Military officials said Thursday they are close to identifying four Marines videotaped apparently urinating on dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan — an act that brought angry condemnation from officials in Washington and Kabul.
A criminal investigation ordered by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James. F. Amos confirmed that the men — who could face a court-martial — were part of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines based at Camp Lejuene, N.C., a defense official told The Washington Times.
It is “a matter of time, not much time” before the men are all identified, he said.
“I have seen the footage, and I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable,” Mr. Panetta said. “Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent.”
In Kabul, Mr. Karzai called the Marines’ conduct “completely inhumane.”
“We strongly condemn this inhumane action by the wild American soldiers,” Zabiullah Mujahid said.
In addition to the criminal investigation, Gen. Amos ordered a preliminary inquiry, the first step in a possible court-martial prosecution.
A Marine official said the inquiry would ascertain all the facts and then make a recommendation about whether to court-martial the men. The final decision would probably lie with the commander of Marine forces in U.S. Central Command, Lt. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, the official said.
The most likely charge would be under article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, said Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School and is an authority on military law.
“That covers conduct that discredits the service,” he said. “This is very serious.”
The prohibition on desecrating enemy dead is “one of the core concepts of the laws of war,” he said. Photographing enemy corpses is also a violation of military orders.
He said the Corps “will not rest until the allegations and the events surrounding them have been resolved.”
In the 40-second video, which went viral on the Internet Wednesday night, the Marines are shown apparently relieving themselves on the bodies of three dead Afghan Talifan fighters.
The Afghans appear to be of military age and were wearing the traditional Afghan garb often favored by the insurgents. They have not yet been identified as Taliban fighters or Afghan civilians.
“Have a good day, buddy,” one of the men is heard to say in the low quality Internet clip.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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