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Marines name general to handle video probe

Posted January 12, 2012
Updated January 13, 2012

— The Marine Corps on Friday appointed Lt. Gen. Joe Waldhauser, a three-star general whose area of responsibility includes Afghanistan, to decide what, if any, disciplinary action to take against four Marines who appear in a video that purports to show them urinating on dead bodies in Afghanistan.

Waldhauser will name another officer to lead an internal Marine Corps investigation. That investigation will be in addition to a criminal probe already under way by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Waldhauser will determine how to proceed once both investigations are completed.

The four Marines shown in the video are snipers from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, out of Camp Lejeune. The unit returned to the Jacksonville, N.C., base last fall. A Marine official said that at least some of the four Marines are no longer in that battalion. 

Marine officials said Friday that the men in the video and anyone who helped them make or distribute it could face criminal charges. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, "Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent."

The video shows men in Marine combat gear, standing in a semi-circle over three bodies. It is not clear whether the dead were Taliban or civilians or someone else. The title on the posting called them Taliban insurgents but it was unclear who added that title, Marine Corps officials in Washington said.

But the swift condemnation from the White House on down does nothing to blunt the impact of the images.

"It's a gift for the Taliban really, because it reinforces all of their propaganda," said CBS Foreign Affairs Correspondent Lara Logan. "They want the world to believe, they want Afghans to believe that the U.S. has no regard for the Afghan people and no regard for Islam."

The investigation into the video has revealed additional photos of the battalion last summer in Afghanistan engaged in inappropriate, possibly embarrassing, behavior.

The reaction from Afghanistan was angry.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the video as "completely inhumane." The Afghan Defense Ministry called it "shocking." And the Taliban issued a statement accusing U.S. forces of committing numerous "indignities" against the Afghan people.

"First they killed the Afghans with mortars, and they then urinated on their bodies," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said. "We strongly condemn this inhumane action by the wild American soldiers."

Panetta said the actions, if true, were inexcusable.

"I have seen the footage, and I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms," Panetta's statement said. 

Outside the Jacksonville base, reactions were mixed. Paul Brown, an Army veteran said, "They're over there during wartime. What are they supposed to do? Kiss their feet? That's ridiculous."

Larry Cole, the father of a Marine, said, "There should be discipline, yes, but to a certain extent. I mean, you're not killing nobody. The people are already dead."

The video came to light 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 preeminence 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.

One of the largest obstacles to peace discussions has been widespread Afghan contempt for U.S. military tactics that many — both Taliban sympathizers and not — see as heavy-handed. Opposition to the U.S. and NATO military presence in Afghanistan usually centers on civilian casualties from military engagement, although the vast majority of those deaths are caused by the insurgents.

Although the video purports to show Taliban fighters, not civilians, it is likely to resonate with those opposed to the U.S. presence and to peace with the U.S.-backed Karzai government. In his statement, Karzai called on the U.S. military to punish the Marines.

The NATO-led security force in Afghanistan released a statement Thursday saying, "This disrespectful act is inexplicable and not in keeping with the high moral standards we expect of coalition forces."

The actions "appear to have been conducted by a small group of U.S. individuals, who apparently are no longer serving in Afghanistan," the International Security Assistance Force said. The statement did not identify the personnel or explain why the ISAF thought they had left the country.

Pentagon officials said the criminal investigation would likely look into whether the Marines violated laws of war, which include prohibitions against photographing bodies and detainees and a range of other rules.

In an emailed statement, Taliban spokesman Mujahid said, "During these 10 years American soldiers have tortured our people in various ways, they have shown disrespect to the holy Quran and other holy books, they have burned our bodies, they have killed and tortured our women and children and ... have committed other hateful actions."

Mujahid urged the U.N. and other international groups to end such actions by U.S. troops.

On Wednesday, the Council on Islamic-American Relations, a prominent Muslim civil rights and advocacy group based in Washington, protested the video in a letter to Panetta.

"We condemn this apparent desecration of the dead as a violation of our nation's military regulations and of international laws of war prohibiting such disgusting and immoral actions," the group wrote.

"If verified as authentic, the video shows behavior that is totally unbecoming of American military personnel and that could ultimately endanger other soldiers and civilians," the letter said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • gphotohound2 Jan 17, 2012

    remember the out cry when the black hawk was shot down and they drag the polit's body thru the street the out cry over that . where is the code of honor that we have fought under forover. shame on them

  • soyousay Jan 16, 2012

    Putting a Marine in charge of the investigation is wrong.

    actually it is absolutely the correct way to proceed, the Marines take duty and honor very seriously

  • GK N.Ral Jan 16, 2012

    Putting a Marine in charge of the investigation is wrong. Like asking a cat to find out who ate the mouse! People keep making excuses, THERE IS NO ACCEPTABLE EXCUSE, WE ARE BETTER THAN THAT!

  • GK N.Ral Jan 16, 2012

    Putting a Marine in charge of the investigation is wrong. Like asking a cat to find out who ate the mouse!

  • xxbaker1337xx Jan 16, 2012

    If those were U.S. Marines getting .p .i .s .s .e. d. on we would go to war with these people. You guys say its not a big deal but you know if the tables were turned the same people saying, "its war... it happens." Would be the ones flipping their lids..

  • gnewsome1 Jan 13, 2012

    You answered your own question. It's war and bad things happen in war.

  • gnewsome1 Jan 13, 2012

    "our military is ending up much like the Vietnam vets,enemies at home and abroad". Amen to that. It was a tough time to be in the military.

  • gnewsome1 Jan 13, 2012

    Hamid Karzai needs to stop weeping over 3 dead Taliban. For the rest of you who are whining over the enemy, how about trying to shed a tear over the 1800+ American Soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan to date.

  • DavidJonathan Jan 13, 2012

    Yes, it is war, and bad things happen in war. But who started this war? These so-called Taliban fighters were children 10 years ago when 9/11 happened. WE invaded THEM. We killed bin Laden and wiped out the leadership of al-Queda, the group responsible for it. So why are we still there, desecrating bodies and saying, "aw shucks, it's just what happens in war"?
    Also...these Marines knew well about Abu Gharib prison/abuse/photos/etc and the case of the soldiers on trial 4 wiping out a large number of Iraqi civilians. Just read Rolling Stone, or the New York Times, or google "Gitmo abuse." Why did they continue this behavior in the summer of 2011?

  • emsselb1 Jan 13, 2012

    Cantstandya, you finally said something right. I totally agree with you, man.