Small Wars Journal

Statement from the Commandant of the Marine Corps (Update Two)

Statement from the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James F. Amos, on the Afghanistan video incident.

"I have viewed an internet video that apparently depicts Marines desecrating several dead Taliban in Afghanistan.  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. Accordingly, late yesterday I requested that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service pull together a team of their very best agents and immediately assign them responsibility to thoroughly investigate every aspect of the filmed event. Additionally, I am assigning a Marine General Officer and senior attorney, both with extensive combat experience, to head up an internal - Preliminary Inquiry - into the matter.  Once the investigation and Preliminary Inquiry are complete and the facts have been determined, then the Marine Corps will take the appropriate next steps. 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."

Robert Fisk: This is not about 'bad apples'. This is the horror of war

How many other abuses took place off camera? How many Hadithas? How many My Lais?

The Independent

So now it's snapshots of US Marines pissing on the Afghan dead. Better, I suppose, than the US soldiers pictured beside the innocent Afghan teenager they fragged back in March of last year. Or the female guard posing with the dead Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghraib. Not to mention Haditha or the murder videos taken by US troops in the field – the grenading of an old shepherd by an Iraqi highway comes to mind – or My Lai or the massacre of refugees by US forces in Korea or the murder of Malayan villagers by British troops. Or the Bloody Sunday massacre of 14 Catholics by British troops in Derry in 1972. And please note, I have not even mentioned the name of Baha Mousa.

The US Marines' response to the pissing pictures was oh so typical. These men were not abiding by the "core values" of the Marines, we were informed. Same old story. A "rogue" unit, a few "bad apples", rotten eggs. Maybe.

But if there is one game of pissing on the dead, how many others happened without pictures? How many other shepherds got fragged in Iraq? How many other Hadithas have there been? There were plenty of other My Lais.


by Andrew Exum

Abu Muqawama

We should not be shocked by this kind of thing, though. Just look at the official propaganda from the Second World War, a conflict most Americans have seen only through a sanitized Spielbergian lens. Look at the lengths to which the United States and Japan went to dehumanize the other. Now imagine how that translated down at the platoon and squad level in heavy combat. One big difference today is the diffusion of camera phones and other media allow the ugly dehumanizing effect of war to go viral. In a way, I am glad. Since so few Americans actually fight in our wars, it's good that Americans see the effect war can have on other people's sons and daughters.

War is an awful human experience. It is sometimes necessary, but it is never sanitary.

Lewis Carroll's War

by David Betz

Kings of War

Perhaps this is precisely the point: that the nineteenth century idealists, and all those in the business of representing war ever since, were not really searching for true depictions of war but rather drama, heroism and humanity as perceived by those of us who have never been there. As a consequence what they were seeking was not images of war, but ‘war photography’, a genre that would suitably reflect these elements. Perhaps that is why the snapshots taken by soldiers that capture fragments (and that is all a picture can do) of the brutal, mundane, frightening, and shameful world of war, that ignore the conventions of photography, are deemed problematical, confusing or unacceptable.


by Andrew Marr

The Telegraph

People's reactions to the stories of mistreatment by British troops of prisoners in Iraq tend to divide into two camps: those who feel it is awful and a national shame, and those who agree, but point out with a small laugh that it was nothing compared with one's boarding school in the 1960s.

But the even bigger story is about technology. Dreadful things have always gone on in wars, and immediately after them, but in the old days the soldiers came home again and rarely said a word, except very late at night after the eighth beer.



airamerica vet

Fri, 01/13/2012 - 8:14pm

As a Vietnam vet and a witness to the atrocities of the enemy, I see nothing wrong with what was done to these Talaban swine. They should have defecated on them, cut off their hands and feet, removed their internal organs, chopped off their heads and placed them on pig poles in front of the villages they came from. Maybe then these wretched scum will know we are serious.
These Marines are heros, not villians and should be awarded medals for their actions.
This government is a disgrace to reduce the military in a time of global unrest and threats from these religious zealots who want to exterminate us. Does anyone else see what is going on. Did the Crusades in the 12th century teach us nothing-this is not new. Thank God for the few good men who stand guard and repel these evil creatures who would destroy our freedoms.
We should stand up and shout their praises!
It is too bad that I am too old or believe me, I would be back, heading a guerilla outfit and striking fear and confsion to these enemies. These people are terrorists-I say give them back terror-This is not a gentlemens war with "rules of engagements", these people are primative drug dealing cave dwellers who throw rocks, have no teeth and are mired in the 11th century. Have no mercy on them because surely they will have none on our men.
If these brave men are punished I say shame on the military and it will send more weak messages to our enemies-perhaps that is what Barack Hussein Obama wants.
Have peace talks with the Talaban-are you kidding-look what has happened in Iraq since we left-the Iranians are moving in daily. Gentlemen; oil is at stake here-lets take the oil from all these countries for the money they owes and the brave lives lost and maimed by these so called subscribers to the phony "Geneva Convention". They don't even know what that is. They are drug lords and urinating on their dead bodies is simply not doing enough to them!

