KABUL, Afghanistan — Five American service members and an Afghan-American linguist may face disciplinary action in the burning of Korans at a NATO base, an event a week ago that plunged Afghanistan into days of violent protests, according to the preliminary conclusions of a joint military investigation.
“All six will be referred to the proper U.S. authorities for further action,” said an official familiar with the joint Afghan-American investigation into the Koran burnings, who was not authorized to speak about it publicly.
Significantly, the five service members include military “leaders,” according to the report. While it was unclear whether that meant any senior officers would be held to account, it was taken as a sign here that the investigation was focusing more on decision-making along the chain of command rather than simply focusing on soldiers who may have been carrying out orders with little understanding of their potential impact.
The preeminent religious authority in Afghanistan, the Ulema Council, said Friday that those responsible for the burning of the Korans and other religious texts should be put on trial and punished. And it called for the American-led coalition to respond by handing over all Afghan prisoners in its custody and ceding control of its prisons.
The Ulema Council, which is made up of scholarly mullahs, made its recommendations following its own investigation into the Koran burning incident last week in a statement released through President Hamid Karzai’s office late on Friday evening.
The burning of the Korans and other religious texts, seized from Afghan prisoners at an American-run detention center, triggered days of deadly protests. At least 29 Afghans have been killed in the violence, and the outpouring of popular fury coincided with the shooting deaths of six American soldiers.
Gen. John R. Allen, the NATO commanding general in Afghanistan, and President Obama both apologized in the wake of the demonstrations.
But in its statement Friday, the Ulema Council condemned the burning, said no apology would be enough to forgive the desecrations of the Koran and asked for guarantees that religious texts would never be dishonored again.
“The council strongly condemns this inhuman, bad and barbaric act by American forces based at Bagram Military Base and emphasizes that this devilish action cannot be forgiven by apologizing,” Maulawi Mohammad Said, a member of the council, said in a statement read to Mr. Karzai, according to the palace. “The perpetrators of this crime should be put on a public trial as soon as possible and be punished, and both NATO and the United States should guarantee that in the future no one will dare to desecrate Muslim religious materials.”
The council’s recommendations largely repeat demands it made last week immediately after the incident — although in fierier language this time — when it also called for a trial and justice for those responsible.
But on Friday the council also said it had concluded that the root cause of the burnings was what it called the illegal administration of the prison and said the remedy was to close down all foreign prisons and hand them over to Afghan control.
Those findings offered support for Mr. Karzai in his long-running dispute with the coalition over control of prisons in Afghanistan.
Mr. Karzai has repeatedly argued that the Afghan government should take over the American-run detention center in Parwan, adjacent to the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, where more than 3,000 inmates suspected of being insurgents are housed, in addition to other detention centers.
So far, the United States has declined, citing legal reasons and saying that the Afghans are not prepared to run the maximum security sites.
On Friday, Gavin Sundwall, a spokesman for the American Embassy in Kabul, reiterated that argument in an e-mailed statement: “The United States has repeatedly made clear that it is committed to working with the Afghan government to complete a transition of detention operations in Afghanistan in a manner that is safe and orderly and in accordance with our international legal obligations.”
The Ulema Council also came out in favor of an issue the Karzai government sees as another point of national sovereignty: an end to night raids by the United States military, in which commandos search for people suspected of being insurgents in private homes rather than in the field.
Both the control of the prisons and the night raids are sticking points in negotiations, currently at a crucial stage, over a longer-term strategic partnership between the United States and Afghanistan.
The council’s investigation was only one of three parallel investigations into the Koran burnings.
Perhaps more awaited is an interim report, conducted jointly between the United States and Afghan military. It is likely to give a far more detailed explanation into the events that led to the burning of Korans and other religious texts, and its findings will be an important test of Afghan public opinion following the days of violent protests.
NATO said Friday that the investigation was completed, and would soon be passed to General Allen for review. He will decide what findings and recommendations to make public.
It is expected within the next week, officials have said.
But the only investigation that will carry formal legal weight is a third inquiry, conducted by the American military alone, that could lead ultimately to criminal legal action or lesser administrative punishment. Its findings and recommendations are expected in the second half of this month.
After last week’s deadly protests, Afghanistan has become quieter in the last few days, with few signs of protests. Some of the NATO military advisers pulled from Afghan ministries by General Allen after the shooting deaths of two American officers inside the Interior Ministry have also begun to return to work.
Asked whether the calls by the Ulema Council would increase tensions again, Mr. Sundwall said: “We certainly hope that the release of this report does not lead to more violence. We appreciated President Karzai’s repeated calls for dialogue and calm earlier and hope that people took them to heart. As Ambassador Crocker has said, we believe that we will get through this unfortunate period, that a decade’s worth of relationships don’t go away in a single week.”
© 2012, agentleman.