By Jack Minor
In a development that could chill the dedication of every soldier in the field, the U.S. government has refused to deny reports by the government of Afghanistan that NATO has agreed to have the soldiers who burned copies of the Quran face trial.
Last week, Afghan president Hamid Karzai demanded NATO turn over the U.S. troops to be tried in Afghanistan. President Obama subsequently sent a letter to Karzai reassuring him that the troops involved would be punished for their actions.
Part of the three-page letter to Karzai said, “I extend to you and the Afghan people my sincere apologies. We will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.”
It is unclear exactly what Obama meant by that statement as the White House has not released the full text of the letter. However, the Afghan government may have provided insight into its contents.
Over the weekend, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan government media and information center website posted a joint statement by the delegations assigned to probe the Quran burning incident.
The statement says that two delegations were created to “investigate the circumstances and causes that have led to the inhumane incident.”
The statement listed several items, including a demand that the U.S. turn over the authority of the prison in Bagram to the Afghan government to ensure similar incidents do not recur and “calls on the U.S. government to fully and comprehensively cooperate to this end.”
However, the statement used vastly different language when discussing the fate of the U.S. soldiers involved in the incident.
“NATO officials promised to meet Afghan nation’s demand of bringing to justice, through an open trial, those responsible for the incident and it was agreed that the perpetrators of the crime be brought to justice as soon as possible,” the statement said.
The wording suggests members of the military could be handed over to an Afghan system that imposes Shariah-related penalties.
U.S officials were unwilling to state emphatically that the soldiers would not be turned over to the Afghan legal system for burning the Qurans.
Cmdr. William Speakes, a spokesman for the Pentagon said, “It would be premature to speculate at any potential outcomes. Any disciplinary action if deemed warranted will be taken by U.S. authorities after a thorough review of the facts pursuant to all U.S. military law and regulations and in accordance with due process. We have made no commitments beyond that.”
When asked if that meant the only commitment officials were willing to make was the soldiers would not be tried in an Afghan court, Speakes said, “No. The only commitment we have made is that we will take any appropriate disciplinary action deemed necessary by the investigation. Any suggestions that we have made more detailed commitments beyond what I just told you is inaccurate.”
Although the statements apparently were made by the Afghan government Feb. 25, they have received no mention in the mainstream media.
Clare Lopez, a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy, said if the statement by the Afghan government turns out to be true, it would be an unprecedented betrayal of our men and women in uniform.
“I can’t imagine we would ever do this, what would we charge them with? Are we going to try Americans for crimes committed under Shariah law? I cannot believe our government would go that far,” she said.
Robert Spencer, founder of Jihad Watch, said it was fascinating that the U.S. government has not gotten out in front of this issue and denied the statement.
“The administration needs to clarify their stance on this. The longer they wait to deny this the more it has the opportunity to further inflame the Muslim in Afghanistan.”
Spencer said that whether the soldiers end up being turned over to the Afghan government or face court-martial, either decision would set a dangerous precedent.
“It would be unconscionable either way,” he said. “If they turn them over to the Afghan government for trial then we are endorsing the applicability of Shariah law to non-Muslims in the U.S. military. If they court-martial them then they are adopting those norms as part of the UCMJ. Either way it’s frightening.”
Lopez said that while U.S. officials have made large concessions to appease Muslims, turning the soldiers over to face trial would be over the line.
“If they were to allow our soldiers to be tried under a legal system that calls for the death penalty for destroying a Quran, that would be unthinkable,” she said.
She said that the silence on the part of U.S. officials has the potential to cause real damage to the morale of troops.
“When the government will not come out with a strong denial of this statement by the Afghan government it has the potential to cause our troops to wonder if the U.S. will truly stand behind and protect them when they are simply trying to do their job,” she said.
It appears that the soldiers may not have violated Islamic law at all by their burning of the Qurans.
In a PBS interview, Imam Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California, said it was acceptable to burn the Quran if it was in a state of “disrepair.”
“When Muslims want to respectfully dispose of a text of the Quran that is no longer usable, we will burn it. So if someone, for example, in their own private collection or library had a text of the Quran that was damaged or that was in disrepair, so the binding was ruined, etc., or it got torn, they might bring it by to the Islamic Center and ask that someone here dispose of it properly if they were unsure how to do that,” Turk said. “And what I’ll do is I’ll take it to my fireplace at home and burn it there in the fireplace. So I sort of take the pages out and then burn it to make sure that it gets thoroughly charred and is no longer recognizable as script.”
Spencer added, “You are supposed to burn a Quran that is worn out and you are not to write in it. Do they have a problem with the burning of the Quran? No, they do it all the time.”