U.S. Marines burned dead bodies in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004 for sanitation purposes, and did not violate any orders or laws, the U.S. Marine Corps said Wednesday. Pictured: A U.S. Marine and an Iraqi police officer speak with residents during a foot patrol in the besieged city of Fallujah, April 22, 2004. Reuters/Mohammed Khodor

U.S. Marines burned corpses of insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004 for health and safety reasons, and not in violation of any regulations or laws, the U.S. Marine Corps said Wednesday. Its comments came a year and a half after it launched an investigation into dozens of photos showing Marines in Fallujah lighting dead bodies on fire. The photos were first published by the gossip news website TMZ.com.

The investigation was opened and closed in 2014, but it was not until Wednesday that the Marine Corps shared its findings with the public, after a retired Marine filed a Freedom of Information request.

The Marine Corps determined that “the burning of remains did not violate any orders, rules of engagement or international laws or conventions,” said Maj. Christian Devine, a spokesman for the Marine Corps, Stars and Stripes reported. “No charges were preferred as a result of the investigation into this matter,” he added. Some 20 percent of the two combat teams fighting in Fallujah at the time became sick because of poor sanitation, attributed at least partially to the presence of thousands of corpses that were decomposing in the 100-degree-plus heat.

“It was so bad that the bodies were literally exploding from being bloated in the sun,” a Marine who was in Fallujah at the time said in an email recently made public by a Freedom of Information request. The request was filed by retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. James Weirick and was published Tuesday on a military blog. “You could literally taste the corpses, the smell was so atrocious,” the Marine added.

Reports of U.S. Marines burning dead bodies in Fallujah in 2004 emerged nearly a decade after the fact, in January 2014, when TMZ obtained and published 41 photos. They appeared to show Marines pouring gasoline onto dead bodies, bodies burning, and the subsequent remains. Some of the photos were “too gruesome” to publish, TMZ wrote at the time. “There are well over a dozen bodies in the pics and some are covered with flies and one is being eaten by a dog,” the article added.

TMZ then gave the photos to the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Marine Corps subsequently opened the investigation into the events depicted in the images. Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said at the time that the Marines could potentially have violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice with the way they treated the bodies. However, “While we don’t routinely burn human remains, there are circumstances when that might be necessary for hygiene, health -- things like that,” he told Stars and Stripes at the time.