75% of Books in Library for Afghan Detainees Contained 'Extremist' Material

August 28, 2012 - 4:42 AM

angry afghans

Afghans shout anti-American slogans during a protest, east of Kabul on Feb. 24, 2012, all of them angry over the burning of Qur’ans at a U.S. military base. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

(CNSNews.com) – A civilian interpreter at a U.S. military detention center in Afghanistan estimated that up to 75 percent of books in a library used by detainees contained unsuitable “extremist” material, according to a U.S. military report into the burning of Qur’ans and other religious literature there last February.

The discovery was made as military personnel searched through the library at the Bagram base’s Parwan detention facility, after “multiple intelligence reports indicated that the library books were used as a medium of communication within the detainee population,” said the report, a redacted copy of which was released on Monday.

The Parwan facility at the time housed more than 3,000 detainees, including suspected Taliban insurgents.

About 2,000 books in the library were separated from the rest, and the personnel discussed what should happen to the material, “which they deemed to be sensitive contraband because of the intelligence value of the detainee inscriptions within the pages and the ‘radical’ nature of the texts,” the report stated.

Books, including copies of the Qur’an that were not recognized as such, were then taken to the facility’s burn pit where some were burned before Afghan employees, realizing what was happening, turned off the incinerator and doused the flames.

The U.S. Central Command announced Monday that six unidentified soldiers – four officers and two enlisted soldiers – had received non-judicial punishments for their involvement in the affair, but would not face criminal charges.

In the report, the investigating officer, Brig. Gen. Bryan Watson, identified a number of mistakes by military personnel, including poor communication, lack of clear guidance, poor adherence to established procedures, and failure to heed the warnings of Afghan National Army (A.N.A.) colleagues – but no malicious intent.

“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,” he wrote.

Although personnel had improperly handled Qur’ans and other religious texts, he rejected “any suggestion that those involved acted with any malicious intent to disrespect the Qur’an or defame the faith of Islam.”

“That U.S. service members did not heed the warnings of their A.N.A. partners is, perhaps, my biggest concern,” wrote Watson, who serves as director of engineering for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Last February’s incident prompted multiple public apologies by U.S. political and military leaders including President Obama, but violent protests spread across Afghanistan. More than 40 people were killed, among them six American soldiers – including two officers assassinated while working inside an Afghan government ministry.

After apologizing to “the noble people of Afghanistan,” International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander Gen. John Allen ordered all 130,000 coalition troops in the country to “complete training in the proper handling of religious materials” within a fortnight.

Afghanistan’s Ulema Council, a body of top religious scholars, declared then that apologies were not sufficient, and that “those behind the tragic incident must be punished and sent to jail,” the independent Daily Outlook Afghanistan reported at the time.

There was no immediate official reaction from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Monday’s announcement, which came overnight Afghanistan time.

The military statement did not elaborate on the actions taken against the six soldiers, but according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, non-judicial punishments can include demotion, an admonition or reprimand that can be affixed to the member’s personnel file, the withholding of privileges, forfeiture of pay, and extra duties.

“If any U.S. troops lose rank or pay because of the burning of the Qur’an, it would be one of the worst capitulations to shari’a of the entire Obama administration, which has been full of them,” Islam scholar and activist Robert Spencer wrote on his Jihad Watch website Monday.

“Burning a Qur’an is not a crime in American law. And these Qur’ans weren’t even burned maliciously (not that that should make a difference – again, Qur’an-burning is not a crime): they were burned because jihadists were using them to pass messages to each other,” he said.

“These troops should not be punished in any way. If they have been, that is the only criminal act in this entire sorry episode.”