US Newspaper: Quran Burning Followed a Chain of Mishaps

Posted March 3rd, 2012 at 7:55 am (UTC-5)
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A prominent American newspaper says U.S. and Afghan officials investigating burning of Qurans at a NATO base in Afghanistan last month could have been stopped at several points “along a chain of mishaps, poor judgements and ignored procedures.”

The book burning at Bagram Air Base was followed by days of violent anti-American protests across Afghanistan that left at least 30 people dead and frayed relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan.

The New York Times quotes a U.S. official close to a joint Afghan-American investigation into the incident as saying at least six people involved in the Quran burning, including American military “leaders” and an American interpreter, could face disciplinary action.

The newspaper says that about a week before the burning, military officers became concerned that detainees at a detention facility next to Bagram Air Base were secretly communicating through notes written in books from the detention center's library.

The newspaper reports two Afghan-American interpreters were told to sift through the books and set aside any that could pose a security risk. The interpreters identified 1,652 books for removal, including copies of the Quran and other religious books, as well novels and poetry books.

The Times quotes a U.S. official familiar with the joint investigation as saying the books should have been stored rather than burned.

The Times also cites Maulavi Khaliq Dad, a member of the Ulema Council, the pre-eminent body of Afghan religious leaders, which conducted its own inquiry into the incident. He is quoted as saying that some Afghan soldiers saw religious books in boxes awaiting removal and became worried something wrong might happen to them. The soldiers told their commanding officer, but by the time he relayed his concerns to his American counterpart, the books were on their way to the incinerator.

The newspaper says both U.S. and Afghan officials investigating the incident believe the soldiers driving the books to the incinerator did not understand the significance of their cargo and could not read Arabic.

The New York Times says an Afghan worker “began to scream” when he realized the soldiers were burning holy Muslim books, and he and other Afghan workers tried to extinguish the fire with their water bottles.

The newspaper says “the Americans immediately stopped,” but not before four books had been badly burned.

U.S. President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials have apologized for the Quran burning.

On Friday, the Ulema Council called the burning of the Muslim holy books a “crime” and “inhumane,” said U.S. apologies would not be accepted, and called for those responsible to be “publicly tried and punished.” The council also called on the U.S. to end night raids and hand over its prisons in Afghanistan to Afghan control.