On January 11, a video depicting four marines urinating on the dead corpses of ostensible Taliban fighters surfaced on Youtube and other websites. In the video, one marine chides, “Have a nice day, Buddy,” as another makes a lewd joke about giving the lifeless enemy bodies a “shower.” The marines, who returned to their home base in North Carolina last fall, are from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, who were stationed in the southern Helmand province in 2011.
Afghan President Karzai called it “completely inhumane,” while U.S. Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta, described it as “deplorable.” The Marines asserted that the actions “are not consistent with our core values” and promised a thorough investigation.
Eight years after the Abu Ghraib prisoner scandal, and in the midst of increased negotiations between the U.S. and Afghanistan as well as peace talks with the Taliban, it is clear that, although the video is not likely to derail official diplomatic efforts, it will undercut the U.S.’s image and bolster the commitment of individual Taliban fighters.
Michael Drapeau, Professor of military law at the University of Ottawa, speaking with the CBC, expressed shock that such wanton behaviour would occur after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in 2003-2004, which led commanders to stress to their units the importance of adhering to standards of respect and proper conduct. At the same time, Drapeau suggests the video may demonstrate that the U.S. response in the wake of Abu Ghraib was not, in fact, strong enough. Although the military punished those involved, it did not take the further step of publicly declaring all abuse (including that of dead enemy soldiers) as intolerable.
Moreover, Drapeau claims that the video cannot simply be viewed as an isolated incident, but that it reflects more broadly on the image of the U.S. military and the legitimacy of the now 10-year Afghanistan mission. As a trained, professionalized body, the Marines “do what they are allowed to do, or expected to do.” When we can no longer ensure that “discipline, respect and our value system” is carried out by the Marines, it suggests more serious endemic problems in command. Implicitly it also calls into question the overall commitment to, and the likelihood that the U.S. can, meet their goals in the region.
The U.S.’s fundamental goal in Afghanistan continues to be the defeat of the Taliban as a fighting force and oppositional political power.
In the latter regard there has been modest progress. Recently, the U.S. and the Taliban have entered peace talks and the Taliban have been in the process of opening up an office in Qatar aimed at facilitating negotiation. An official Taliban spokesman, while he denounced the video, maintained that it would not derail these still early efforts at peace talks. However, Taliban insurgents did not echo this conciliatory tenor.
The responses of Taliban insurgents indicate that the video has fomented their commitment to fighting the Americans, even as those in leadership seek to ease tensions. Although formal peace talks between the U.S. and Taliban are likely to continue, the video will certainly not aid in their progress. Furthermore, it may indeed make the ground situation for American troops more precarious and dangerous. Babar, who fights in the eastern Nangarhar province, claims that the video has hardened the commitment of Taliban soldiers and their desire to seek retribution against American marines. He anticipated that Taliban fighters would increasingly ignore their senior commanders’ orders to exercise discretion. Similarly, Abdul Basit, who fights in the eastern Khost province, asserted that the video strengthened rural Afghans’ support for the Taliban. After viewing the egregious acts of American marines, Taliban fighters – previously told by their commanders not to kill American prisoners – seem more likely to flout these orders.
Link to original video here: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=ddb_1326259280
Warning: Explicit Content. View at personal discretion.