WASHINGTON -- The United States Marine Corps is conducting a formal investigation into an incident in which Marines are allegedly shown defiling the bodies of what appear to be dead Iraqi insurgents.
Entertainment news website TMZ obtained 41 pictures they reported were shot in Fallujah in 2004, and made the Defense Department aware of them last week.
The pictures show Marines pouring accelerant on and burning what appear to be Iraqi corpses; at least one shows a Marine looking at the camera in what could be a posed photograph.
Stars and Stripes was unable to determine the Marines' intent or any other context, and will not run the photos until more can be learned.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told Stars and Stripes that he has seen the photos, confirmed that they appear to show U.S. servicemembers, and alerted U.S. Central Command, which had not seen the photos.
The U.S. Marine Corps is investigating, Warren said.
"We are currently investigating the veracity of the photos, circumstances involved, and if possible, the identities of the servicemembers involved," said Capt. Richard Ulsh, at Marine Corps headquarters. "The findings from this investigation will determine whether we are able to move forward with any investigation into possible wrongdoing."
The pictures show U.S. servicemembers in what could be a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which makes it a crime to mishandle remains. Warren added that these actions would not be a violation of the laws of war -- but would be a violation of General Order No. 1, which governs conduct in a given war zone.
TMZ said they have photos that are too gruesome to publish. Some show U.S. Marines burning corpses.
"On the burning, you know, it's hard to tell [whether it's a violation]," Warren said. "While we don't routinely burn human remains, there are circumstances when that might be necessary for hygiene, health -- things like that."
The incident is reminiscent of a July 2011 incident in Helmand province, Afghanistan. A video of Marines urinating on the corpses of militants was posted on YouTube in January 2012, sparking outrage and starting an investigation into the Marines' behavior throughout the unit's deployment.
In September, the military dropped its case against Capt. James V. Clement, the sole officer charged in the urination case. Three enlisted Marines who appear in the video have pleaded guilty to a range of charges that include wrongful possession of unauthorized photos of casualties and failure to report mistreatment of human casualties. Five other Marines received nonjudicial punishments.
Stars and Stripes reporter Jon Harper contributed to this report from the Pentagon.