When a video surfaced on the internet appearing to show four U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, the far right reacted with a mix of apathy (“I could care less”; “Pile them up, let them rot, piss on them”) and approbation (“I love these Marines”). Republican politicians like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Allen West (R-FL) were considerably more restrained, lamenting the incident and calling for the Marines to be punished (West specified that the punishment should be “non-judicial”).
But on CNN’s State of the Union yesterday, flagging GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry broke with his fellow Republicans and, while calling for the Marines to be “reprimanded and appropriately punished,” blamed the Obama administration for condemning the actions depicted in the video and initiating a full investigation. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta condemned the acts and called for an investigation, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Anyone found to have participated or known about it, having engaged in such conduct must be held fully accountable.”
This apparently did not sit well with Perry, who compared urinating on Taliban corpses to a photograph of Gen. Patton urinating into the Rhine River and Winston Churchill urinating on the Siegfried Line, then said:
But what I’m saying is what is really disturbing to me is just, kind of, the over-the-top rhetoric from this administration and their disdain for the military, it appears, whether it’s the secretary of state or whether it’s the secretary of defense.
I mean, these kids made a mistake. There’s not any doubt about it. They shouldn’t have done it. It’s bad. But the — the — to call it a criminal act, I think, is over the top.
Watch the video:
Actually, far from being “over the top,” labeling the act of desecrating corpses on the battlefield a “criminal act” is in line with international treaties to which the U.S. is party. That means those treaties, since they are ratified, carry the force of U.S. law. The First Geneva Convention states unequivocally:
At all times, and particularly after an engagement, Parties to the conflict shall, without delay, take all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick, to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment, to ensure their adequate care, and to search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled.
Neither micturating into a river nor onto a battle line constitues a war crime. Desecrating those who died in battle — no matter what side they’re on — is considered one. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), to his great credit, told the same CNN program: “I think a full and complete investigation is entirely appropriate.”
A full investigation, when video evidence appears to document a war crime, would seem to require a criminal investigation. (The four Marines were questioned but not arrested and relevant authorities are deciding whether to press charges.) Just like his plan to abolish civilian control of the armed forces (which incidentally the military’s current commanders seem to disagree with), Perry’s comments eschew not only proper military conduct, but also the rule of law.