WASHINGTON — The Army tells NBC News its Criminal Investigation Division is looking into an Australian broadcast report with video that allegedly shows U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan burning the bodies of two Taliban fighters, then using the incident to taunt Taliban forces.
SBS, an Australian public broadcast network, aired the story Wednesday night. U.S. Army officials confirm that a free-lance cameraman working for the network was embedded with the 82nd Airborne at the time of the alleged body burning.
According to the network report, one American, one Afghan soldier and two Taliban fighters were killed in a firefight near the village of Gonbaz in southern Afghanistan. The report says the next day the bodies of the two Taliban fighters were laid out facing west and burned in a "deliberate desecration of Muslim beliefs.” The cameraman who shot the video said the soldiers claimed they were told to burn the bodies for "hygiene reasons" because they had been out in the open for 24 hours and started to decompose.
But the report says U.S. soldiers then broadcast "an inflammatory message over loudspeakers to taunt and bait the enemy."
A transcript of the story has an apparent sound bite from a Sgt. Jim Baker saying, "Taliban, you are all cowardly dogs. You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned."
Traditionally the burning of a body is a deep insult to Muslims and Muslims try to bury their bodies facing Mecca.
U.S. military officials confirm at least part of the story. They tell NBC News that two Taliban had been killed in a firefight and that U.S. soldiers had asked people in the village to retrieve the bodies, but no one had come forward for at least 24 hours. They say they are not sure what what happened next.
According to U.S. Army officials, if the bodies were burned and members of a psychological operations team then used the burnings to taunt the enemy with a broadcast message, that would be in violation of U.S. Army procedures and an apparent violation of military law.
The Army officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is under investigation.
They say the burning of the bodies would be an apparent violation of the rules of warfare regarding the desecration of bodies.
Military officials, however, have not seen the tape and are withholding judgment pending the probe by the Criminal Investigation Division. But according to one U.S. Army official, "This doesn't look good."
Jim Miklaszewski is NBC's Pentagon correspondent