Obama apologizes for Koran burning incident in Afghanistan

posted at 9:50 am on February 23, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

After several days of unrest in Afghanistan over the burning of Korans removed from detention facilities, President Obama has sent a note of apology to Hamid Karzai.  Obama stresses that the destruction was inadvertent, and that those who made the “error” would be held accountable:

President Obama sent Afghan President Hamid Karzai a letter on Thursday apologizing for the alleged burning of Korans at a U.S. military base, Karzai’s office confirmed on its website.

“I wish to express my deep regret for the reported incident,” Obama wrote. “I extend to you and the Afghan people my sincere apologies.”

The president concludes the letter: “The error was inadvertent; I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.”

Was it really “inadvertent,” though? According to CNN’s report on the destruction of the materials, they had good reason to seize and destroy the books:

The Qurans were among religious materials removed from a detainee facility at Bagram Airfield. The materials were gathered for disposal and were inadvertently given to troops for burning, Gen. John Allen, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, said Tuesday.

“This was not a decision that was made because they were religious materials,” he said. “It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it, we immediately stopped and we intervened.”

A military official said the materials were removed from the detainee center’s library because they had “extremist inscriptions” on them and there was “an appearance that these documents were being used to facilitate extremist communications.”

Well, if detainees were marking up the Korans for “extremist communications,” didn’t that deface the Korans anyway?  Either way, the US couldn’t return the books to the detention center after having discovered the secret communications added to them, and we couldn’t just store them forever, either.  I’m not conversant on the proper destruction of Korans in the Muslim faith, but burning them sounds better than throwing them into a landfill.  The responsibility for the need to destroy them rests with the terrorists who defaced them in the first place.

That brings us to the issue of the apology.  Although I’m likely to be in the minority here, it’s probably a smart and cost-free move for Obama to apologize to Karzai. Regardless of how difficult it is to work with Karzai, he’s the best option we’re going to have in Afghanistan for quite a while.  If an apology can bolster his standing in the face of the riots, or at least minimize the political damage he takes in this tempest in a tea cup, then it’s a minor trifle to offer it.

In the future, though, the US can avoid the problem by removing all of the Korans from detention centers.  Let them read Hayek or de Tocqueville instead, and when they deface those books for their communications, no one will riot if we burn them.  We are under no obligation to provide detainees with Korans, and that will avoid all of the problems associated with their handling and disposal.

Update: Allahpundit e-mailed me this new development:

“An individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform turned his weapon against International Security Assistance Force service members in eastern Afghanistan today, killing two service members,” ISAF said.

ISAF did not identify the nationalities of the dead soldiers and gave no further details of the incident, which came on the third day of fierce protests against the burning of the Koran at a US-run military base.

Asked whether the events were connected, an ISAF spokesman would only say: “There was a demonstration in the province.”

Afghan troops defending a foreign base in eastern Nangarhar province had “joined demonstrators and opened fire on foreign troops”, a protester told the Afghan Islamic Press news agency.

Thousands of furious Afghans besieged a US base for the third day in a row on Thursday, throwing rocks and climbing up the outer walls.

If an apology can defuse that situation, then as I wrote above, it’s a cost-free sop to Karzai and Obama was correct to offer it.  We’ll see how effective it is.

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