Fri, Oct 21, 2005 - Page 5 News List

US troops said to have burned militants' bodies

MISCONDUCT?The US is investigating after a TV station broadcast pictures of purported US soldiers burning the bodies of suspected Taliban fighters

AP , SYDNEY

US soldiers in Afghanistan burned the bodies of Taliban fighters in violation of Islamic tradition and then taunted a nearby village about the act, an Australian television network reported.

The SBS television network broadcast video footage on its respected Dateline current affairs program on Wednesday purportedly showing US soldiers burning the bodies of two suspected Taliban fighters in the hills outside the village of Gonbaz, near the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

The US military said its Army Criminal Investigation Division had begun an investigation into the alleged burning of the bodies.

"This command takes all allegations of misconduct or inappropriate behavior seriously and has directed an investigation into circumstances surrounding this allegation," said Major General Jason Kamiya, Combined Joint Task Force-76 commander, in a statement released by Bagram air base in Afghanistan.

"This command does not condone the mistreatment of enemy combatants or the desecration of their religious and cultural beliefs," Kamiya said. "If the allegation is substantiated, the appropriate course of action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and corrective action will be taken."

US officials had been in contact with the Afghan government about the alleged incident and would "coordinate with them in responding to it," according to a statement from the US embassy in Canberra.

"We condemn actions by anyone to abuse human remains -- even of those who were engaged in violent acts against the United States," the statement said.

SBS said the footage was taken by a freelance journalist, Stephen Dupont, who said that he had been embedded with the US army's 173rd Airborne Brigade and recorded the body burning on Oct. 1.

The authenticity of the footage could not immediately be verified.

In the footage, two soldiers who spoke with American accents and were identified by SBS as being part of a US Army psychological operations unit later read taunting messages in English that the SBS said were broadcast to the village, which was believed to be harboring Taliban soldiers.

"Taliban, you are all 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. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be," said one message, read out by a soldier identified by SBS as Sergeant Jim Baker.

Another unnamed soldier called the Taliban "cowardly dogs."

Dupont said that the messages were broadcast in the local dialect, but were translated into English for him by members of the army psychological operations unit.

Under Islamic tradition, bodies should be washed, prayed over, wrapped in white cloth and buried within 24 hours.

The SBS report suggested that the burning of bodies could violate the Geneva Conventions which say soldiers must ensure that the "dead are honorably interred, if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged."

The rules also state that bodies should not be cremated, "except for imperative reasons of hygiene or for motives based on the religion of the deceased."

Dupont said the soldiers said they burned the bodies for hygiene reasons. However, Dupont said the messages later broadcast by the US army psychological operations unit indicated they were aware that the cremation would be perceived as a desecration.

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