Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Wednesday that the conduct of U.S. soldiers posing with the dismembered bodies of Afghan suicide bombers in photos published earlier that day "absolutely" violates the military's regulations and core values. He pledged to continue an investigation into the troops' alleged misconduct.
"This is not who we are, and it's certainly not who we represent when it comes to the great majority of men and women in uniform who are serving there," Panetta said during a news conference in Brussels. The Army has already launched an investigation into the photos, reportedly from two years ago, that were given to the Los Angeles Times by a soldier from the same division as those depicted in the photos.
"I know that war is ugly and it's violent," Panetta said, adding that sometimes young people get "caught up in the moment" and "make some foolish decisions."
"I am not excusing that behavior—but neither do I want these images to bring further injury to our people, or to our relationship with the Afghan people," he continued.
Panetta said he was not asked about the incident during his meetings at the NATO conference. “I was not asked about it but obviously my apology is on behalf of the Department of Defense and the U.S. government," Panetta said.
The Pentagon had wanted the Times not to run those photos, claiming they would be "used by the enemy to incite violence," Panetta said. "We regret that they were published."
President Obama was briefed about the photos, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday. But Carney didn't know if the president had seen them.
“The president certainly shares in the defense secretary's opinion that this should be investigated and those held responsible will be held accountable,” Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.