Six soldiers and three Marines will be hit with administrative punishments for their participation in two high-profile incidents that inflamed the Afghan public early this year and complicated the U.S. mission there.
But the soldiers who inadvertently incinerated Qurans at a detention center at Bagram Air Field in February and the Marines videotaped in 2011 laughing as they urinated on dead insurgents won’t be criminally prosecuted, military officials announced Monday. Afghan president Hamid Karzai had demanded the soldiers face trial in Afghanistan when President Barack Obama apologized for the destruction of Islam’s holiest book.
The Army did not release the identity of the six soldiers receiving potentially career-ending general officer letters of reprimand, but said that three are officers, two are noncommissioned officers and one is a warrant officer.
Marine officials would not specify the nonjudicial punishments that would be imposed upon the Marines, but said they could include similar reprimands, reductions in rank, loss of pay and extra duties.
U.S. officials said the Qurans were improperly burned after jail guards discovered insurgents were writing messages to each other in the pages of Islam’s holiest book. Horrified Afghan workers at the airfield’s burn pit pulled singed Qurans from the fire, igniting days of protest and violence that included the unsolved murders of two American officers working in a secure government building in Kabul.
Afghan leaders from Karzai down have called for strict punishments and said a slap on the wrist could spark public anger. The Pentagon on Monday refused to comment on whether enhanced force protection measures were being put in place to deal with potential violence.
In a redacted report on the Quran incident issued Monday by U.S. Central Command, Army Brig. Gen. Bryan Watson said that U.S. soldiers at the detention facility disregarded repeated warnings from Afghan colleagues that Qurans were among about 2,000 books from the prison library chosen for disposal by burning because a linguist said they contained extremist messages.
About 100 of the Qurans were burned, the report said, before Afghan workers realized what was happening.
Watson called the Quran burning the result of poor leadership and mistrust between U.S. and Afghan troops.
“That US Service Members did not heed the warnings of their ANA partners is, perhaps, my biggest concern,” he wrote.
Watson said soldiers did not intentionally aim to offend Muslim religious sensibilities.
“I absolutely reject any suggestion that those involved acted with any malicious intent to disrespect the Quran or defame the faith of Islam,” he wrote in the report.”
Although perhaps more shocking to Western sensibilities, the urination video, which became public in January when it was uploaded to YouTube, did not set off a wave of Afghan anger like the Quran burnings did.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, however, called the conduct by troops from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., “utterly deplorable,” and Marine Commandant James Amos would later issue a letter to commanders telling them to shore up discipline in the ranks.
According to a Marine Corps press release, two noncommissioned officers have pleaded guilty to posing with human remains in an unofficial photo, with one of the two admitting to urinating on the bodies, while the other admitted filming the incident.
A higher-ranking staff noncommissioned officer admitted to failing to report the incident and lying about his knowledge of the video.
The identities of the Marines will not be released, and disciplinary actions against more Marines will be announced later, the Marine Corps said.
“This is the first set of disciplinary actions taken with regard to this incident,” the press release said. “There are other cases under way.”