By Boris Volkhonsky
A video posted on YouTube and other Internet sites has created a row and seriously threatened the process of post-war reconciliation in Afghanistan. The video pictures four men in U.S. Marine field uniform allegedly urinating on three dead bodies in loose Afghan-style clothes, laughing and making some obscene remarks. It is unclear when and how the video was taken, but, as reported by The Washington Post, the caption asserts that the Marines are part of a scout sniper team with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, and an infantry unit from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Members of the unit were deployed to Afghanistan last year but returned in September.
The Marine command urgently issued a statement promising a thorough investigation of the incident. Captain Kendra N. Hardesty, a Marine Corps spokeswoman, said officials would “fully investigate” the matter but so far have been unable to verify the video’s authenticity or if members of the battalion were involved.“The actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps,” she said in a statement.
The spokesman for the NATO coalition forces in Afghanistan (ISAF) Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings also said, “The behavior depicted in this video is reprehensible and is not in keeping with the values of U.S. Armed Forces.”
The latter statement, though, can be easily put to doubt. The incident might be one of the most outrageous of the kind, but it is definitely not the first one and, regretfully, most probably not the last one in the sequence of similar incidents.
The grievous story of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison is too well known. In addition, The Daily Telegraph related a bunch of stories of similar abuses committed by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What is obvious, is the fact that the incident has seriously affected the process of peace-keeping and post-war reconciliation in Afghanistan
According to the Geneva Convention, bodies of enemy soldiers must be “honorably interred, if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged.” The marines on the video show no respect either to the rites of Islam, to which the dead men apparently belonged, or to the basic principles of any religion.
In Afghanistan, the incident was unambiguously perceived as a crime against humanity. The Taliban issued a statement strongly condemning this action. “It is not a human action,” said the Taliban spokesman. “It’s a wild action that is too shameful for us to talk about.”
Ordinary Afghans also expressed their indignation and outrage. Anti-American feelings have been strong enough throughout all the time of the occupation and every new incident only adds to the outrage of Afghans.
In terms of the course of war and the prospects of post-war reconciliation, the incident is likely to dent the process of peace talks. Only recently it seemed that behind-the scene efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table have yielded some positive result. The decision to open a political office of the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, seemed to be a step towards recognizing the movement as a legitimate participant of the peace process and towards the resumption of peace talks. But now the glimpse of hope has somehow been dimmed by the incident.
“Such action will leave a very, very bad impact on peace efforts,” said Arsala Rahmani, a high ranking member of Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council. “Looking at such action, the Taliban can easily recruit young people and tell them that their country has been attacked by Christians and Jews and they must defend it.”
In fact, after the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo (which, by the way, marks its 10th anniversary these days) such stories as the one shown on YouTube are hardly surprising. It is just another example of the highly publicized process of bringing democracy to the “savage world”. If democracy comes in the form of Marines’ urine, who really cares?