ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani military on Friday ordered an investigation into a video that appears to show soldiers executing six civilians, following the recording's exposure in the international media and U.S. pressure.
The gruesome video, which was posted on the Internet last month, supposedly was filmed in the Swat valley, the northwest region where the Pakistani military launched an offensive in May 2009 against Taliban extremists who'd annexed it.
The emergence of the jerky recording, which appears to have been filmed by a mobile phone camera, follows reports of hundreds of extrajudicial killings in Swat by the Pakistani military. Washington strongly backed the Swat operation.
Friday, Human Rights Watch, the U.S.-based group that's documented summary executions and other abuses in Swat, said that although it couldn't comment on the authenticity of this video, sufficient evidence of violations in Swat exists to invoke American laws that require a cutoff in funding to units found guilty of war crimes. The Pakistani military, a key anti-terror ally, receives some $2 billion a year in American aid.
The undated video, which lasts more than five minutes, shows six young men, blindfolded, with their hands tied behind their backs, led into a compound and lined up by figures wearing what appear to be Pakistani army uniforms. A firing squad of at least six uniformed men assembles and shoots the civilians. They fall to the ground, and agonized moaning can be heard. Several uniformed men then move in and finish the victims off with rifle shots from close range.
"It is not expected of a professional army to engage in excesses against the people whom it is trying to guard against the scourge of terrorism," said the army's chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, according to a statement from the Pakistani military.
The Pakistani military initially had dismissed the video as a fake. Kayani on Friday promised action against the culprits if the video is found to be genuine, but he cautioned against "hasty conclusions about involvement of Pakistan army soldiers," saying that terrorists had disguised themselves with military uniforms in the past.
The video emerged on Facebook, from a group calling itself the Pashtuns International Association, and also on jihadist websites, where it was used to evoke outrage from extremists.
Pashtuns are the ethnic group in Pakistan's northwest, including Swat, where the Pashtuns International Association said the recording took place. The Facebook link has been taken down. Up to now, the Pakistani media, which is wary of criticizing the country's military, had almost completely ignored the story.
Richard Snelsire, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, said that Ambassador Anne Patterson had raised the issue of the video with Kayani in a previously scheduled meeting last week.
"We're supportive of the idea of an investigation," said Snelsire. "We'll await the results."
Human rights groups welcomed the announcement of the inquiry, which will be headed by a Pakistani major general and is believed to be the first of its kind. Ali Dayan Hasan, South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that the military had never held any of its personnel accountable for abuses in counterterrorism operations.
"We believe that the Leahy Law requires funding to cease to units guilty of such abuses," said Hasan. "Regardless of the authenticity of this video, there is enough well-documented evidence of abuses in Swat to warrant invoking the Leahy Law."
The so-called Leahy Law, which was passed in 1997 and is attached to defense and foreign appropriations legislation, prohibits U.S. military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. Named after Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the law allows the secretary of defense to employ a waiver under "extraordinary circumstances." It requires the identification of the military unit involved, not a blanket provision for all the armed services of a country.
Human Rights Watch, in a report released in July, said it had verified 50 instances of extrajudicial killings in Swat and said there were many more cases. It singled out the 12th Punjab Regiment as a perpetrator of abuses. It was unclear which unit was filmed in the Internet video or even if they were really soldiers.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent organization, stated in May that "282 extrajudicial killings have taken place in Swat since the military operation ended in July 2009," including 48 bodies found in a single day in October 2009.
I.A. Rehman, secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said: "This (investigation) is a good beginning. Maybe it will have an effect."
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