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How video of Marines urinating on Taliban could put US forces in danger

A video that appears to show Marines urinating on Taliban soldiers comes just as the US is trying to reach out to the Taliban. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the actions 'utterly deplorable.'

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / January 12, 2012

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta answers a question during CBS's 'Face the Nation' program in Washington in January. Panetta on Thursday called footage that appeared to show US Marines urinating on dead Taliban soldiers 'utterly deplorable.'

Chris Usher/Reuters

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The Pentagon is in damage-control mode over the allegations that US Marines may have urinated on dead Taliban soldiers.

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The uproar over an online video that appears to show the incident comes at a particularly difficult political juncture for the Obama administration, which has cautiously been talking up the planned resumption of peace discussions with the Taliban. 

The US Marine Corps promptly promised an investigation, and condemned the alleged actions in advance. “While we have not yet verified the origin or authenticity of this video, the actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps,” read a statement released Wednesday.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta issued an even sharper rebuke. “I have seen the footage, and I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” he said in a statement released Thursday. “Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent.”

Despite the initial muted response among top Afghan officials, the episode does not bode well for the administration’s resumption of talks with the Taliban, which could be set back by fresh allegations of abuse of Afghans, even those who are deceased, at the hands of the US military

“Such action will leave a very, very bad impact on peace efforts,” Arsala Rahmani, the top negotiator for Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council, said. “Looking at such action, the Taliban can easily recruit young people.”

The video has the potential as well to reopen old wounds regarding the US military’s mistreatment of civilians and captured enemy combatants in its care. As recently as yesterday, a US Marine testified that his commanding officer called for violent retaliation just before his squad killed two dozen Iraqis, including women and children, in 2005 at Haditha in Iraq. The Marine investigation into the killings at Haditha was criticized for a lack of transparency. 

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