U.S. Military Burns Bibles In Afghanistan

May 20, 2009 The Situation Room. BLITZER: Meanwhile, the U.S. military is caught in a raging controversy over bibles that were burned. Some Christian

May 20, 2009 The Situation Room.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, the U.S. military is caught in a raging controversy over bibles that were burned. Some Christian groups are furious that Americans were involved in what they consider to be an unthinkable act right in the midst of a war against religious extremism in Afghanistan.

Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You've been digging on this story because it's pretty shocking.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. And it speaks to the very delicate and often dangerous balance that U.S. commanders face in war zones -- books that are holy to the majority of U.S. service members burned in the name of protecting them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Bibles written in Pashtun and Dari, the two most common Afghan languages -- bibles sent by a church to a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, bibles that were later burned by the U.S. government. These holy books were confiscated about a year ago at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

An independent film aired by the Al Jazeera Network had shown Evangelical soldiers worshipping at Bagram and talking about ways to share their faith.

(VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: But military rules forbid troops of any religion from proselytizing while in Afghanistan. And U.S. officials were concerned that the bibles would be used to try to convert Afghans to Christianity.

A U.S. military spokesman tells CNN, that kind of religious outreach could have provoked a violent backlash against Americans in this devoutly Muslim nation.

But in trying not to offend the Muslim population there, the military seems to have offended some Christians. The president of a Christian group called Open Doors USA is quoted as saying: "It really should shake the core of every Christian to realize that bibles are being burned."

A military analyst, who's also a Pentagon adviser, agrees.

LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS (RET.), MILITARY ANALYST: There's no need to burn the bibles. They could have been shipped back. Just imagine if we were to -- you know, the same United States military were to take a bunch of Korans and burn them. I can imagine the -- the ramifications across the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Could those bibles have been shipped back?

Well, the military says, not really. A military spokesman tells us they worried that the church that had sent them would turn around and send them to another organization in Afghanistan, giving the impression that they'd been distributed by the U.S. government. So the decision was made to throw the bibles away.

And in war zones, U.S. troops are required to burn their trash. A U.S. military spokesman says they understand the sensitivities of Christians here, that this was not an easy decision, but they had to do this force protection -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there any indication that any of these bibles were actually distributed to the local population?

TODD: The military says they have no evidence so far that the bibles made it off of Bagram Air Force Base. The soldier who had gotten them did not know that he was not supposed to distribute them. A military chaplain on base corrected that soldier and confiscated the bibles. As far as they know, they never made it off the base.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that story.

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