WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta phoned Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai Thursday and promised full investigation of a video that purports to depict four U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters — a video both men condemned as deplorable.
In a separate public statement, Panetta said such behavior is "entirely inappropriate for members of the United States military" and that those responsible will be held accountable.
The video, posted on the Internet, shows men in Marine combat gear standing in a semi-circle over three bodies. It's not clear whether the dead were Taliban or civilians or someone else. The title on the posting called them Taliban insurgents and said the men were from Camp Lejeune, N.C., but officials would not immediately confirm it.
Officials said they had not yet verified the video's origin or authenticity, but had no evidence to doubt what it was.
"It clearly appears to be to us what it appears to be to you — troops urinating on corpses," Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby told reporters Thursday morning,
The video was roundly denounced in the U.S. and Afghanistan alike.
Karzai called it "completely inhumane." The Afghan Defense Ministry called it "shocking." And the Taliban issued a statement accusing U.S. forces of committing numerous "indignities" against the Afghan people.
"First they killed the Afghans with mortars, and they then urinated on their bodies," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said of what is shown in the video. "We strongly condemn this inhumane action by the wild American soldiers."
Panetta said the actions, if confirmed, were inexcusable.
"I have seen the footage, and I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms," Panetta's statement said. "Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed "total dismay" at the video and said it was "absolutely inconsistent with the standards of behavior that the vast majority of Marines hold themselves to."
The video came to light at a delicate time in relations among the United States, Afghanistan's elected government and the Taliban insurgency fighting for both territorial control and cultural and religious preeminence in Afghanistan. The U.S. is trying to foster peace talks between the Karzai government and the Pakistan-based Taliban high command, and has made unprecedented offers to build trust with the insurgents, including the planned opening of a Taliban political office to oversee talks.