Uproar over video allegedly showing Marines urinating on Taliban corpses
By Pauline Jelinek and Robert Burns January 12, 2012 10:57PM
This image made on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012 from undated video posted on the Internet on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 by a YouTube user who identified themself as "semperfiLoneVoice" shows men in U.S. Marine combat gear, standing in a semi-circle over three bodies. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is branding as "utterly despicable" the video purporting to show four U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters. The Marine Corps had said Wednesday that it was looking into the YouTube video but hadn't yet verified its origin or authenticity. (AP Photo)
Updated: February 14, 2012 10:31AM
WASHINGTON — Pentagon leaders scrambled Thursday to contain damage from an Internet video purporting to show four Marines urinating on Taliban corpses — an act that appears to violate international laws of warfare and further strains U.S.-Afghan relations.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to offer assurances of a full investigation, and the top Marine general promised an internal probe as well as a criminal one. Investigators moved quickly to identify and interview at least two of the four Marines. They were members of a battalion that fought for seven months in former Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan.
Their unit, the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, returned from Helmand province to its home base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., last September. Marine officials said that a battalion officer confirmed to investigators on Thursday, based on his examination of the video, that the four men depicted urinating had been members of the battalion. Two have since moved on to other units.
As the video spread across the Internet in postings and re-postings, U.S. officials joined with Afghans in calling it shocking, deplorable, inhumane and a breach of military standards of conduct. It shows men in Marine combat gear standing in a semicircle urinating on the bodies of three men in standard Afghan clothing, one whose chest was covered in blood.
It’s not certain whether the dead were Taliban fighters, civilians or someone else.
The incident will likely further hurt ties with Karzai’s government and complicate negotiations over a strategic partnership arrangement meant to govern the presence of U.S. troops and advisers in Afghanistan after most international combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
It also comes at a delicate time in relations among the United States, Afghanistan’s elected government and the Taliban insurgency fighting for both territorial control and cultural and religious pre-eminence in Afghanistan. The U.S. is trying to foster peace talks between the Karzai government and the Pakistan-based Taliban high command, and has made unprecedented offers to build trust with the insurgents, including the planned opening of a Taliban political office to oversee talks.
Anti-American sentiment is already on the rise in Afghanistan, especially among Afghans who have not seen improvements to their daily lives despite billions of dollars in international aid. They also have deplored the accidental killing of civilians during NATO airstrikes and argue that foreign troops have culturally offended the Afghan people, mostly when it comes to activities involving women and the Quran, the Muslim holy book. AP