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New military photo scandal: Panetta apologizes

By Robert Burns

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 18 2012 4:10 p.m. MDT

The colonel who commanded the brigade in Afghanistan, Brian Drinkwine, did not respond to an email request for comment. The brigade's Facebook page includes an account of the September 2010 ceremony at Fort Bragg in which Drinkwine relinquished command, quoting him as praising his soldiers' efforts and professionalism.

"The Taliban feared you, the people trusted you and your Afghan partners respected you and you inspired them," he is quoted as saying.

Gen. John Allen, top commander of U.S. and all international forces in Afghanistan, issued a statement Wednesday condemning the photos even before they were published. He said they represented a violation of a policy on the handling of enemy remains that dictates they be treated as humanely as possible.

"The incident depicted in the LA Times' photographs represents a serious error in judgment by several soldiers who have acted out of ignorance and unfamiliarity with U.S. Army values," Allen said, adding that commanders "will collaborate with Afghan authorities and carefully examine the facts and circumstances shown in these photos."

Allen was joined by Panetta and other senior American officials in condemning the actions depicted in the photos. President Barack Obama's chief spokesman, Jay Carney, called the picture-taking "reprehensible." He said Obama favors an investigation but did not know if the president had seen the photos.

In an initial statement on Panetta's behalf, his press secretary, George Little, said, "Anyone found responsible for this inhuman conduct will be held accountable in accordance with our military justice system."

The U.S. military image in Afghanistan has taken a beating in recent months. In January, U.S. Marines were found to have made a video of themselves urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, what the military said was the accidental burning of Qurans triggered violent protests and revenge killings of six Americans. And last month, a U.S. soldier left his base and allegedly killed 17 civilians, mainly women and children.

The Times said that a soldier provided the newspaper with a series of 18 photos of soldiers posing with corpses. The unidentified soldier served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne and said the photos pointed to a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops, the newspaper reported.

In its story, the newspaper quoted editor Davan Maharaj saying: "After careful consideration, we decided that publishing a small but representative selection of the photos would fulfill our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan, including the allegation that the images reflect a breakdown in unit discipline that was endangering U.S. troops."

Personal cameras and videos have captured misbehavior many times in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most notorious case was Abu Ghraib, an Iraqi prison where U.S. military police photographed themselves physically and sexually abusing detainees. Photos showed them holding one prisoner on a dog leash, another with a prisoner hooded and wires attached to him in a mock electrocution, another with naked prisoners stacked in a pyramid.

Release of the photos in 2004 fostered international condemnation. It complicated international relations for the U.S. and provoked debate about whether harsh interrogation techniques approved by the Pentagon amounted to torture. In all, 11 U.S. soldiers were tried and convicted of crimes and five others were punished administratively. Punishments for the 16 included reprimands, hard labor, demotions, fines and up to 10 years in prison for one soldier.

Associated Press writers Anne Gearan in Brussels and Patrick Quinn in Kabul and AP broadcast reporters Mark D. Carlson in Brussels and Sagar Meghani in Washington contributed to this report.

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