SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan demonstrators show copies of Koran books allegedly set alight by US soldiers, during a protest against Koran desecration at the gate of Bagram airbase on February 21, 2012 at Bagram about 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of Kabul. Afghan protestors firing slingshots and petrol bombs besieged one of the largest US-run military bases in Afghanistan, furious over reports that NATO had set fire to copies of the Koran. Guards at Bagram airbase responded by firing rubber bullets from a watchtower, an AFP photographer said as the crowd shouted "Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar" (God is greater).
American military authorities disciplined six members of the Army and three non-commissioned Marine officers on Monday for two separate incidents.
In one incident, at least four Korans were badly burned after unnamed Army personnel sent boxes of Korans from a prison library to a burn pit at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. As punishment, Army authorities issued letters of reprimand to those involved in the episode, but found that the soldiers did not act out of “malicious intent” to disrespect the Koran or Islam.
In another incident, four Marines urinated over what appeared to be the corpses of three Taliban insurgents, which was video recorded and posted on the Internet in January. The Marine Corps did not release the results of its investigation, but did say that three non-commissioned officers received “nonjudicial punishments,” which could include letters of reprimand, a reduction in rank, forfeit of some pay, physical restriction to a military base, extra duties or some combination of those penalties.
Military officials stated the disciplinary actions were not as light as they might seem to the public as letters of reprimand effectively end most military careers. The punishments, however, may not satisfy Afghan protesters and President Hamid Karzai, who have called for a public trial. The Koran burning incident alone ignited days of riots across Afghanistan.
Do you think the military service members should receive harsher punishments? What more can be done, if anything, to amend the diplomatic damages caused by these incidents?
David Sheldon, attorney specializing in military law; co-chair of the Military Law Committee of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia