BC-NC--Marines-Urination, 3rd Ld-Writethru,770 Lawyer: Urinating on bodies was not desecration
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) — A Marine Corps sniper and others in his unit captured on a YouTube video urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan also were recorded shooting and tossing grenades in a rural hamlet without taking any return fire, according to testimony during a criminal hearing Tuesday.
Sgt. Robert W. Richards, 27, of Seminole, Fla., is charged with multiple counts of dereliction of duty, violating orders and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline.
Richards and three other Marines were videotaped relieving themselves on the corpses during a July 2011 mission. The operation deep into a Taliban safe haven was designed to scatter and strike fear into insurgents so that larger units could move in and secure the territory, Richards' unit commander Lt. Col. Christopher Dixon testified at an Article 32 hearing that will determine if there's evidence to proceed to a court-martial.
The video, which received international condemnation, shows four Marines in full combat gear urinating on the bodies of three Afghans. One of the Marines in the video looked down at the bodies and quipped, "Have a good day, buddy."
Military prosecutors said urinating on the corpses and videotaping it amounted to desecrating their bodies, a claim Richard's civilian lawyer denied. Richards and the other Marines did nothing to mutilate the bodies and were merely relieving the tension of their dangerous mission, said civilian defense lawyer Guy Womack, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel.
"It was black humor," Womack said. "It was in poor taste. We're not saying it was OK, but it was not desecration."
One of the other Marines who already pleaded guilty, Staff Sgt. Edward W. Deptola, testified they surprised and killed the insurgent fighters after marching for miles through the night to take sniper positions on rooftops of a rural cluster of family compounds. He said he, Richards and others urinated on the enemy fighters out of anger.
"Killing them wasn't enough," Deptola said, "because of what they had done to us, done to us in the past 10 years and what all terrorists have done to us in the past 30 years."
Deptola was previously reported as saying that another sergeant in the platoon had been killed earlier that day by a hidden explosive, and that the angry Marines believed the heavily armed Taliban fighters they killed could have been responsible for it. Deptola never described the IED casualty while testifying Tuesday to the step-by-step progress of their nighttime march and the rest of their operation, much of it captured on hand-held and helmet-mounted videocameras.
The videos were intended to be used by military intelligence to find clues about local conditions, Dixon said.
But what the videos showed surprised Dixon, who testified he imagined a full-blown firefight between Taliban fighters and the unit of nearly 20 Marine snipers, engineers, intelligence specialists and an interpreter. Instead, the images capture Marines shooting with rifles, machine guns and even a rocket launcher, but no returning enemy fire, Dixon said.
The shooting seemed excessive under rules of engagement that required Marines to kill only those Afghans who showed hostile intentions, Dixon said.
"You can't shoot your way out of an insurgency," Dixon testified. "The prize is the people in that you must win them over to your side. Otherwise you drive them into the arms of the insurgents."
Dixon testified Richards was an aggressive and innovative Marine. Womack described the five-year veteran with a weighlifter's V-shaped torso as being driven by his military career and suffering for his service. Richards was nearly killed in March 2010 by an IED in Afghanistan that nearly blew off his foot and sent shrapnel into his throat, Womack said.
While recovering in Florida with his wife, Richards shot up a hotel room after imagining Taliban were approaching. Between recovering from his IED wounds and the month-long psychiatric hospital stay that followed the hotel episode, Richards spent most of his stateside time between deployments in hospitals, Womack said. Then Richards transferred to Dixon's command because a fellow sniper persuaded him he was badly needed, Womack said.
"Sgt. Richards is the kind of Marine we all wish we could be, but secretly doubt we could be," Womack said.
Deptola and Staff Sgt. Joseph W. Chamblin have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced in the case by having their rank reduced to sergeant. The fourth Marine in the case, Capt. James V. Clement, faces charges that include conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman for failing to properly supervise junior Marines and making false statements to investigators. Clement was the executive officer of the Marine battalion in Afghanistan.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio