Investigators recommend punishment for Koran burning

U.S. military investigators have recommended that as many as seven servicemembers face possible administrative punishment, but no criminal charges, for their role in the incineration of Korans in Afghanistan earlier this year, according to U.S. officials.

The Koran burnings, which senior military officials have repeatedly characterized as inadvertent, set off a week of riots throughout Afghanistan. The February incident was believed to have been a motivating factor in the killing of several U.S. troops by their Afghan counterparts.

The military’s investigation was conducted by an Army general in Afghanistan and submitted to the Pentagon in the past few days, according to officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

The Army and Navy will now decide whether the six soldiers and one sailor receive any punishment. The services could choose to take no action against them.

The recommendation was first reported by the Associated Press.

An earlier joint U.S.-Afghan investigation into the incident concluded that the holy books had been identified as Korans and placed in an office for safekeeping. Because of a mistake, however, they were misidentified as trash.

The Korans had been confiscated because Afghan prisoners at Bagram Air Base had written extremist messages in them. Afghan employees spotted the Korans after they had been thrown on a burn pit at Bagram and rushed to save them.

Afghan clerics have repeatedly called for U.S. officials to punish the troops involved in the burning and said that the incident highlighted the need for the U.S.-led NATO coalition to relinquish control of military prisons to the Afghan government as quickly as possible. A relatively light administrative punishment could rekindle the dormant controversy in Afghanistan.

But any Afghan outrage over the incident is likely to be muted by an agreement between U.S. and Afghan officials to hand over control of all U.S. detention facilities to the Afghan government later this year. The agreement on the transfer of prisoners to Afghan control is part of a long-term partnership between the U.S. and Afghan governments.

Greg Jaffe covers the White House for The Washington Post, where he has been since March 2009.

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