Outrage at marines urinating over Taliban bodies

Fri, Jan 13, 2012, 00:00

A VIDEO showing four United States marines urinating on the bodies of three dead Taliban fighters provoked anger and condemnation yesterday in Afghanistan and around the world. American officials said they feared the images could incite anti-American sentiment at a particularly delicate moment in the war effort.

The Obama administration is struggling to keep President Hamid Karzai on its side as it carefully tries to open talks with the Taliban. Yet the video showing such a desecration – a possible war crime – is likely to weaken the American position with both. The Taliban and President Karzai were each quick to hold up the images as evidence of American brutality, a message with broad appeal in Afghanistan, where word of the video was slowly spreading.

Senior military officials in Kabul and at the Pentagon who were scrutinising the video confirmed it was authentic and that they had identified at least two of the marines, all of whom had completed a tour of Afghanistan in the autumn before returning to base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The officials did not immediately release their names.

Even before the authenticity of the video had been confirmed, expressions of outrage and contrition by defence secretary Leon Pannetta, secretary of state Hillary Clinton and other top officials left no doubt they regarded it as real.

Aware of the video’s potential to damage America’s already shaky image in Afghanistan, Mr Panetta phoned President Karzai to assure him a full investigation was under way and those responsible would be punished. Mr Panetta told the Afghan leader that “the conduct depicted in the footage is utterly deplorable, and that it does not reflect the standards or values American troops are sworn to uphold,” according to Pentagon spokesman George Little.

The video showed four men in the marines’ distinctive sand-coloured camouflage uniforms urinating over the three corpses – one covered in blood – splayed on the ground before them. The men joke with one another, a lewd reference is made, and one is heard to say, “have a great day, buddy”.

The Taliban initially indicated the images would not undermine the push toward talks, regarding the video as just more evidence of what they view as American brutality and disrespect for Afghans. “This is not the first time we see such brutality,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. But later yesterday, in an official statement, it dropped its references to the talks and stressed the brutality message. “We strongly condemn the inhuman act of wild American soldiers, as ever, and consider this act in contradiction with all human and ethical norms.”

President Karzai struck a similar tone saying he was deeply disturbed by the images. He asked that those found guilty of a crime be severely punished. “This act by American soldiers is simply inhuman and condemnable in the strongest possible terms,” he said.

American officials reacted remorsefully throughout the day in their effort to stem the fallout from the video. The American-led coalition in Afghanistan and the US embassy in Kabul offered separate condemnations. The actions depicted in the video “appear to have been conducted by a small group of US individuals, who apparently are no longer serving in Afghanistan,” the coalition said. The “behaviour dishonours the sacrifices and core values of every service member representing the fifty nations of the coalition.”

Mrs Clinton, who the day before outlined the administration’s efforts to jumpstart negotiations with the Taliban, expressed what she called “total dismay.”

“It is absolutely inconsistent with American values and the standards we expect from our military personnel,” Mrs Clinton said

Mr Panetta said he had ordered the marines and Gen John Allen, who heads coalition forces in Afghanistan, to immediately investigate. “I have seen the footage, and I find the behaviour depicted in it utterly deplorable,” he said. – ( New York Times)

A CULTURE OF ABUSE? SPOTLIGHT BACK ON US FORCES

THE latest revelation of abuses raises questions about whether there is a culture of abuse in US forces serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, writes Chris McGreal.

Last year, 11 soldiers were convicted of the murders of three Afghan civilians by a “kill squad” and the subsequent cover-up.

It was revealed that some of them collected body parts, including fingers and skull parts, as trophies and posed for photographs over the corpses of their victims.

This week, a US marine went on trial over the killing of 24 Iraqis, including women and children, in their homes.

Staff Sgt Frank Wuterich faces charges of manslaughter over the killings as he commanded a group of soldiers who burst into the victims’ homes in Haditha in search of combatants. Seven other soldiers also charged were either acquitted or had the case against them dropped.

The US military is also still grappling with the legacy of the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and its role in the torture of alleged terrorists. – ( Guardianservice)