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Unit’s leader among Marines who urinated on corpses, officials say


This news story was published on February 2, 2012.
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By Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers –

WASHINGTON — One of the Marines shown urinating on three corpses in Afghanistan in a widely distributed Internet video was the unit’s leader, two U.S. military officials have told McClatchy, raising concerns that poor command standards contributed to an incident that may have damaged the U.S. war effort.

Even before the unit deployed to southern Afghanistan last year, it suffered from disciplinary problems while the troops were based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., the officials said.

As Pentagon officials investigate the incident — the latest in a string of high-profile cases of U.S. troops abusing Afghans and Iraqis on the battlefield — the revelations renew questions about whether the U.S. military will hold commanders responsible when their troops misbehave or commit crimes.

Despite U.S. military doctrine stating that commanders ultimately are responsible for their units’ behavior in combat — and Geneva conventions barring the desecration of dead bodies — the Pentagon rarely has charged commanders in cases where troops have knowingly killed, injured or mistreated Afghans and Iraqis. Instead, lower-ranking troops or those directly responsible for crimes have been charged while commanders have only faced administrative penalties, like dismissal or demotion.

Experts say that the U.S. military hasn’t made the treatment of locals on the battlefield a priority for commanders. However, the military in Afghanistan has found that coalition troops’ behavior toward Afghans, including such acts as urinating in front of them, is a contributor to what one U.S. report last year called “a crisis of trust and cultural incompatibility” that has sometimes led to Afghan soldiers turning their weapons on their coalition partners.

Commanders “are often the last ones to feel the ax fall in terms of serious repercussions,” said Tammy Schultz, a professor of strategic studies at the Marines Corps War College.

The case of the Marines in Afghanistan — which the two Pentagon officials discussed with McClatchy only on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing — will once again test how high up the chain of command the military will go to punish troops if the allegations are determined to be true.

The troops involved are members of a sniper squad from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines. Officials at Camp Lejeune refused to release disciplinary statistics for the unit, but officials said that the ongoing investigation would study command climate.

The Marine Corps has identified the four Marines shown in the video, as well as a fifth who was recording it on video, officials said. They added that among those shown urinating on the corpses are two staff sergeants, including the unit’s leader.

But the military’s handling of past cases continues to haunt its efforts to police new problems.

Only one U.S. commander has been charged for abuses under his command in Iraq or Afghanistan. But that commander, Marine Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, who told his troops to “shoot now, ask questions later” in a November 2005 incident that left 24 civilians dead in Haditha, Iraq, reached a deal with prosecutors last month to avoid a lengthy prison term. Wuterich pleaded guilty to negligent dereliction of duty in exchange for a three-month sentence.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chair of the Armed Services Committee, said last week that while he didn’t want to second-guess the Haditha verdict, “I thought it may have led to more severe outcomes.”

Schultz, the Marine Corps War College professor, argues that military attitudes toward civilians in the Iraq and Afghan wars emanated from the top — starting when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, reviewing a 2002 memo that discussed forcing detainees to stand for prolonged periods of time, scrawled at the bottom: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”

That, Schultz said, helped set the tone for the wars.

Command climate begins with making sure troops keep their uniforms clean and extends to how they conduct themselves on missions. Charging or relieving a commander is subjective and varies across the U.S. military services, but it usually hinges on proving the commander knew about an offense and did not respond appropriately.

The military regularly conducts surveys that ask troops to rate the command climate in their units — including how commanders treat troops, mete out discipline and treat military families — but none of the questions deal with treatment of local residents.

In combat, platoon and squad commanders who are on the front lines with their troops report to battalion commanders, who often are stationed at the main base and at times patrol with troops. Those commanders report to a brigade commander who usually works from a local headquarters and, more than any other commander, is responsible for the unit.

Some military leaders have rejected the idea that troops should be charged, saying that some crimes are part of the inevitable horrors of war. In the Haditha case, then-Marine Lt. Gen. James Mattis recommended dropping the case against one of the eight Marines originally charged by writing that the Marine was “in my eyes innocent.”

Mattis has since been promoted to a four-star general and is the commander of the U.S. Central Command, whose responsibilities include the U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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8 Responses to Unit’s leader among Marines who urinated on corpses, officials say

  1. Avatar

    OneEyed Reply Report comment

    February 2, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Big deal, Didn’t they cut off ears of the dead Vietnamese soldiers? Just think if we had digital cameras back then…Far worse things have been done to dead enemy soldiers than being peed on.

  2. Avatar

    Buzz Crumcutter Reply Report comment

    February 2, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    What all the bleeding heart liberals failed to see in the photo was actually kindness and generosity being shown by US soldiers to a fallen enemy combatant. While it may appear to some that our troops were urinating on the faces of a few dead terrorists, in all actuality what they were doing was lovingly washing the faces of the dead terrorists.

    How kind and considerate it was of our troops to provide a small token of their appreciation to the very people who have been trying to kill and blow our soldiers to pieces when ever given the chance. Nothing beats a good facial steam bath and I say give these soldiers a break and a chest full of medals for doing what they did!

    Semper Fi.

  3. Avatar

    Larry Reply Report comment

    February 2, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Katie-I hate to say it but it is people with attitudes like yours that give the 3rd world country’s the idea that America is soft and can be beat. The rest of the world does not believe as you do and if you want to survive you had better learn to be hard. That stuff sounds good in church but even there it doesn’t hold true.

    • Avatar

      Watcher Reply Report comment

      February 3, 2012 at 8:12 am

      Katie’s attitude doesn’t make the US sound soft. It separates us from the primitive beliefs they live by.

      It’s the captain caveman “ug me hit you with club” mentality that makes us to be hypocrites of everything we stand for in America – Liberty. Liberty is NOT the right to do what we want, it is the right to do what is right.

  4. Avatar

    Katie Reply Report comment

    February 2, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Bad things happen in war, but acts such as these are not accidents and are unacceptable behavior in or out of war. Also, we send immature 18-year olds to war and then expect them to act like adults. Their impulse control just isn’t all there yet, and for some, it never develops. There are 60-year olds who would have done this same act had they been there because they just don’t understand or care that one society judges another by the way it treats its prisoners, its women, and its animals. Our military forces need to do a much better job of telling their personnel that these kinds of acts will NOT be tolerated, are criminal acts, and will be punishable by courts-martial. And then we, as a society, need to allow them to be punished instead of making excuses for them.

  5. Avatar

    John Reply Report comment

    February 2, 2012 at 9:30 am

    WOW, I guess it would have been better if they would have drug the bodies through the streets until they turned to hamburger, hung them from a bridge, then set them on fire.

  6. Avatar

    Watcher Reply Report comment

    February 2, 2012 at 9:25 am

    I have said it before and will say it again, quote: ” we must not become a monster to destroy a monster”. If we stoop to the level our enemies stand so firm at, what makes us any different than them?

  7. Avatar

    Larry Reply Report comment

    February 2, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Grow up. Who can blame them for pissing on these clowns. They probably just finished killing some of their buddy’s. It’s war you dumb asses. Crap happens.