KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan's government said Monday the U.S. military has been "very lenient" in punishing American soldiers for burning the bodies of two Taliban rebels in an incident caught on camera.
The U.S. military said Saturday that four soldiers would face disciplinary action but not criminal charges since their actions were motivated by hygienic concerns.
"The punishment is very lenient," said Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Naveed Moez. "The burning of the bodies is against our Islamic and Afghan traditions. It is totally unacceptable and it should not be repeated by any means under any circumstances again."
Islam bans cremation. Afghan media have reported the alleged desecration but have not broadcast the images, and there have been no demonstrations over the incident. Still, some clerics and students compared the images to photographs of U.S. troops abusing prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
TV footage recorded Oct. 1 in a violent part of southern Afghanistan showed American soldiers setting fire to the bodies and then boasting about the act on loudspeakers to taunt insurgents suspected to be hiding in a nearby village.
American commanders immediately launched an inquiry and vowed that anyone found guilty would be punished, amid fears the incident could undermine public support for their efforts against a stubborn insurgency four years after the Taliban's ouster.
The U.S.-led coalition's operational commander, Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, told a news conference Saturday that two junior officers who ordered the bodies burned would be reprimanded for showing a lack of cultural and religious understanding, but the men had been unaware they were doing anything wrong.
Two noncommissioned officers would be reprimanded for using the burning of the bodies to taunt the rebels, Kamiya said. They also would face nonjudicial punishments, which could include a loss of pay or demotion in rank.
He said the military investigation showed there was no violation of the rules of war. The Geneva Convention forbids the burning of combatants except for hygienic purposes.
The temperature at the time was 90, and the bodies had been lying exposed on a hilltop for 24 hours. They were rapidly decomposing, posing a health risk to soldiers who intended to stay on the hill for up to three days, the general said.
The TV footage shows about five soldiers in light-colored military fatigues without distinguishing marks standing near a bonfire in which two bodies laid side by side.
The cameraman, freelance journalist Stephen Dupont, said he shot the footage while embedded with the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade.
A separate probe ordered by Afghan President Hamid Karzai also has been completed but officials say it is not clear when its findings will be released.