It's war, and many of our men and women are exposed to its ugliness for extended periods. Participating in war as a combat soldier (not a fobit) is a transforming experience, especially for young Americans who for the most part came into the ranks with ingrained middle American values that are opposed to killing and the injustice they see. I seen those who adapt well (especially in special ops), and others who had serious struggles. Many adapt by learning to hate and dehumanize the enemy (and in some cases the population). Gooks, Jerries, skinnies, rag heads, etc. Name an extended conflict where this hasn't happend?

Our society now wants to see a clean war waged by saints, but wars are waged by men and women with emotions. Humor becomes profane, and that really isn't a problem until our digital technology allows that behavior to become enemy propaganda. Now our leaders are forced to take corrective action to mitigate the effect the self generated enemy propaganda generated.

I agree they were most likely laying IEDs (note the wheel barrow), and since we don't show videos of our mangled troops being removed from a vehicle that was hit my an IED, all the audience sees is an inappropriate act by some young marines with no overall context.

The behavior isn't acceptable, nor does it warrant a hang man's jury. The issue is a failure of leadership at the tactical level. Is it a systemic problem with training junior NCOs? Or is it the failure of one or more NCOs to lead? If it is the former fix the system, if it is the later then correct the NCO.

Those who want to hang them never had perspective, those who think is appropriate behavior don't understand the nature of the fight we're in and the strategic impact this propaganda can have.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 01/13/2012 - 11:44am

Just a side comment--agree with MikeF;

In a guerrilla war environment and Afghanistan and Iraq are/were guerrilla wars--there is a common fallacy that the general public seems to think exists.

We ask the "shooter" to clearly identify the enemy and engage as a soldier at the same time we ask him to be a "human" with moral/ethnical feelings to be able in split seconds to identify and engage the "enemy" who is swimming among the population.

As a SF vet of VN---mixing the two ideas never works. Keeping yourself and your yeam alive is the core concept while in the "moment"--everything else does not count

What is being missed is the background of the operation---a sniper team---what does a sniper team get asked to do these days---usually covering areas for IED emplacers or areas for ambushes etc. In the IED fight that is massive and increasing in AFG these teams are being asked to reduce losses to their fellow troops so when they finally engage this happens and we the public get shocked.

Get real as Mike states there are moments before and afterward when the shooter's inner tensions slowly ease and he would probably given after the event would say why in the heck did we do that?---but not when they are in the "moment". Agree though events such as what happened with the 5/2 SBCT or Abu Ghraib should be thoroughly understood.

Guerrilla warfare is always brutal and we have asked these units for repeated deployments with limited breaks to do it over and over and we think that things like this are not suppose to happen. Soldiers I hate to say never forget the "moments" regardless of how long it has been since it happened.

Reduce the ops tempo, refocus the unit training prior to deployment and have longer breaks between deployments, give them a feeling that they are a part of society---that would go a long way in eliminating these events---but that will not happen---we blame the soldiers not the system.

Why it is such a shock amazes me at times.

gian gentile

Fri, 01/13/2012 - 10:24am


Nice points, also this was a very good set of combinations and contrasts put toghether by SWJ editors. Thanks to you all for your hard work.



Fri, 01/13/2012 - 8:35am

What I cannot understand is why in such a combat situation somebody carries a mobile phone (or other device) and films others. The film is later uploaded and goes viral.

Yes having a camera device reflects the current state of popular technology, which is not unique to US Marines or the West.

I write this from a safe armchair and as a member of the public.


Fri, 01/13/2012 - 6:56am

Yes, Mike, I agree. But this is a clash of the military and political worlds. What is understandable for military people in a military context may be unacceptable to the wider world.

See David Betz's post on Kings of War (…), which references Andrew Marr in the Telegraph, 2004 (