Taliban says urination video won't harm peace talks. Why not?

A video showing what appear to be US forces urinating on dead Taliban fighters the group has drawn only muted reaction, with many Afghans saying they're now inured to US abuses.

A graphic video that appears to show four US Marines joking as they urinate on the bodies of three presumed Taliban fighters has gone viral on the Internet, sparking concerns that the clip could imperil peace talks and create widespread anger among Afghans.

The video has triggered dismay among those Afghans who’ve seen it, and has been condemned by both Afghan President Karzai and the US, but most Afghans say that after 10 years of the American-led war here they’ve come to expect this type of behavior from the US and its allies standing as a grim barometer of just how much the US and NATO image here has fallen.

“The majority of the population in Afghanistan has no good thoughts about international forces in Afghanistan, because these forces have committed many missteps over the last 10 years,” says Baryalai Hakimi, head of the law and political science department at the National Center for Policy Research at Kabul University. “People are not saying that this is a very serious issue because ones like it have happened many times in the past.”

Just this week, another report of alleged US and NATO human rights abuses made headlines here when an Afghan commission reported that detainees in the American-run Bagram detention facility here face torture, beatings, and other mistreatment. 

US Marine Corps officials say they are still working to verify the authenticity of the video, adding in an official statement that, “the actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps.”

If the video is found to be authentic, such conduct is punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Marines featured in it will likely face legal action.

Weakened US position

The video comes as the US and the Taliban have reportedly started negotiations. Taliban officials have said the video will not deter them from engaging in talks, but the incident is likely to weaken the position of US negotiators.

“This happened at a very bad time,” says Barry Salaam, an independent analyst and civil society activist in Kabul. “I don’t think it’s going to have a direct impact on talks, but it will definitely be used by the Taliban to justify their stance that the American forces do not have respect even for the values that they’re here to protect and bring to the Afghan people.”

Muted reaction

On Thursday, news of the video was slow to reach many Afghans. Radio newscasters mentioned it in broadcasts, but few Afghans had heard about it or seen about it by late afternoon. Evening television news programs will likely give the video airtime, but if the past is any indication it is unlikely to create much of a stir.

In March, Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine published photographs of US soldiers posing for trophy photos with the remains of Afghan civilians they’d killed for sport. The photos were republished and discussed in the local media, but they elicited little in the way of a passionate response. Meanwhile, about two weeks later, at least 22 Afghans died and scores were injured in violent demonstrations in response to the US Pastor Terry Jones’ Quran burning.

At this point, not even the Taliban appears openly fazed by incidents like the one depicted in the video.

“It’s not a new thing that has happened. It’s normal with the American forces and their allies. The foreign forces have always discriminated and abused human rights in Afghanistan,” says Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban. Still, he adds, “It’s an act that makes a person feel ashamed to watch it or talk about it.”

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