- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. military and the Afghan government said yesterday they will investigate a television report that claimed U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan burned the bodies of two Taliban fighters and taunted other Islamic militants.

The U.S. military said such abuse would be “repugnant,” and the State Department said U.S. embassies around the world have been told to counter a potential backlash by telling local governments that such actions do not reflect American values.

A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said the government has started its own inquiry.

“We strongly condemn any disrespect to human bodies, regardless of whether they are those of enemies or friends,” said Karzai spokesman Karim Rahimi.

Australia’s SBS television network broadcast video that purportedly showed U.S. soldiers burning the bodies of the suspected Taliban fighters in the hills outside the southern village of Gonbaz, near the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

The network said the video was taken by a freelance journalist, Stephen Dupont, who told the Associated Press he was embedded with the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade earlier this month. Mr. Dupont said the burnings happened Oct. 1.

In the video, two soldiers who spoke with American accents later broadcast taunting messages that the SBS said targeted the village, which was thought to be harboring Taliban soldiers.

Mr. Dupont said the soldiers responsible for the loudspeaker broadcasts were part of a U.S. Army psychological operations unit.

The U.S. military said the Army Criminal Investigation Command had opened an investigation into reports of misconduct that included “the burning of dead enemy combatant bodies under inappropriate circumstances.”

“This alleged action is repugnant to our common values,” Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya said in a statement from the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan. “This command takes all allegations of misconduct or inappropriate behavior seriously and has directed an investigation into circumstances surrounding this allegation.”

Islamic clerics warned protests may break out, though there was no sign of unrest by yesterday afternoon. The last anti-American riots were in May — sparked by reports that the Koran had been desecrated by American soldiers at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — and killed 15 persons.

According to a transcript of the television program, the broadcast by soldiers from the psychological operations unit called the Taliban “cowardly dogs.”

“You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to come down and retrieve their bodies,” said one message, according to the transcript.

Muslims in Afghanistan face west, toward Mecca, when they pray. When the dead are buried, their heads point to the north, their feet to the south, and just their faces toward Mecca.

Cremation of bodies is not part of Islamic tradition, which calls for remains to be washed, prayed over, wrapped in white cloth and buried within 24 hours.

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