BY PAULINE JELINEK
AND ROBERT BURNS
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Pentagon leaders scrambled yesterday to contain damage from an Internet video purporting to show four Marines urinating on Taliban corpses -- an act that would violate international laws of warfare and put further strains on U.S.-Afghan relations.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to offer assurances of a full investigation and the top Marine general promised an internal probe as well as a criminal one. Investigators moved quickly to identify some of those involved, confirming they were members of a sniper unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C., who served in Afghanistan last year.
As the video spread across the Internet in postings and re-postings, U.S. officials joined with Afghans in calling it shocking, deplorable, inhumane and a breach of military standards of conduct. It shows men in Marine combat gear standing in a semi-circle, urinating on the bodies of three men in standard Afghan clothing, one whose chest was covered in blood.
It's not certain whether the dead were Taliban fighters, civilians or someone else.
The incident is likely to hurt U.S. ties further with Karzai's government and complicate negotiations over a strategic partnership arrangement meant to govern the presence of U.S. troops and advisers in Afghanistan after most international combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
It also comes 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 United States 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 political office to oversee talks between the United States and the Taliban.
Pentagon officials said the criminal investigation is likely to look into whether the Marines violated laws of war, which include prohibitions against photographing or mishandling bodies and detainees. The incident also appeared to violate the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice, which governs conduct. Thus, some or all of the four Marines could face a military court martial or other disciplinary action.
Karzai called the video "completely inhumane."
Panetta said the actions depicted in the brief video 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," his statement said.