Six U.S. Army soldiers and three Marines escaped criminal charges for mistakenly burning Korans and urinating on the corpses of Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, but they received administrative punishments, U.S. military officials said Monday.
A military investigation concluded that miscommunications, poor guidance and soldiers' decisions to take "the easy way instead of the right way" resulted in the burning of more than 300 Korans and other religious books at a U.S. base in Afghanistan early this year.
U.S. military leaders widely condemned both the Koran burning and the urination, which was captured on video. The Koran burning triggered Afghan riots and retribution killings, including two U.S. troops who were shot by an Afghan soldier and two U.S. military advisers who were gunned down at their desks at the Interior Ministry.
The exact punishments were not disclosed Monday, and it was not clear whether the lack of criminal charges would trigger any protests in Afghanistan. Administrative punishments could include demotions, extra duty, forfeiture of pay or a letter in their file. They also could stall future advancement and end military careers.
Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said Karzai's office would review the decisions and wait until Tuesday to respond. The news on the punishments came late at night in Afghanistan.
Afghan officials have claimed the Koran burning was intentional, and the incident reinforced perceptions in the country that Americans are insensitive to the Afghans' religion and culture.
Discipline against a Navy sailor in the Koran burning was dismissed. The Navy said the sailor was found not guilty of any alleged misconduct. The Marine Corps said it will announce discipline against additional Marines in the urination case at a later date.
The investigation report provided new details about the missteps that led to the burning of about 315 religious books and Korans, which had been were taken from the Parwan Detention Facility. Officials believed that extremists being detained there were using the texts to exchange messages. The religious books and other materials were put in burn bags and were taken to a fire pit used to burn garbage at Bagram Air Field, a major U.S. base north of Kabul.
More than 2,000 books, including about 1,200 religious texts and Korans, were targeted for disposal, but most were saved when an angry crowd of Afghans interceded. Troops estimated that about 100 religious books were destroyed. Others were recovered, but many were damaged.
Officials have said repeatedly the Koran burning was not intentional and a mistake.
The report released Monday found that service members "mishandled" Korans and other religious material and put them in an incinerator. But it concluded that there was no "malicious intent to disrespect the Koran or defame the faith of Islam."
Instead, it said the burning disaster resulted from miscommunications, ignorance about the handling of Korans and the failure to provide clear guidance.
Specifically, the report found that the service members relied too heavily on one linguist's conclusion that the Korans, which also had militant messages in them, were rewritten versions that were extremist and would not be considered real Korans. It also said the service members mistakenly interpreted a commander's order to get rid of the books as permission to take them to the burn pit.
The report also found that only one of the service members assigned to transport the books to the burn pit knew they were carrying religious books.
Even after commanders at the detention center realized a mistake was being made, the troops they dispatched to stop the burning went to the wrong location and didn't find the truck with the books.
It was only when a local Afghan at the incinerator noticed that Korans were being burned that he called for help from other workers, and they turned off the burner and began to douse the flames with water.
The three service members disposing of the books "became frightened by the growing, angry crowd and rapidly departed the area" in the truck, the investigation said.
The urination video, which came to light in January and appeared on YouTube, showed four Marines in full combat gear urinating on the bodies of three dead Taliban insurgents. On Monday, the Marine Corps revealed that there also were photographs taken at the time.
In the video, one of the Marines looked down at the bodies and quipped, "Have a good day, buddy."
The Marine Corps, in a release Monday, said one Marine pleaded guilty to urinating on the Taliban soldiers and posing for a photograph. Another Marine pleaded guilty to wrongfully videotaping the incident and posing for a photograph, and a third pleaded guilty to failing to report the mistreatment of human casualties and lying about it.
The unit involved fought in the southern Afghan province of Helmand for seven months before returning to its home base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in September.