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Photog tells of U.S. burning Taliban bodies

Transcript of an October 19 SBS (Australian Public Broadcast Network) interview with photojournalist Stephen Dupont concerning charges of the U.S. 82nd Airborne desecration of  Taliban bodies.

George Negus: Steve, even though you were embedded with the Americans, I have to say I was surprised that you were even able to film that stuff. Why do you think they had no problem with you doing it?

Stephen Dupont, photojournalist: Well, I believe that they had a certain amount of trust and I think, when you're embedded with the Americans, they tend to sort of let you have free rein. Once you're in there - it's very difficult to get in there.

Negus: No restrictions?

Dupont: None that I saw on my embed. I just think that they're - you know, they've invited you in, they've invited me in so they're showing me pretty much what's going on.

Negus: Do you think they understood the ramifications of what they're doing? The burning of the bodies, pointing towards Mecca and going to the trouble of reading to you in English the deliberately provocative stuff that they were shouting across the valley to the Taliban?

Dupont: Look, I think the airborne unit that was responsible with the burning of the two Taliban soldiers weren't really thinking in that way. I think the psychological operations unit, who were responsible for the broadcast along with some other broadcasts to the Taliban, they're quite well aware of it. They're older guys. That's their job. They're PsyOps. They use it as a weapon. And the Americans are so frustrated. They're frustrated because they can't find the enemy. They're chasing shadows all the time.

Negus: The guys burning the bodies -- probably did they think were doing it for reasons of hygiene that were mentioned in the story?

Dupont: I believe that. That was the feeling I got as I climbed up the hill. As I got to the crest of the hill, they started burning the bodies. My initial reaction was, "My God, I've got to film this. This is really important stuff. It's my responsibility as a journalist to -

Negus: The PsyOps had a different purpose?

Dupont: I believe so. Nice guys -- they said to me, "We've been told to burn the bodies, the bodies have been here for 24 hours and they're starting to stink so, for hygiene purposes, this is what we've got to do."

Later on, when I was down with the PsyOps operations people, they used that as a psychological warfare, I guess you'd call it. They used the fact that the Taliban were burned facing west -

Negus: They were deliberately setting out to humiliate the Taliban?

Dupont: They deliberately wanted to incite that much anger from the Taliban so the Taliban could attack them.

Negus: Smoke them out.

Dupont: Smoke them out. They want the Taliban to fight them because they can't find them otherwise. It's a really crazy situation. And, you know, the fact that they're announcing these kind of, you know, sort of incredible statements, I think, says a lot about the war that's going on there. I mean, they really want to be attacked. That's the only way they can find them.

Negus: They don't know where the enemy is, who the enemy is. It's like fighting a ghost.

Dupont: Absolutely. We're talking about a place that really does look like the moon, look like some planet in outer space.

Negus: In the context of things like Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Bagram and Fallujah, do you think there will be ramifications when this stuff gets to the world? The last time somebody desecrated the Koran in Guantanamo Bay they went off their faces in Afghanistan.

Dupont: I think it's highly possible. I can't say for sure. I think it's strong enough, certainly, to send a clear message to Muslims around the world that this is, this is not good. This is a clear breach of Islam. And, you know, it's just another thing that's going to really anger the Islamic population.

Negus: That being the case, do you think that the psychological war is working?

Dupont: Look, I think it's having some success. I do believe - I think it's very, very slow. I think there is a certain amount of success because they are engaging with the enemy, as in the Taliban. The Americans are using this, you know, psychological warfare to announce - to make announcements to get the enemy to fight them. It is working on that level. And they are being attacked and so they are responding and they are taking prisoners of war and so forth.

So, in the eyes of the Americans and the coalition, there is a sense that things are working, but it's very, very slow.

Negus: Is it the most amazing thing you've photographed? Close?

Dupont: It's close. And, at the time, George, I really didn't think of it that way. When I was filming it, I think I was just on such a mission to capture these images and it was so extraordinary - it's more when I came home and I started looking at the video footage and the photographs that I took that, you know, it started to come around to thinking, "My God, these are really poignant historical images."

Negus: The Australians are in the same area. Any contact whatsoever with them?

Dupont: They're keeping a very low profile. I saw some at Kandahar air base and Bagram air base and I instigated some conversation that really kind of went nowhere.

Negus: By stark contrast, the Americans are totally open about what they're doing, even something like what we've just seen.

Dupont: Absolutely, absolutely open. I think I mentioned before - once you're embedded with them, you can pretty well see what they're doing. If there was anything the Americans didn't want me to see, I wouldn't have seen it, that's what I believe. I really believe that the fact that they were burning these bodies, it didn't mean much to them. I think maybe that's common. They make these decisions on the spot.

Negus: Steve, good talking to you.

Dupont: Thanks, George.