Remember the stories about the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib? United States Army military police were caught abusing Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib Prison/Baghdad Correctional Facility, and eleven soldiers, including two officers, were convicted of various charges due to the abuse; several of them went to prison.
Why? Not because of what they did, but because they were stupid enough to take pictures of what they were doing. Those photographs served both as the evidence of the abuse and a rallying point for the opposition to the United States' mission in Iraq.
Fast forward to 2012:
By NBC, msnbc.com staff and news services
Updated at 10:40 a.m. ET:
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has condemned a video that apparently shows U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Afghan men, promising to punish those involved.
“I have seen the footage, and I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable,” Panetta says in a statement, adding that he had ordered the Marine Corps and the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan to investigate the incident.
“Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent,” he says.
The video that surfaced a day earlier appeared t
o show American forces urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters could aggravate anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan as the Obama administration hopes to end a decade-long war.
Both the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James F. Amos, and the Secretary of Defense have promised that these Marines will be punished to the full extent of the law.
That, to me, presents a real legal problem. Service members who are charged with crimes are not brought before civilian courts, but face courts-martial. In civilian cases, the judiciary is independent of the prosecution, the defense, and the state or federal executive. Jurors are civilians who are not under the authority of the prosecution or the executive.
That isn't the case in courts martial. The judge is a military officer, who is subject to the chain of command, and the jurors are officers or enlisted men, who are also subject to the chain of command. If the Secretary of Defense and the Commandant of the Marine Corps say that these four Marines will be punished, that puts pressure on the judge and jurors to find them guilty and sentence the Marines to sentences which might be harsher than they would have otherwise received.
And what did these four Marines do which was so serious? The video depicts them urinating on three dead Taliban insurgents. Let me stress that again: they were dead! The Marines, who have reportedly been identified as members of a sniper team, had already killed them; urinating on their corpses could not harm them any further.
But the videotape certainly caused the United States diplomatic harm, and that's where their alleged crime is; it wasn't urinating on the bodies, the bodies of men the United States specifically wanted killed, but the utter stupidity of videotaping it and posting it on YouTube.
It's OK to kill 'em, but don't you dare piss on 'em!
If we are honest about things, the desecration of the corpses of the enemy has been going on as long as there has been warfare. In the Iliad, Homer depicts the victorious Achilles dragging the body of Hector, the prince of Troy, behind his chariot after killing the prince in combat; the Iliad was written in the 8th century BC. What is new is the introduction of digital still and movie cameras, which can record the images of such anywhere, and the internet, which can distribute the images worldwide.
These Marines need an absolutely severe slap on the wrist, a punishment not for urinating on the corpses of our enemies — the men they were assigned by our government to kill — but for the utter stupidity of taking pictures of it and posting them on the internet. I do not care if the actions of these Marines hurt the feelings of some people in Afghanistan, but I do care that these photographs may make our mission more difficult. And the Marine Corps, and all of our armed services, need to stress to our men and women in uniform that taking pictures of stupid stuff is stupid in itself, and can get you brought up on charges.