Two US Marines will face trial by courts martial for urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and posing for photographs with them, the Pentagon said on Monday.
The charges against Staff Sergeants Joseph Chamblin and Edward Deptola come a month after three other Marines were sanctioned administratively for their role in the July 27, last year incident in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
A videotape that surfaced on the internet in January showed four US troops urinating on three bloodied corpses, and one of the men, apparently aware he was being filmed, saying: “Have a great day, buddy” to one of the dead.
The Pentagon said that charges against the sergeants concern “violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for their involvement in urinating on deceased Taliban fighters and for posing for unofficial photographs with human casualties”.
They also were charged with dereliction of duty for a number of other command failures involving younger Marines.
The actions depicted in the video took place during a counter-insurgency operation in the restive Musa Qala district of Helmand province, in southwestern Afghanistan in July last year.
The video caused great embarrassment to the US military and prompted a Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation, as well as condemnation and an apology from Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta.
Four Marines from a sniper unit in the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina were questioned over the scandal in January, when the pictures emerged.
The unit was deployed in Helmand from March to September last year.
The scandal was one in a long line to tarnish the image of the US military in the past decade, from the Abu Ghraib prison abuse images in Iraq to more recent convictions of troops who killed Afghan civilians for sport.
Panetta said at the time the video surfaced that the troops’ behaviour was “utterly deplorable”, while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of her “total dismay” at the acts, vowing the culprits would be found and punished.
The decision to refer the sergeants for trial comes in the midst of a wave of violent anti-American protests in the Muslim world over a US-made film that ridicules the Prophet Mohammed.
The three US Marines who received administrative punishment last month over the urination incident in Afghanistan pleaded guilty.
Punishment from administrative proceedings – as opposed to courts martial – can include reduction in rank, restriction to a military base, extra duties, forfeiture of pay, a reprimand or a combination of such measures.