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  Burning of Corpses in Afghanistan


ONCE again the US military is back in the dock for its reported abuses and is scrambling to counter any anti-American backlash that is bound to ensue. Hot on the heels of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and allegations that US military desecrated copies of the Holy Quran in Guantanamo Bay comes Thursday’s news that US troops set on fire the bodies two Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. This act — caught on videotape and broadcast on an Australian network — shows how blatantly US soldiers ignore terms of the Geneva Conventions which clearly state that soldiers must ensure that the dead are “honourably interred, if possible, according to the rites of [their] religion”. One soldier is shown using a loudspeaker to taunt locals: “You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing the west and burned” — a clear indication that Islamic burial traditions were being ridiculed. Another soldier describes the Taliban as “lady boys” and “cowardly dogs”. The US defence department has said it will investigate the matter while President Hamid Karzai has said his government will conduct its own investigation — but that may not quell the anger. Mr Karzai has publicly complained of aggressive search tactics employed by US troops in the past and the new aberration further damages America’s reputation in Afghanistan.

The US government has already instructed its embassies abroad to tell local governments that the abuses do not reflect American policies. But as the world watches such horrendous acts, it becomes increasingly difficult to swallow the official line. If the US administration is sincere in winning over the Muslim world, it must ensure that rogue elements in the military are given exemplary punishment. It also makes it even more necessary to pay heed to some US senators who have called for Congress to pass laws to regulate methods used in questioning and prosecuting detainees.