U.S. military officials have identified the four Marines videotaped urinating on three dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Two have already been interviewed by investigators. The case has sparked outrage from Washington to Kabul, and threatened to further complicate nascent efforts to begin peace talks. Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded "the most severe punishment for anyone found guilty in this crime." Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the culprits would be "held accountable to the fullest extent," which could mean prison time under U.S. military law. Would that be fair punishment?
Yes. Desecrating the dead is a war crime: "The soldiers' disgraceful behavior is not only embarrassing for the U.S," says Daniel Scheschkewitz in Germany's Deutsche Welle. It is a propaganda gift to the Taliban and an "ostentatious" violation of the Geneva Convention, as well as "all codes of civil behavior, regardless of culture or religion." This calls for the harshest punishment U.S. military law allows, as well as an apology from President Obama to the Afghan people.
"Recalling Abu Ghraib, Marines video damages America's image"
These guys may be jerks, but that's not a crime: War crimes are atrocities people commit "against living humans: Torture, rape, murder," says Elie Mystal at Above the Law. What these "jackasses" did doesn't come close — "being peed on while alive is considerably worse than being peed on after death." The military should discipline these Marines, but treating them the same way we treat people who have committed true war crimes trivializes the real horrors of war.
"Is peeing on somebody a war crime?"
They shouldn't be punished at all: "What the hell do the American people think goes on in a war, anyhow?" says Bob Felton at Civil Commotion. It's naive to think "young men can be trained to a razor's edge, handed lethal weapons," and then expected to win awards for congeniality. "They are sent there for the single purpose of killing the enemy, as swiftly and cheaply as possible." The only irritating thing is that these Marines wasted time being childish "instead of hustling to the next killing zone."
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