WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps said Wednesday that it was investigating the authenticity of a video that appears to show four uniformed Marines urinating on dead Afghans, potentially the latest example of U.S. troops treating those killed or captured on the battlefield as trophies.
In the 38-second video, which appeared on TMZ.com and other websites Wednesday afternoon, four men who appear to be Marines are shown standing over what look like the bodies of three Afghans, one with a bloody shirt. One man says, "Have a good day, buddy" as he urinates on one of the motionless men.
Another says, "Golden like a shower." Someone else starts to say, "The whole thing," before the video cuts off. An overturned wheelbarrow lies next to the prone men but there's no sign of weapons.
It was unclear from the video how the men would have died or whether they'd been engaged in a fight with Marines.
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A caption posted with the video says the troops are part of "scout sniper team 4" with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, a claim that couldn't be verified immediately. Marine officials said that that battalion, which is based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was deployed in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province from last March through August.
"While 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," Marine Capt. Kendra Hardesty in a statement. "This matter will be fully investigated."
The Marines said they were still determining who'd conduct the investigation. Among the questions the investigation will seek to answer, if the video is found to be authentic, are the identities of the Marines, their commanding officer and the circumstances around the incident. The Marines involved could face a court-martial, officials said.
"Regardless of the circumstances or who is in the video, this is egregious, disgusting behavior unacceptable for anyone in uniform," said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. "It turns my stomach."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based advocacy group, said it was outraged by the allegations.
"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's executive director, Nihad Awad, wrote in a letter faxed to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Several videos and photographs of U.S. troops mistreating Afghans and Iraqis during the wars in those countries have surfaced in recent years, demonstrating the increasing presence of American service members' personal cameras on the battlefield. Troops routinely carry their own cameras with their battle gear and record nearly every aspect of their deployments.
Often troops keep their cameras in the top pockets on their arms to capture innocuous activities such as interacting with children or the gruesome realities of warfare. Snipers keep photos of those they've killed; infantrymen photograph those killed in firefights.
The release of such photos, however, has turned personal documents into tools of warfare that military officials worry can hamper U.S. counterinsurgency efforts, which include winning over local populations.
Cases of troops treating captured or killed Afghans or Iraqis as "war trophies" also have worried Pentagon officials.
Most recently, the Army has been investigating war crimes allegations against five soldiers with the 5th Stryker brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Among the allegations is that the soldiers created a "kill team" that targeted unarmed Afghans and cut off their fingers as trophies while deployed in southern Afghanistan in late 2009 and the first half of 2010. Photos surfaced of soldiers posing with dead Afghans and of mutilated body parts.
In all, 11 U.S. soldiers have been convicted so far in connection with the deaths of the Afghans, either for participating in the killings or not doing enough to stop them.
While he hasn't been charged, a 532-page Army report found that the Stryker brigade commander in that case, Col. Harry Tunnell, encouraged an aggressive posture toward Afghans that "may have helped create an environment in which misconduct could occur."
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For more coverage visit McClatchy's Afghanistan and Pakistan page.