Afghanistan yesterday welcomed a Pentagon decision to put two US Marines on trial for urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters and posing for photographs with them.
The Pentagon announced that Staff Sergeants Joseph Chamblin and Edward Deptola will face court martial, a month after three other Marines were sanctioned administratively for their role in the incident on July 27, last year in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
“We welcome the US move to put those Marines on trial,” Afghani Ministry of Defence spokesman General Zahir Azimi said. “We want all those people who commit unlawful acts to be brought to justice.”
A videotape that surfaced on the Internet in January showed four US troops urinating on three bloodied corpses, and one of the men, apparently aware he was being filmed, saying: “Have a great day, buddy,” to one of the dead.
The actions depicted in the video took place during a counter-insurgency operation in the restive Musa Qala District of Helmand province, in southwestern Afghanistan in July last year.
The Taliban, who have waged an insurgency against US-led NATO forces and the Afghan government since their ouster by a US-led invasion in 2001, dismissed the move to prosecute the two Marines.
“It is just a symbolic move to catch media attention. These soldiers are war criminals and should be severely punished,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said by telephone from an undisclosed location. “They have not committed a mistake, it was an intentional crime.”
The Pentagon said that charges against the sergeants concern “violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for their involvement in urinating on deceased Taliban fighters and for posing for unofficial photographs with human casualties.”
They were also charged with dereliction of duty for a number of other command failures involving younger Marines.
The video caused great embarrassment to the US military and prompted a Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe, as well as condemnation and an apology from US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
The scandal was one in a long line to tarnish the image of the US military in the past decade, from the Abu Ghraib prison abuse images in Iraq to more recent convictions of troops who killed Afghan civilians for sport.
Panetta said at the time the video surfaced that the troops’ behavior was “utterly deplorable,” while US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke of her “total dismay” at the acts, vowing the culprits would be found and punished.
The decision to refer the sergeants for trial comes in the midst of a wave of violent anti-American protests in the Muslim world over a YouTube clip made in the US that ridicules the prophet Mohammed.
The three US Marines who received administrative punishment last month over the urination incident in Afghanistan pleaded guilty.
Punishment from administrative proceedings can include reduction in rank, restriction to a military base, extra duties, forfeiture of pay, a reprimand or a combination of such measures.
The video caused outrage in Afghanistan. An Afghan soldier who shot dead four French troops in January said that he did it because of the US soldiers who urinated on bodies in the video.