- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2005

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday said accusations that U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan desecrated the bodies of dead Taliban fighters are harming America’s image and that the military needs to speed up its judicial probes.

“Any allegations of wrongdoing are things that concern me deeply and concern the Department of Defense,” Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him from Mongolia.

Video footage broadcast on Australian television last week appeared to show U.S. soldiers burning the corpses of two Taliban fighters.

The report quoted the soldiers as saying they burned the bodies for health reasons, but the act could be deeply offensive to Muslims, whose faith prohibits cremation and demands respect for the dead.

After the bodies were set on fire, a U.S. psychological-operations unit broadcast a propaganda message on loudspeakers to a nearby village thought to harbor Taliban fighters, taunting them to retrieve their dead and fight, according to the TV report.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the military is conducting an investigation into the incident.

“Clearly, any time the facts indicate that something happened that should not have happened, then the legal process proceeds as it should,” he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld said that even though the facts about the incident are not fully known, “The reality is that charges of that type are harmful, and they don’t represent the overwhelmingly positive behavior of men and women in uniform who do such a wonderful job.”

The defense secretary said he has asked the military to find a way to speed up judicial investigations of these types of accusations.

He said he hopes U.S. commanders “will find ways to accelerate the process that they have to go through, still providing for the rights of the people who may or may not be accused of something, but to accelerate it.”

The lack of quick response to past accusations has caused the United States to suffer “a great deal of damage,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, noting the controversy over accusations that U.S. soldiers desecrated the Koran at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center for suspected terrorists.

“So we’ve got to find a way to have the military justice system operate at a pace that reflects the world of the 21st century with 24-hour news and a desire to report things that are dramatic and negative and to repeat them over and over again until for some reason they are disproved or they’re conceded,” he said.

“And the longer that period is, the more harmful it is to our country, and that’s not helpful.”

The Uniform Code of Military Justice should be reformed to speed up investigations, Mr. Rumsfeld said.

“I’ve talked to people and explained what the effect is, and that there has to be a way for them to, not abbreviate the process, but to put a sense of urgency on it that it merits, given the damage that’s done during periods of uncertainty,” he said.

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