Staff sergeant says 'I have no excuse' in Afghanistan incident that ignited protests.
By David Zucchino
A Marine who urinated on the corpses of Taliban fighters in a video seen worldwide pleaded guilty Wednesday to several charges at a court-martial at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Staff Sgt. Edward W. Deptola admitted desecrating the remains and posing with the bodies of insurgents in Afghanistan for what he called "trophy photographs.'' He also admitted that he failed to supervise other Marines involved in the incident and did not report the violations of military regulations.
In a 39-second video that was widely viewed on the Internet after it appeared in January 2012, four Marines in combat gear were shown urinating on three corpses in southern Afghanistan in July 2011. One Marine could be overheard saying to one of the bodies, "Have a good day, buddy.''
Deptola had previously been instructed that desecrating corpses was a serious violation of Marine Corps regulations, he told the presiding judge, Lt. Col. Nicole Hudspeth. Nonetheless, he said, he urinated on the dead men and did not intervene to prevent other Marines in his sniper platoon from doing so.
"I was in a position to stop it and I did not,'' Deptola said, according to the Associated Press. "I should have spoken up on the spot.''
Deptola, a veteran of deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, told the judge that he could not explain his behavior.
"I have no excuse, no reason, ma'am,'' he said. "It was not the correct way to handle a human casualty.''
The video was the first of several incidents involving U.S. troops in Afghanistan early last year that triggered concern in the U.S. and outrage in Afghanistan. Violent protests erupted in Afghanistan, and U.S. commanders expressed fears that the incidents would turn ordinary Afghans against the U.S. mission and serve as recruiting tools for the Taliban.
In February 2012, soldiers at Bagram air base inadvertently burned copies of the Koran, the Islamic holy book. In March, 16 Afghan civilians were shot and killed during a night-time rampage by an American soldier; Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has been charged with the killings.
The Marine Corps said the urination incident took place during a counter-insurgency operation in Helmand province.
Deptola told the court that a sergeant in his platoon had been killed earlier in the day by a homemade bomb during heavy fighting in which the Marines killed 11 insurgents, including the three shown in the video. He said the Marines believed the dead enemy fighters might have been responsible for the bomb.
Deptola's attorney, Maj. Tracey Holtshirley, said his client was a respected Marine who had made an isolated mistake, only to endure a "lynching'' by the media and public. He said negative publicity and Deptola's removal from his platoon was sufficient punishment.
Deptola was one of two Marine noncommissioned officers who faced courts-martial in the case. Staff Sgt. Joseph W. Chamblin pleaded guilty last month to urinating on a corpse and posing for photos. Under a plea agreement, he forfeited $500 in pay and was reduced one rank to sergeant.
Three other Marines received administrative punishments for their roles in the incident, according to the Marine Corps.
Deptola, of Southold, N.Y., is married with two children. He faced a maximum punishment of a year in prison, demotion to private, forfeiture of pay and a bad-conduct discharge.
The judge wanted to sentence him to six months' confinement, a $5,000 fine, demotion to private and a bad-conduct discharge, the AP reported. But Deptola reached a plea agreement with prosecutors to be demoted one rank. A Marine Corps general will review the sentence to resolve it.