In the last day a video has been posted on youtube which appears to show four US soldiers in Afghanistan urinating on dead Taliban insurgents. The US began an investigation and within a short time two of the offending soldiers have been identified. Far from maintaining that the video was fake the US now admit that it is just one more disgraceful image of the foreign military in Afghanistan.
This sad reflection on US troops damages all concerned. It threatens the safety of the 90,000 US troops still serving in Afghanistan. It damages the reputation of the US military. It now also appears that it will damage the peace that all sides are attempting to negotiate.
Earlier today the Taliban said that they would not allow the footage to railroad peace negotiations. Now that it seems that the video footage is accurate they have changed their stance slightly. Many pundits have said that this video footage will act as a 'recruitment tool for the Taliban'.
The marines involved are said to be from Scout Sniper Team 4, a US marine unit based in North Carolina that served in Afghanistan until last autumn. Identities have not been released to the media.
It is fair to say that the video has enraged and upset many people from around the world. Whilst we are all realists such acts of disrespect are just not on. They set a precedent for future behaviour, perhaps when the boot is on the other foot. One can only imagine the outrage of, for example the US, should this have happened to dead US marines at the hands of the Taliban.
Whilst we know atrocities happen the armed forces must be above such behaviour. They are not a band of rebels or hoodlums and should be above reproach. They are, or should be, a well trained army. For many this latest US embarrassment is further proof that the US military has institutional problems.
Today's events have brought to mind other incidents. The Guardian detailed some which include:
In 2011 11 soldiers were convicted over the murders of three Afghan civilians by a "kill squad" and there was a subsequent cover up.
The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and the use of waterboarding and other torture of alleged terrorists held at Guantanamo.
The US marines corps is also under scrutiny after the trial began this week of one of its soldiers, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, charged with the deaths of 24 Iraqis during an attack in 2005. Wuterich was commanding a group of soldiers who burst into the victims' homes in Haditha and shot women, children and men in their nightclothes. He is accused of manslaughter. Seven other soldiers also charged were either acquitted or had the case against them dropped.
There is always the odd bad apple in any barrel. However with multiple incidents you have to wonder how widespread such incidents are.
Disrespecting the dead goes against all the rules. It is illegal under the Geneva conventions as well as under US military law. This has to mean that if the investigation finds guilt it must act. You can make as many excuses as you want to but they will not wash.
Just how come this video found its way online this week is not known. If the video is genuine then it is a good job that it did. It may damage the US military and more but having such dreadful skeletons in the military's cupboard would ultimately be far more damaging.