Bloomberg News

Army Disciplines Six Soldiers in Afghan Koran Burning

August 27, 2012

Six U.S. Army soldiers received administrative penalties rather than criminal charges for the burning of Korans in a trash dump at the biggest U.S. military base in Afghanistan in February.

The administrative actions can “have serious adverse effects on careers,” Army spokesman George Wright said yesterday in a statement. “However they are not necessarily career-ending.” The soldiers, whose names weren’t disclosed, received reprimands and no other penalties, according to an Army official who asked not to be identified discussing the personnel actions.

After the burning of Korans triggered anti-American riots and more than a dozen deaths of Afghans and NATO forces, President Barack Obama apologized for the mishandling of the Islamic holy book. The incident involved bad judgment rather than “any malicious intent,” the Army’s investigating officer wrote in a March 24 report made public yesterday.

“Despite all the missteps, at no time was the path chosen by the involved U.S. service members motivated by hatred or intolerance of a particular faith,” Brigadier General Bryan Watson wrote in his report.

In an effort to close the books the same day on another incident that roiled U.S.-Afghan relations, the Marine Corps yesterday imposed administrative punishments on three Marines for their roles in urinating on Taliban corpses last year and videotaping the incident, which went viral on the Internet in January.

The administrative punishments imposed on the Marines weren’t disclosed. Among the possible penalties were a reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay and a reprimand, according to a Marine Corps statement.

Karzai’s Demand

Afghan leaders, led by President Hamid Karzai, had demanded the strictest of punishments for U.S. forces at fault in both cases.

The Koran burning took place at Bagram Air Base, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Kabul, the capital. The incident stemmed from suspicions that detainees in a prison at the base “were using library books to pass notes and messages,” according to Watson’s report.

One interpreter who helped review messages in the books estimated “that approximately 60-75 percent of the books in the library also contained extremist content,” Watson said.

Soldiers arranged for books, including Korans, to be disposed of in a burn pit. The Americans “did not heed the warnings” against doing so from an Afghan National Army soldier and an interpreter, according Watson.

‘Corrective Action’

The Army took “immediate corrective action” for the Koran burning and emphasized “proper handling of religious materials to all soldiers during pre-deployment training in order to minimize the potential for re-occurrence,” Wright said.

In the videotape case, the three Marines, whose names weren’t disclosed, were part of a sniper unit from Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and served in Afghanistan last year from March to September. The videotaping took place about July 27 in Helmand Province, according to the Marine statement.

The three Marines punished pleaded guilty in an administrative proceeding as part of an agreement that avoided criminal charges.

Disciplinary actions against other Marines involved in the incident will be announced at a later time, according to the statement.

The video appears to show four Marines urinating on three Afghan corpses. An American voice can be heard saying, “Have a great day, buddy,” while another says, “He likes his shower.”

Only one of the three disciplined Marines pleaded guilty to urinating on a Taliban corpse. Another pleaded guilty to recording the video and posing for a photograph with human casualties, while the third Marine pleaded guilty to making a false official statement and failing to report the incident.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at dlerman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net


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