An image made from a Jan. 2012 video showing Marine scout snipers urinating on dead Taliban. A breakdown in leadership and discipline contributed to the June 2011 incident in Afghanistan, according to an investigative report released this week. (AP)
- Filed Under
A breakdown in leadership and discipline contributed to an elite team of Marine snipers urinating on the bodies of dead insurgents in Afghanistan in June 2011, according to an investigative report released this week.
The lengthy Marine Corps investigation is a case study in the importance that leadership plays in maintaining discipline amid the chaos of war. It also highlighted the role of snipers, who are critical in Afghanistan because of their ability to strike targets precisely across great distances.
“Because snipers are so independent, lack of discipline in their ranks was a legitimate concern that was regularly discussed” by the top commanders, the investigation said.
The report concluded that “while certain members of the battalion held the scout sniper platoon in high regard, others believed that the snipers thought very highly of themselves and were not held to the same discipline standards because they were ‘doing great things.’”
The number of kills racked up by the snipers “became equated with the battalion’s success,” the report said.
The incident became explosive when it surfaced on the Internet in January 2012, prompting fears that it would trigger anti-American violence and risk American lives in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
The videotape was made on July 27, 2011, during a patrol consisting of 20 troops, including six members of a sniper team.
The video, which spread widely on the Internet, showed four Marines urinating on three dead insurgents. The maltreatment of dead bodies is considered a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.
But the report highlighted a number of other disciplinary lapses during the patrol. The Marine Corps emphasizes the importance of small unit leadership and discipline throughout its training.
A boy walking with the insurgents was seriously injured during the shooting that killed three insurgents. The Marines on the patrol did not call for an immediate evacuation despite the seriousness of his wounds.
The investigation said the Marines should have aborted the patrol and called for a helicopter medical evacuation. He was later brought back to a U.S. base where he was treated and later recovered.
The report also cites an incident in which Marines entered a village and cut a rope used to hoist water from a well and attempted to puncture a tractor tire. The investigation also concluded that the team provided inaccurate reports of enemy killed.
Marines also fired their weapons and tossed grenades for the benefit of cameras they were carrying, according to the report.
The incident described in the report became the subject of one of the most significant Marine Corps legal controversies in recent memory, one that has ensnared the the service’s commandant, Gen. Jim Amos.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the officer originally assigned to oversee the prosecution of Marines charged in connection with the incident was removed from that assignment in early 2012, he alleged in a sworn statement, after a conversation with Amos in which Waldhauser refused the commandant’s request to ensure the Marines be “crushed” and thrown out of the service.
Amos said recently that he removed Waldhauser because he didn’t want his comments at their meeting to influence his judgment in the case. He also has disputed Waldhauser’s claim that Amos said he wanted the snipers “crushed.”
The defense team for Marine Capt. James Clement, a company executive officer accused of failing to supervise Marines on the patrol, also claimed that Marine officials improperly classified videos and interviews they needed to build their defense.
Last year, Marine Corps attorney Maj. James Weirick filed a whistleblower complaint to the Pentagon’s inspector general claiming that the Marine Corps’ handling of the sniper case demonstrated unlawful command influence. Elements of that complaint remain under consideration by the U.S. federal classification authority.
The report on the sniper patrol was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The report was released because disciplinary actions in connection with the case are now complete.
On Wednesday Navy Secretary Ray Mabus upheld a board of inquiry recommendation that Clement be honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. In all, eight Marines were disciplined in connection with the case, including a number of noncommissioned officers.
Clement has said he was unaware of the video at the time, but was accused of failing to step in and prevent unprofessional actions during the patrol.
Clements’ civilian attorney, John Dowd, decried the decision, saying his client “engaged in no misconduct ... and that his service for six years was honorable.”
Marine Corps Times staff writer Hope Hodge Seck contributed.