US soldiers reprimanded for burning bodies
Updated: 2005-11-27 10:50
Four US soldiers have been reprimanded for an incident in Afghanistan in
which the bodies of two Islamic fighters were burned and a message taunting the
Taliban about the cremations was broadcast, a US Central Command official said.
The incident became public when Australian TV showed footage of the soldiers
burning the corpses, which were facing Mecca. The footage included a message
challenging Taliban troops to retrieve their dead and fight.
The Muslim faith forbids the burning of bodies.
The burning of soldiers killed in combat is permitted under the Geneva
Conventions "for hygiene reasons and religious purposes," said Maj. Gen. Jason
Kamiya, the operational commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The soldiers who made the broadcast, working in psychological operations in
Afghanistan, will also face non-judicial punishment or something similar, U.S.
military spokesman Lt. Col. Laurent Fox said Saturday at a news conference.
Two US soldiers were shown last month burning the bodies. Two other US
soldiers broadcast the message later over loudspeakers.
The bodies were burned for hygienic reasons, according to the military, and
the soldiers who cremated them already have been issued "general officer
memorandums of reprimand" for showing poor judgment. The other two soldiers will
face something similar for making an unauthorized broadcast, Fox said.
Muslim custom dictates that bodies be buried between 24 and 72 hours after
death and that Muslims conduct the burial, according to an executive summary of
The executive summary states that the actions didn't violate law, but rather
"highlighted poor judgment and a lack of Afghan cultural knowledge." The summary
adds, "These judgment errors are serious and have been corrected with
administrative actions and training."
The incidents took place October 1 near Gumbad in Kandahar province, a hotbed
of militant activity, after a September 30 firefight that left a US soldier, an
Afghan soldier and the two Taliban fighters dead.
Speaking at a Saturday news conference in Kandahar, Kamiya said that October
1 in Kandahar was a sweltering day -- about 90 degrees Fahrenheit -- and the
remains were heavily damaged by gunfire. They had started to decompose after
being exposed to the elements for 24 hours, he said.
"Our investigation found there was no intent to desecrate the remains, but
only to dispose of them for hygienic reasons," Kamiya said.
It was the first time the soldiers' military unit had killed an enemy at
close range and the first time the unit needed to determine what to do with the
remains, the report states.
Hours after the soldiers began burning the bodies, "a psychological
operations loudspeaker team" broadcast messages toward Gumbad and a mountainous
area "where the enemy was suspected to be hiding," according to the report.
The two non-commissioned officers "understood that what they were doing in
broadcasting the message was wrong and not in accordance with established
policies and procedures," Kamiya said.
Both were reprimanded -- "the most serious administrative action that the
command can impose" -- according to the report. And they, along with the unit
commander, will be reassigned to other duties "for rehabilitative reasons," the