President Barack Obama today called for an investigation into photographs that have surfaced of U.S. soldiers posing with the maimed corpses of Afghan insurgents and says those responsible should be held accountable, the White House said on Wednesday.
"The conduct depicted in those photos is reprehensible and does not in any way represent the ... standards of the U.S. military," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama flew to Ohio for an economic speech.
Carney said Obama had been briefed on the matter but he did not know whether the president had seen the photos, which were taken in 2010 and published by the Los Angeles Times Wednesday.
Top U.S. military and civilian officials rushed to condemn the soldiers' actions Wednesday, calling them repugnant and a dishonor to others who have served in the conflict. The Army said an investigation is under way.
The White House in a brienfing called the conduct in purported photos "reprehensible.' Traveling in Brussels, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said apologized for the photos and added it was "foolish" and "unacceptable" behavior.
The photos were published in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times. It said one of the photos shows members of the 82nd Airborne Division posing in 2010 with Afghan police and the severed legs of a suicide bomber. The same platoon a few months later was sent to investigate the remains of three insurgents reported to have accidentally blown themselves up — and soldiers again posed and mugged for photographs with the remains, the newspaper said. A photo from that incident appears to show the hand of a dead insurgent resting on a U.S. soldier's shoulder as the soldier smiles.
The photos are the latest in a series of blows to the U.S. military image in Afghanistan. In January, U.S. Marines were found to have made a video of them urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, what the military said was the accidental burning of Qurans triggered violent protests and revenge killings of six Americans. And last month, a U.S. soldier left his base and allegedly killed 17 civilian villagers, mainly women and children.
The Times said that a soldier provided the newspaper with a series of 18 photos of soldiers posing with corpses. The soldier served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne's 4th Brigade Combat Team from Ft. Bragg, N.C., and said the photos point to a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops, the newspaper reported.
Even before the photos were published online, Pentagon press secretary George Little said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta "rejects the conduct depicted in these 2-year-old photographs."
"Anyone found responsible for this inhuman conduct will be held accountable in accordance with our military justice system," Little said.
The U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, U.S Marine Gen. John R. Allen, also criticized the troops. He said there is a strict policy for the handling of enemy remains and it dictates they be processed as humanely as possible.
"The incident depicted in the LA Times' photographs represents a serious error in judgment by several soldiers who have acted out of ignorance and unfamiliarity with U.S. Army values," Allen said, adding that commanders "will collaborate with Afghan authorities and carefully examine the facts and circumstances shown in these photos."
A statement by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan C. Crocker also condemned the behavior.
"Such actions are morally repugnant, dishonor the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers and civilians who have served with distinction in Afghanistan, and do not represent the core values of the United States or our military," Crocker said.
Little said the military had asked the Los Angeles Times not to publish the photographs. "The danger is that this material could be used by the enemy to incite violence against U.S. and Afghan service members in Afghanistan," he said.
In its story, the newspaper quoted editor Davan Maharaj saying: "After careful consideration, we decided that publishing a small but representative selection of the photos would fulfill our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan, including the allegation that the images reflect a breakdown in unit discipline that was endangering U.S. troops."
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