Vilnius, Lithuania U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Saturday that he wants American commanders in Afghanistan to expedite their investigation of allegations that U.S. soldiers burned the remains of Taliban fighters they had killed and then used the scene for propaganda purposes.
Investigators should proceed with a "sense of urgency," Rumsfeld said, in light of potential damage to U.S. interests from a backlash in the Muslim world, which has expressed outrage.
In his first public comments about the matter, Rumsfeld told reporters who flew with him from Mongolia that Pentagon lawyers had advised him to be careful what he says because, as defense secretary, his remarks about the case could complicate the proceedings.
Rumsfeld made clear, however, that he is worried by publicity about the allegations, whatever their merit.
"The reality is that charges of that type are harmful," he said. "They don't represent the overwhelmingly positive behavior of the men and women in uniform who do such a wonderful job. It's disappointing when there are charges like that. It's particularly disappointing when they're true. That needs to be determined, but one hates to see the adverse effect of it, if it is true."
Rumsfeld was in the Lithuanian capital to attend NATO defense ministers meetings beginning today.