By Gunnery Sergeant John McClain, USMC, Retired
A short time ago, prisoners being held in Afghanistan in the security zone were found to be writing notes in the margins of their Korans, and surreptitiously exchanging them, to communicate with each other.
Today, seven subordinates, six Army Soldiers and one Navy serviceman have been announced they will face administrative disciplinary action for burning those confiscated Korans as part of their assigned duty that fateful day. They were offered Non-judicial punishment in lieu of courts martial. Such allows one to accept the summary judgment of the commanding officer, and avoid a court martial, and avoid a felony conviction a court martial finding of guilt provides.
The official story is the Korans were those issued to prisoners held for acts of terrorism or collaboration. Guards noted the prisoners were annotating in the margins, and trading Korans under cover. Once discovered, translators demonstrated the use of these Korans as tools to plan for escape, uprising, or any action possible, any action any prisoner of war would attempt, and something we, who have faced that possibility, can easily both understand, and note would be our own actions, in the same situation.
The Korans were inspected; those with messages were bundled into heavy canvas bags, tied up, and put with the mass of detritus for burning, usually several times a day (my experience having been in Beirut, not Afghanistan, where I have not served). The remaining ones were returned to their owners, according to the reports.
The crime these Seven are said to have committed is the burning of Korans. They did not per se “burn Korans”, they burned the “burn pile”, the fact the command had placed the confiscated to be destroyed Korans in it was no responsibility of the accused.
Those assigned to burn the trash were not given orders to burn everything like normal, except those bags. They were simply those who fell into the daily duty of burning the trash, the classified documents, the confidential information, the normal communications, and in this case, the Korans being abused by the prisoners in an attempt to maintain communication with each other.
As a point of law, it would have been a court martial offense for any of them to have opened any closed or sealed envelope, bag or package, as such are routine with classified material being destroyed, and they must have orders to open anything, no matter how innocuous, and no one can ever suggest those bags, carefully tied off were “innocuous”. Each and every item set to be burned had to be done so with themselves as legal witnesses, signing in a logbook, and without any authority to even read a line off a piece of paper.
These Seven Patriots, men who volunteered with the whole of their lives, and accepting orders to war, without qualms, they were given a simple order: “you have burn detail today, make sure it is all completely burned before you sign off”. For all they knew, they may as well have been taking the trash to the curb, except there is no pickup service.
Not one of them chose this duty, and not one of them has any responsibility for what was put out for them to burn. They are not being taken to court martial because they have violated no law, but merely followed orders. I can’t know the personal story of each of these “accused”, but the issue is not one of a crime they committed, but only an issue of the enemy inciting the Afghan people into riot. The response of our leaders was selecting seven junior enlisted innocents, and a sham punishment, rather than deal with the issue in full truth in the light of day.
This Nation’s sole standing as an honorable Nation is our principle of “the rule of law” being applied equally for all Citizens, across the board, no exceptions, no special dispensations. Our standard established a new paradigm for the world to consider. We established the law was to apply to the least of all exactly as it applies the highest in authority. Where is “the rule of law”?
The order to destroy those Korans came from the Commander of the base. If he did not issue it, the order was issued in his name. Not one of those accused had any authority to even question what was being burned, much less the authority to look and discover.
The whole of this issue is simple. We run a prison, while we attempt to help establish a government in Afghanistan. We run it according to our law, for our self-protection, with greater liberty and rights for prisoners than any other venue they could experience. In the routine of doing so, the prisoners used their Korans to try to communicate, and we took them.
If the intent were anything other than maintaining order, there is no shortage of means to desecrate. Those Korans were properly confiscated, properly put to be burned, and the entire issue is a matter of the Commander of the forces not willing to confront the Afghans with the fact we won’t tolerate any act to break out of prison, and willing to cede seven innocents to be offered up instead of the truth.
If the Commander has any testicular fortitude at all, he would have stood up with his opposites of the Afghan side, clearly stated what took place, stand on the fact the burning of the Korans was the only way to destroy them without deliberate desecration, and take the full weight of the action upon his own shoulders, and put our standard of Honor in their faces, with enthusiasm and vigor, denying any honor in their stand on the issue.
We don’t have a general over there, we have a political appointee, instead, and as usual, politicians have no problem offering enlisted Soldiers and Sailors up for sacrifice.
Copyright June 23, 2012 by Gulf1