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U.S. Probes Video Said to Show Marines Desecrating Bodies

Leon Panetta, U.S. defense secretary. Photographer: Rich Clement/Bloomberg
Leon Panetta, U.S. defense secretary. Photographer: Rich Clement/Bloomberg

Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. military is investigating who was behind a video said to show four Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

The behavior depicted in the video is “utterly deplorable” and “those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent,” Panetta said in an e-mailed statement. The video, which surfaced on the Internet yesterday, hasn’t been authenticated, according to a Marine Corps statement.

The Taliban said on Jan. 3 that it planned to open an office in Qatar for peace talks with the U.S. and its allies, marking the militant group’s first public step toward negotiations to end the decade-long war in Afghanistan. While a Taliban spokesman said the video won’t disrupt plans for negotiations, he portrayed it as typical American behavior.

“This video will not affect our negotiation in the future,” Zabihullah Mujahed, the spokesman, said in a phone interview from an undisclosed location. “Americans have always committed bigger crimes in which they dishonored Taliban and civilians. We’ve seen this video and we consider this the most disrespectful, inhuman and immoral act.”

The negotiations will remain focused on prisoner exchanges, he said. In a statement today, the Taliban said the talks don’t “mean a surrender from jihad” or acceptance of the Afghan constitution.

The video appears to show four Marines urinating on three Afghan corpses that are lying on the ground. An American voice can be heard saying, “Have a great day, buddy,” while another says, “He likes his shower.”

Call to Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s press office urged the U.S. military in a statement to apply “the most severe punishment” if Marines are found to have desecrated bodies.

Panetta told Karzai in a phone call today that the video “does not reflect the standards or values American troops are sworn to uphold,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. will continue its support for talks with the Taliban and expressed her “total dismay” about the video. Clinton sent her top envoy to Afghanistan, Marc Grossman, to meet with Karzai next week to ensure his support.

“We will continue to support efforts that will be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned to pursue the possibility of reconciliation and peace,” Clinton said today at the State Department.

The U.S. has said it will hand over security responsibilities to the Afghan government in 2014.

‘No Longer Serving’

The International Security Assistance Force, the umbrella group of U.S and allied forces in Afghanistan, issued a statement condemning the video and saying the Americans depicted in it “apparently are no longer serving in Afghanistan.”

U.S. military officials think that the video will prove to be valid, CNN said yesterday, citing Pentagon officials. The people in the video are carrying .30-caliber sniper rifles and one is wearing a helmet used by Marine snipers, CNN said, citing a senior Marine Corps official.

General James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, yesterday requested an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, along with an internal probe by a Marine general officer and senior attorney.

“Rest assured that the institution of the Marine Corps will not rest until the allegations and the events surrounding them have been resolved,” Amos said in a written statement.

‘So Sad’

Senator John McCain of Arizona, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam and the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the video “does great damage” and those who participated in it should be punished.

“It makes me so sad,” McCain said on the “CBS This Morning” program.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the video in a letter to Panetta.

“If verified as authentic, the video shows behavior that is totally unbecoming of American military personnel and that could ultimately endanger other soldiers and civilians,” said Nihad Awad, the council’s national executive director, in the letter.

The potential for damage to the U.S.’s standing in Afghanistan was reflected in comments today from an Afghan tribal elder.

“Both Americans and Taliban are not human,” Zargul Nazari said in a telephone interview from Kabul. “Taliban cut our people’s hands and nose, and Americans urinate on their dead bodies. Do you think peace can come through urinating on the dead bodies?”

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeff Bliss in Washington at jbliss@bloomberg.net; David Lerman in Washington at dlerman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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