The five U.S. soldiers responsible for incinerating a pile of Korans will be punished and could lose rank but that's not likely to quel the rage of Afghan clerics and citizens.
Today, The Washington Post reports that military investigators concluded their inquiry into the burning of Korans that left 30 Afghans dead and inspired the killing of at least six U.S. soldiers. U.S. officials said that the Koran burning was unintentional but that the five soldiers responsible will be reprimanded. “For the soldiers, it will be serious — they could lose rank," an official told the newspaper. However, the soldiers will not go on trial, according to an official.
If you've been reading the statements from Afghan clerics, politicians and others, you can already tell that they won't be pleased with this outcome. Last week, President Hamid Karzai's office even issued a statement saying the U.S. had agree to a public trial of the soldiers, according to Reuters. "NATO officials, in response to a request for the trial and punishment of the perpetrators … promised this crime will brought to court as soon as possible," read the statement. Karzai accused the officers of acting out of "ignorance and with poor understanding" of the sanctity of the Koran.
Yesterday, Afghanistan's top religious council formally demanded a public trial, saying "such a devilish act is not forgivable through apologies, and that the perpetrators of this crime should soon be publicly tried and punished," Radio Free Europe reported. The statement by the Ulemma Council followed a letter by the Afghan National Assembly which, while calling for "self restraint," reiterated that "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."
Of course, the Taliban has been exploiting the issue as well. "Our brave people must target the military bases of the invaders, their military convoys and their invader forces," read a statement by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. "They have to kill them (Westerners), beat them and capture them to give them a lesson to never dare desecrate the holy Koran again."
Outside of a trial, it's note clear what more the U.S. can do or, in fact, should do about an incident that everyone involved claims was inadvertent. Politically, it's hard to imagine President Obama sticking his neck out further to quel tensions. We all know the kind of uproar a simple apology caused.