Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday condemned a video that appears to show U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of suspected Taliban members.
The minute-long video surfaced on the Internet Wednesday and quickly went viral, drawing disgust in Washington and Kabul.
“I have seen the footage, and I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable,” Panetta said in a Thursday morning statement. “I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”
The U.S. defense chief has ordered the Marine Corps and the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, to investigate the incident.
“This conduct is entirely inappropriate for members of the United States military and does not reflect the standards or values our armed forces are sworn to uphold,” Panetta said. “Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent.”
Karzai issued his own statement, saying he is "deeply disturbed by a video that shows American soldiers desecrating dead bodies of three Afghans.”
"This act by American [Marines] is simply inhuman and condemnable in the strongest possible terms,” Karzai said. “We expressly ask the U.S. government to urgently investigate the video and apply the most severe punishment to anyone found guilty in this crime."
Panetta and Karzai spoke by telephone Thursday morning, Pentagon press secretary George Little said.
“The secretary expressed his view that the conduct depicted in the footage is utterly deplorable, and that it does not reflect the standards or values American troops are sworn to uphold,” Little said. “The secretary also noted in the conversation that he has ordered that the video be immediately and fully investigated.”
The video emerged just as U.S. officials revealed they hope to restart peace talks with Taliban leaders soon. It remains unclear whether the image of U.S. Marines urinating on their fallen fighters will change those plans.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos issued a stern statement Thursday, slamming the alleged behavior and vowing to get to the bottom of what happened.
"I want to be clear and unambiguous, the behavior depicted in the video is wholly inconsistent with the high standards of conduct and warrior ethos that we have demonstrated throughout our history," Amos said. "Accordingly, late yesterday I requested that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service pull together a team of their very best agents and immediately assign them responsibility to thoroughly investigate every aspect of the filmed event.
Amos also has placed an unnamed Marine general and a senior attorney — both, he noted, have "extensive combat experience" — to lead an internal preliminary probe.
"Once the investigation and preliminary inquiry are complete and the facts have been determined, then the Marine Corps will take the appropriate next steps," Amos said. "Rest assured that the institution of the Marine Corps will not rest until the allegations and the events surrounding them have been resolved. We remain fully committed to upholding the Geneva Convention, the Laws of War, and our own core values."
This story was updated at 10:40 a.m.