How video of Marines urinating on Taliban could put US forces in danger
A video that appears to show Marines urinating on Taliban soldiers comes just as the US is trying to reach out to the Taliban. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the actions 'utterly deplorable.'
The uproar over an online video that appears to show the incident comes at a particularly difficult political juncture for the Obama administration, which has cautiously been talking up the planned resumption of peace discussions with the Taliban.¬†
The US Marine Corps promptly promised an investigation, and condemned the alleged actions in advance. ‚ÄúWhile we have not yet verified the origin or authenticity of this video, the actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps,‚ÄĚ read a statement released Wednesday.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta issued an even sharper rebuke. ‚ÄúI have seen the footage, and I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms,‚ÄĚ he said in a statement released Thursday. ‚ÄúThose found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent.‚ÄĚ
Despite the initial muted response among top Afghan officials, the episode does not bode well for the administration‚Äôs resumption of talks with the Taliban, which could be set back by fresh allegations of abuse of Afghans, even those who are deceased, at the hands of the US military.¬†
‚ÄúSuch action will leave a very, very bad impact on peace efforts,‚ÄĚ Arsala Rahmani, the top negotiator for Afghan President Hamid Karzai‚Äôs High Peace Council, said. ‚ÄúLooking at such action, the Taliban can easily recruit young people.‚ÄĚ
The video has the potential as well to reopen old wounds regarding the US military‚Äôs mistreatment of civilians and captured enemy combatants in its care. As recently as yesterday, a US Marine testified that his commanding officer called for violent retaliation just before his squad killed two dozen Iraqis, including women and children, in 2005 at Haditha in Iraq. The Marine investigation into the killings at Haditha was criticized for a lack of transparency.¬†
Some have questioned whether the latest video might prompt a renewed examination of the culture of the Marine Corps, which has long been a point of mixed pride among US officials. ‚ÄúThe Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen,‚ÄĚ said Eleanor Roosevelt, in one of the more famous descriptions of the branch. ‚ÄúThank God for the United States Marine Corps.‚ÄĚ¬†
It is a quote emblazoned on travel coffee mugs sold by the Marine Corps Association, the professional association for both active duty and retired Marines.
The head of US Central Command, which has responsibility for running the war in Afghanistan, had his own tough-talking run-in, for which he earned a stern warning in 2005. ‚ÄúYou go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn‚Äôt wear a veil,‚ÄĚ Marine Corps General James Mattis said. ‚ÄúYou know guys like that ain‚Äôt got no manhood left anyway. So it‚Äôs a hell of a lot of fun to shoot ‚Äėem.‚ÄĚ¬†
America‚Äôs top Marine, Commandant General James Amos, emphasized in his own statement that the behavior apparently depicted on the tapes is an aberration ‚Äúwholly inconsistent with the high standards of conduct and warrior ethos that we have demonstrated throughout our history.‚ÄĚ
He has requested that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) ‚Äúpull together a team of their very best agents and immediately assign them‚ÄĚ to investigate. He added that he is also luanching an internal inquiry ‚Äď all a nod to the political sensitivities the video has unleashed. ‚ÄúRest assured that the institution of the Marine Corps will not rest until the allegations and the events surrounding them have been resolved,‚ÄĚ Amos said.
In an effort to smooth over relations, Mr. Panetta placed a call Thursday to President Karzai. ‚ÄúThe Secretary expressed his view in the footage is utterly deplorable, and that it does not reflect the standards or values American troops are sworn to uphold,‚ÄĚ according to a statement released by¬†Pentagon press secretary George Little.
US defense officials are now waiting to see how Mr. Karzai, who must approve the resumption of any US talks with the Taliban, will respond in the days to come.