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U.S. soldiers reprimanded for burning bodies

Cremating Taliban fighters showed poor judgment, military says

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(CNN) -- Four U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. soldiers were shown last month burning the bodies. Two other U.S. 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 investigation.

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 U.S. 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 report states.

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