A video clip of four U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters has thrown a serious monkey wrench into the U.S. government's plans to begin negotiations with the Taliban and find its way out of the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan. The U.S. military and federal government had a gargantuan reputational crisis on their hands as they waited for confirmation that the soldiers in the video are, in fact, U.S. Marines.
The crisis worsened by the evening of Jan. 12, when the New York Times reported that senior U.S. officials confirmed that the men in the video are members of the Third Battalion, Second Marines.
Before that confirmation, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were unequivocal in their expressions of outrage.
In a statement from the U.S. Department of Defense, Panetta called the behavior in the video deplorable. “I condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” Panetta said. “I have ordered the Marine Corps and ISAF commander [Marine Corps] Gen. John Allen to immediately and fully investigate the incident. 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. Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent.”
"I join [Defense Secretary Panetta] in condemning the deplorable behavior that is reflected in this video," Clinton said at a press conference. "It is absolutely inconsistent with American values."
Clinging to the moral high ground will be difficult against the backdrop of the banal horror in the video clip and of memories of Abu Ghraib. To make their messages ring with authenticity, government and military officials will be forced to investigate the incident thoroughly and share the complete, unadulterated story with the world.