KABUL, Afghanistan — Gen. David Petraeus on Wednesday ratcheted up his condemnation of plans by a small Florida church to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by burning copies of the Quran, likening the popular outrage that would follow in Afghanistan to the reaction in Iraq to photographs of detainee abuses.
“I think the images of such an action would be as indelible and inflammatory as have been the images of Abu Ghraib,” he said. “This will put our troopers and civilians in greater danger, and it’s somewhat inexplicable to me that fellow citizens would do that.”
Just outside ISAF headquarters at the office of the World Philosophical Mathematics Research Center, scholars usually concerned with the pursuit of arcane formulas that attempt to explain and predict world events had turned their attention to more immediate affairs, erecting a banner saying the U.S. government would be blamed for the Quran-burning.
“If this happens, there will not be any protests,” said Ghulam Farouk Hamkar, a researcher at the center. “There will be fire. The U.S. Embassy will be burned. People will attack American soldiers wherever they see them. Everyone will do this, not just insurgents.”
Lets compare the reaction here to the WikiLeaks release:
Q Good afternoon. Robert, there’s a church in Gainesville, Florida, that says it’s going to go ahead and burn copies of the Koran to mark the 9/11 anniversary. Is the White House — is there anything the White House is doing to discourage that or prevent them from going ahead with that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the best place to look for the views of this administration would be to look at the — look at what General Petraeus said over the weekend. We know that that type of activity — we know that that type of activity is being transmitted back to places like Afghanistan, when General Petraeus obviously is our lead commander. As he said, it puts our troops in harm’s way. And obviously that — any type of activity like that would be — that
Q And just quickly on the Koran story, have you heard the President comment on that?
MR. GIBBS: I have not. I have not.
I’d say that’s pretty mild. Now lets look back at WikiLeaks:
Q Thanks, Robert. Two questions, a few on WikiLeaks. What was the President’s reaction once he heard about the leaking —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I remember talking to the President sometime last week after discussions with news organizations that these stories were coming. Look, I think our reaction to this type of material, a breach of federal law, is always the same, and that is whenever you have the potential for names and for operations and for programs to be out there in the public domain, that it — besides being against the law — has a potential to be very harmful to those that are in our military, those that are cooperating with our military, and those that are working to keep us safe.
Q Well, I mean, was he personally angered by this? Did he demand answers or an investigation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, there is an ongoing investigation that predated the end of last week into leaks of highly classified secret documents.
Q Robert back on WikiLeaks. A couple of times now, you’ve said in the last couple of moments that a lot of this information is not really new, that named U.S. government officials have said some of this same information publicly.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m not saying it’s — yes, I said there weren’t any new revelations in the material.
Q So how does it harm national security if we’ve known this already?
MR. GIBBS: Well, because you’ve got — it’s not the content as much as it is their names, their operations, there’s logistics, there are sources — all of that information out in a public way has the potential, Ed, to do harm. If somebody is cooperating with the federal government and their name is listed in an action report, I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that that could potentially put a group or an individual at great personal risk.