WASHINGTON/ISLAMABAD A video posted on the Internet is raising fresh questions about possible extra-judicial killings by Pakistan's army, which could threaten U.S. aid to a key ally in the battle against the Taliban.
The United States has asked Pakistan for information about the Internet video purporting to show Pakistani troops, lined up in a firing squad, shooting bound and blindfolded young men in traditional clothing, officials said on Thursday.
If the blurry, amateurish video is found to be genuine, it raises troubling questions for the United States and its support of the Pakistani army. U.S. law forbids funding foreign military units singled out for human rights violations.
"The U.S. government, not just the Defense Department, is aware of the video and has asked the Pakistani government for more information," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said.
At the State Department, spokesman P.J. Crowley said: "We have encouraged them to investigate it fully.
"Human rights and the issue of extra-judicial killings has been a part of our ongoing conversation ... with Pakistan," he said.
A Pakistani intelligence official said the military was investigating the video but said it was likely a forgery by the Pakistani Taliban and distributed as propaganda.
The video has been on YouTube since at least last week and has been circulated on blogs related to Pakistan, Afghanistan and the region, as well as on the Facebook page for the group Pashtuns' International Association. There is no clear indication in the video itself where the events occurred but it is labeled "Swat."
SWAT VALLEY AND TALIBAN
The incident was purported to have taken place in Swat Valley, home to about 1.3 million people and the site of a Pakistani military operation last year to take back the former Taliban stronghold.
Swat also is a focal point among human rights groups, which have documented cases of suspected extra-judicial killings and torture there by Pakistan's army -- allegations Islamabad has denied.
Human Rights Watch briefed U.S. State Department and congressional officials earlier this year about evidence of more than 200 summary executions in Swat of suspected Taliban sympathizers.
At the time, senior Obama administration officials told Reuters they had raised the accusations with Islamabad.
Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, said although the video's authenticity remained a subject of debate, the occurrence of such abuses was not.
"We have documented extra-judicial killings by the Pakistani military in Swat," he said. "So there's no question that this kind of thing has happened, whether this particular video is authentic or not."
Senator Patrick Leahy, author of the U.S. legislation banning assistance to foreign military units facing credible accusations of abuses, warned the video could have "implications" if confirmed.
"Anyone who watches this would be shocked by it," Leahy said.
Human Rights Watch says the Army was mainly targeting civilians who had supported the Taliban when they controlled Swat or were suspected of providing them food or shelter.
Allegations of abuse include torture and the disappearance of suspects, some of whom later turn up dead. It also documented cases of illegal detention.
Malinowski said such abuses ran counter to U.S. counter-insurgency strategy, which seeks to marginalize insurgents by winning popular support.
"The question is whether the Pentagon is true to its convictions that these kinds of abuses make an effective counter-insurgency struggle impossible," he said.
Swat residents endured a brutal Taliban rule that included floggings and beheadings before the Taliban was ousted. Authorities say the Taliban are trying to return to Swat.
The video can be viewed at: here ed&has_verified=1
(Additional reporting by David Alexander, Arshad Mohammed and Andrew Quinn in Washington; Editing by Patricia Wilson and Bill Trott)