US soldiers punished for Quran burnings

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By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A series of miscommunications, poor guidance and soldiers' decisions to take "the easy way instead of the right way" resulted in the burning of Qurans and other religious books at a U.S. base in Afghanistan early this year, a military investigation released Monday concluded.

The U.S. military said six Army soldiers escaped criminal charges but received administrative punishments for their involvement in the Quran burning that roiled relations with Afghans. In a separate announcement, the Marine Corps said three Marines also received administrative punishments for their participation in a video that showed them urinating on the corpses of Taliban insurgents.

Discipline against a Navy sailor in the Quran burning was dismissed, and the Marine Corps said it will announce discipline against additional Marines in the urination case at a later date.

Information about the Quran burning has been widely known for months, but the investigation report provided new details about the missteps and bungling that led to the burning of about 315 religious books and Qurans in the military base's burn pit. Troops estimated that about 100 religious books were destroyed. Others were recovered, although many were damaged.

Altogether, more than 2,000 books, including about 1,200 religious texts and Qurans, were targeted for disposal at the burn pit, but most were saved when an angry crowd of Afghans interceded.

U.S. military leaders widely condemned both the Quran burning and the urination video. The Quran burning triggered riots and retribution killings, including two U.S. troops who were shot by an Afghan soldier and two U.S. military advisers who were gunned down at their desks at the Interior Ministry.

The exact punishments were not disclosed Monday, and it was not clear whether the lack of criminal charges would trigger any protests in Afghanistan. Administrative punishments could include demotions, extra duty, forfeiture of pay or a letter in their file. They also could stall any future advancement and end their military careers.

Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said Karzai's office would review the decisions and wait until Tuesday to respond. The news on the punishments came late at night in Afghanistan.

The Navy said the sailor was found not guilty of any alleged misconduct and that no further disciplinary or administrative action was warranted.

The Qurans and other Islamic books were taken from the Parwan Detention Facility, and officials believed that extremists being detained there were using the texts to exchange messages. The religious books and other materials were put in burn bags and were taken to a fire pit used to burn garbage at Bagram Air Field, a major U.S. base north of Kabul.

Officials have said repeatedly the Quran burning was not intentional, but a mistake compounded by some bad decisions.

The investigation report released Monday found that service members "mishandled" Qurans and other religious material and put them in an incinerator. But it concluded that there was no "malicious intent to disrespect the Quran or defame the faith of Islam."

Instead, it said the burning disaster resulted from miscommunications, ignorance about the handling of Qurans, the failure to provide clear guidance and "junior and mid-grade leaders choosing the easy way instead of the right way to address a problem."

Specifically, the report found that the service members relied too heavily on one linguist's conclusion that the Qurans, which also had militant messages in them, were rewritten versions that were extremist and would not be considered real Qurans. And it also said the service members mistakenly interpreted a commander's order to get rid of the books as permission to take them to the burn pit.

According to the report, the troops knew they were handling religious texts as they examined the library books for extremist content, but they couldn't read them because they were written in other languages.

The report also found that only one of the service members assigned to transport the books to the burn pit knew they were carrying religious books.

Even after commanders at the detention center realized a mistake was being made, the troops they dispatched to stop the burning went to the wrong location and didn't find the truck with the books.

It was only when a local Afghan at the incinerator noticed that Qurans were being burned that he called for help from other workers and they turned off the burner and began to douse the flames with water.

The three service members disposing of the books "became frightened by the growing, angry crowd and rapidly departed the area" in the truck, the investigation said.

Afghan officials have claimed the burning was intentional, and the incident reinforced perceptions in the country that Americans are insensitive to the Afghans' religion and culture.

The urination video, which came to light in January and appeared on YouTube, showed four Marines in full combat gear urinating on the bodies of three dead men. On Monday, the Marine Corps revealed that there also were photographs taken at the time.

Discovery of the video led to a criminal investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service as well as a Marine investigation of the unit involved — the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines — which fought in the southern Afghan province of Helmand for seven months before returning to its home base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in September.

In the video, one of the Marines looked down at the bodies and quipped, "Have a good day, buddy."

The Marine Corps, in a release Monday, said one Marine pleaded guilty to urinating on the Taliban soldiers and posing for a photograph. Another Marine pleaded guilty to wrongfully videotaping the incident and also posing for a photograph, and a third pleaded guilty to failing to report the mistreatment of human casualties and lying about it.

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Online:

Investigation report: http://tinyurl.com/983sbgu

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Associated Press writer Heidi Vogt in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

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