Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today condemned the viral video that appears to show four Marines urinating on three corpses in Afghanistan, saying “those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent.”
Panetta ordered the Marine Corps and Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. and NATO Commander in Afghanistan, to investigate the video.
Marine Corps officials said they had not yet verified the origin or authenticity of the video that started circulating early Wednesday upon release on You Tube and TMZ. Investigators from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service have started to investigate the case.
“I have seen the footage, and I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” Panetta said. “This conduct is entirely inappropriate for members of the United States military and does not reflect the standards or values our armed forces are sworn to uphold.”
Panetta’s comments follow Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemnation calling the actions in the video “completely inhumane” and describing it as “shocking.” Karzai spoke to Panetta on the phone about the video. The Afghan president called on U.S. leaders to punish the Marines.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos also watched the video Wednesday and similarly condemned the actions in it.
“I want to be clear and unambiguous, the behavior depicted in the video is wholly inconsistent with the high standards of conduct and warrior ethos that we have demonstrated throughout our history,” Amos said in a statement.
“Rest assured that the institution of the Marine Corps will not rest until the allegations and the events surrounding them have been resolved. We remain fully committed to upholding the Geneva Convention, the Laws of War, and our own core values.”
According to reports by Reuters and other news agencies, Taliban officials released a statement condemning the actions of the Marines, but also said the incident should not get in the way of nascent peace talks that could soon take place in Qatar.
A statement by the NATO led security force in Afghanistan said the U.S. individuals in the video “apparently are no longer serving in Afghanistan.” International Security Assistance Force officials did not explain how they came to that conclusion if the Marine Corps had not yet identified the individuals.
“This disrespectful act is inexplicable and not in keeping with the high moral standards we expect of coalition forces,” read an ISAF statement released Thursday.
A caption in the video listed the men as members of the sniper scout team from 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines based at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. Marines from 3/2 returned from their deployment to Afghanistan in September, Marine officials said.
The 39-second video shows four Marines standing above three corpses with captions listing the bodies as Taliban insurgents. One wearing Marine combat gears says “Have a great day, buddy!” and another calls the experience “Golden, like a shower.”
Release of the video comes at a particularly sensitive time as the Obama administration has asked the Taliban to open a political office in Qatar with hopes to hold peace talks and broker a cease fire.
Capt. Kendra Hardesty, a Marine Corps spokeswoman, said “this matter will be fully investigated.”
“While we have not yet verified the origin or authenticity of this video, the actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps,” Hardesty said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Navy veteran and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on “CBS This Morning” the Marine Corps’ image has been tarnished “by a handful of obviously undisciplined people.”
“There should be an investigation and these young people should be punished,” McCain said.
As of Wednesday the Corps had not confirmed the identities of the troops in the video.
The incendiary video circulated quickly Wednesday by email and through mainstream media reports, including CNN. If military officials confirm that it shows what it appears to show, it could spark outcry in Afghanistan and around the Muslim world, as the latest apparent example of disrespect by American troops.
The clothes of the dead men in the video are bloody, as though they have been shot, and they lie near a wheelbarrow that has been knocked on its side.
Military.com editor Ward Carroll, Managing Editor Philip Ewing and Associate Editor Bryant Jordan contributed to this report.