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Army investigators are probing the video of a sheep being beaten with a baseball bat while a group of what appear to be soldiers cheer and laugh, according to a military spokesman.
Military commanders in Afghanistan have condemned the video, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force said in an email. He said the Army Criminal Investigation Command opened an investigation after the video surfaced in November.
"We are aware of a Live Leak video depicting the killing of a sheep," the spokesman said. "The actions of those involved are not condoned or supported in any way. We are currently assessing the situation to determine more information."
Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the ISAF commander, and Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, the commander of U.S. Central Command, have received numerous emails about the video and responded to them individually, the spokesman said.
"It goes without saying that the behavior displayed on the video is not in keeping with Army values," said George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.
In the 30-second video, the sheep is led into a room by two apparent soldiers and a boy. A man in civilian clothes bludgeon the sheep's head and neck with a metal bat until it collapses and is dragged away. The bystanders make no apparent effort to stop the beating.
The video, initially made public on LiveLeak.com, contains no obvious indication of the date it was made or location it was filmed. No names or unit insignias are visible on the bystanders.
CID's investigation remains active, according to CID spokesman Christopher Grey. He said individuals in the video may include personnel from other services and CID has notified other military law enforcement agencies to assist in the identification of the people in the video.
"CID takes this issue very seriously," Grey said.
The Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals originally complained in a November 28 letter to Army leaders; Army Secretary John McHugh, Army public affairs chief Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, and Army Provost Marshal General Maj. Gen. David Quantock.
However, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said the Army never responded to its letter and that she was publicizing the issue in hopes the service would issue a strong condemnation.
"They need to investigate, and if they reach a dead end, they reach a dead end," Newkirk told Army Times. "There is no medal for failing to take it seriously."
Though a PETA representative claims the letter was emailed to an administrative assistant to McHugh, and a spokesperson said the letter was not received.
Newkirk compared the sheep video to an infamous YouTube video of a Marine tossing a puppy from a cliff. That video led to the ouster of then-Lance Cpl. David Motari in 2008.
PETA's criticism comes days after a video surfaced that shows Marines urinating on three dead Afghans, testing relations between the U.S.-Afghan relations. Four Marines have since been charged under military law in connection with the video.
Military personnel could be punished for their actions in the sheep beating video under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military justice, said Abraham Burgess, an attorney who specializes in military law.
The command could take administrative action against service members present, such as issuing them a letter of reprimand, Burgess said.
"If I were advising the commander, I would argue that that by watching, not intervening or encouraging the acts in the video, they are bringing discredit or prejudicing the public against the armed forces," Burgess said. "You see in the video what is wrong and what hurts our reputation."