Washington, Jan 12 : The U.S. Marine Corps said Wednesday it is investigating a video depicting what appears to be four Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters.
In a statement, the Marine Corps said it has not verified the origin or authenticity of the YouTube video. It also said the actions portrayed are not consistent with Marine values.
If verified the video could create a strong backlash in the Muslim world and beyond for the disrespectful actions it portrays.
A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive aspect of the matter, said the case will be referred to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Navy's worldwide law enforcement organization.
The Council on Islamic-American Relations, a prominent Muslim civil rights and advocacy group based in Washington, quickly condemned the video.
"We condemn this apparent desecration of the dead as a violation of our nation's military regulations and of international laws of war prohibiting such disgusting and immoral actions," the group wrote in a letter faxed to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
"If verified as authentic, the video shows behavior that is totally unbecoming of American military personnel and that could ultimately endanger other soldiers and civilians," the letter said.
Marine Corps headquarters at the Pentagon said, "The actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps. This matter will be fully investigated."
A Marine Corps spokesman, Lt. Col. Stewart Upton, added, "Allegations of Marines not doing the right thing in regard to dead Taliban insurgents are very serious and, if proven, represent a failure to adhere to the high standards expected of American military personnel."
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, said the video is deeply troubling.
"Whoever it is, and whatever the circumstances, which we know is under investigation, it is egregious behavior," Kirby said.It is unclear who shot the video and who posted it online.
The 'disgusting' and 'highly reprehensible' 40-second clip shows four men in combat gear standing over the three corpses with their genitals exposed as they relieve themselves.
The men can be heard joking 'Have a great day, buddy', 'Golden like a shower' and 'Yeahhhh!' as they groan with relief whilst urinating.
It has sparked anger from Afghans, with top negotiator from President Hamid Karzai's High Peace Council Arsala Rahmani, saying it will have a 'very, very bad impact on peace efforts'.
He added: 'Looking at such action, the Taliban can easily recruit young people and tell them that their country has been attacked by Christians and Jews and they must defend it.'
It is not clear if the corpses belong to civilians or insurgents engaged in combat, although the film does appear to have been shot in Afghanistan.
The anonymous person who posted it included the caption: 'Scout sniper team 4 with 3rd battalion 2nd marines out of camp lejeune peeing on dead talibans.
The film is likely to spark a huge diplomatic row between Washington and Kabul and rekindle memories of the abuse meted out by American troops at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan described the acts as 'highly reprehensible and disgusting'.
ISAF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings said: 'The behaviour depicted in this video is reprehensible and is not in keeping with the values of U.S. Armed Forces.'
The footage emerged on Liveleak.com where some people left comments in support of what the soldiers had done.
One commenter wrote: 'We're all proud of you guys', while another put: 'The first bath they have had in years!' and 'cut their heads off and bury them with a pig'.
However others were disgusted and wrote: 'Not cool.. fight with honor and dignity for others, you sign up to get shot at so deal with it , set an example for future Soldiers. dont pee on the dead.'
Camp Lejeune is in North Carolina and is the largest Marine Corps Base on the East Coast of the U.S., home to 40,000 marines.
The 3rd Batallion 2nd Marines consists of 800 Marines and sailors and is nicknamed the 'Betio Bastards', a reference to the island of Betio in the Tawara Atoll and the site of one of the most deadly battles with the Japanese in World War II.
More recently they have served in Iraq, the Haiti earthquake of 2010 and in Afghanistan. Their motto is: 'We quell the storm, and ride the thunder!' or 'Strength and Honour'.
News of the footage had yet to reach the streets of Kabul today, but Afghans who were told about what the tape appears to show were horrified.
Sayed Abdul Samad, an elderly man with a long white beard and a white turban, said: 'According to Islam and international law it's against humanity and it's illegal.'
Feda Mohammad, a middle-aged man in jeans, a jacket and a woollen hat, said: 'They've committed a crime. We don't want them in our country. We don't like foreigners in our country and they have to leave.'
Qaisullah, a 44-year-old shop keeper near the capital's Shah-e-dushamshera mosque, called for the soldiers in the video to be punished.
He said: 'The government has to discuss with the U.S. government the prosecution of those soldiers so in future nobody will be able to make fun of Afghans.
'I haven't seen the video but I'd say it will harm our country and peace talks. It starts just with footage on TV but will end up with demonstrations around the country and maybe the world.'