Officials React To Now-Viral Afghanistan Video

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NPR's Tom Bowman updates Audie Cornish on the latest fallout from a video that is purported to show U.S. Marines urinating on dead bodies in Afghanistan — believed to be Taliban militants. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and senior military officials condemned the video as "utterly deplorable."

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

U.S. military investigators have now identified two of the four Marines seen on a video that's making the rounds on the Internet. In it, the Marines appear to be urinating on the dead bodies of three Afghan men, suspected Taliban fighters.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Have a great day, buddy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah. (Unintelligible) yeah.

CORNISH: On the video, you can hear the Marines joking around. The Marines were based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. They served in Afghanistan last year. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and senior military officials are condemning the video as utterly deplorable. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added her voice today.

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: Anyone, anyone found to have participated or known about it, having engaged in such conduct must be held fully accountable.

CORNISH: Joining us now to give us an update is NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Hello, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: What's the latest on this?

BOWMAN: Well, again, investigators have identified two of the four Marines pictured in this video. And at this point, the Pentagon is treating the video as authentic. Now, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has been called in to mount the investigation. And also, the Marine commandant, General Jim Amos, is expected to name a general to mount an internal probe to look into this whole thing.

CORNISH: And do we know what unit the Marines came from?

BOWMAN: Yes, it was 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. These Marines who were involved in this act were part of a scout sniper team from that battalion. They served from last March through September of last year in Helmand province, in the northern part of the province, in an area called Musa Qala and Now Zad.

And what's interesting is Helmand Province has become largely pacified over the past year or so. So, you know, Marines I talk with - who are ready to head over there - are very concerned about the impact this could have on operations in Helmand province. They're worried about there could be a backlash, increase in violence over there that could hurt their efforts as they head over there.

CORNISH: And, Tom, we've seen the impact of these kinds of things in the past. I'm reminded of the pictures at Abu Ghraib showing American soldiers laughing at naked Iraqi prisoners, stacking them up in pyramids.

BOWMAN: You know, that's right. And this is what can make Marines and soldiers very, very angry. It puts them at greater danger, and we saw that in Abu Ghraib, where there was an uptick in violence after Abu Ghraib. And also, this can hurt the efforts at counterinsurgency.

The whole point of a counterinsurgency effort is to work with the local population, with the village elders and local officials, and try to get them to work with their government, and try to get them to pinpoint where Taliban fighters are. And when something like this happens, you get the population working against the Americans and the Afghan government.

CORNISH: And what about the Afghan government? How is the leadership responding to this?

BOWMAN: Well, Afghan President Hamid Karzai today called the video simply inhuman. And even the Taliban came out with a statement saying the Marines' action was, quote, "against all international human rights."

CORNISH: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks so much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Audie.

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