JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. military faced a new firestorm of criticism today over stunning scenes of American troops and enemy dead in Afghanistan. They raced across the Internet and around the world, triggering condemnations and investigations.
A single still photo captured the damning image purportedly showing four U.S. Marines urinating on three bodies. The video, too graphic to air here, was posted on YouTube. The posting said the bodies were Taliban fighters and the troops belonged to a scout sniper team with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
That unit was deployed to Afghanistan last year, but returned to the United States in September. Indications were that some or all of the four Marines may no longer be in the service.
In Afghanistan today, a spokesman for the NATO-led security force, ISAF, said the conduct seen on the video was utterly unacceptable.
LT. GEN. ADRIAN J. BRADSHAW, ISAF: These actions do not represent the values of the vast majority of coalition forces, who serve their nations honorably.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. Marine Corps said it could not yet verify the video's origin or authenticity.
But a Pentagon spokesman said today, "It clearly appears to be to us what it appears to be to you: troops urinating on corpses."
And at a morning event with the visiting Algerian foreign minister, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed total dismay.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: It is absolutely inconsistent with American values, with the standards of behavior that we expect from our military personnel, and that, you know, the vast, vast majority of our military personnel, particularly our Marines, hold themselves to.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued his own statement, saying: "I have seen the footage, and I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable. Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent."
Panetta telephoned Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai today to denounce the actions in the video and to promise a full investigation.
And, in his statement, Karzai urged U.S. authorities to -- quote -- "apply the most severe punishment to anyone found guilty in this crime."
The video could also complicate tentative moves in Afghanistan toward peace talks to end the decade-old war. On Wednesday, Secretary Clinton appeared open to new negotiations with the Taliban, a position she restated today.
HILLARY CLINTON: As I said yesterday, the United States remains strongly committed to helping build a secure, peaceful, prosperous democratic future for the people of Afghanistan. And we will continue to support efforts that will be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned to pursue the possibility of reconciliation and peace.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In turn, the Taliban said today that the video showed shameful and inhumane acts, but would not hamper peace efforts. On the streets of Kabul, however, some Afghans said the episode cast new doubt on American intentions.
MAN: (through translator): On the one hand, the Americans present themselves as friends of Afghanistan and call us heroes of peace, and also they try to have peace talks with Taliban, so we don't know what kind of political game they are playing in Afghanistan.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the meantime, both the U.S. Navy and the Marines have opened investigations. The men involved could face court-martial proceedings for violating the Geneva Convention and international laws of war.