Yes, Pamela, Some People Do Care — Including the U.S. Military

by Kevin Jon Heller

The media has been abuzz the past couple of days about a video that shows four U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban soldiers.  The military’s response to the blossoming controversy has been admirable.  In addition to the Pentagon quickly confirming its authenticity, the Navy has stated that it is “deeply troubled by the video. Whoever it is, and whatever the circumstances—which we know is under investigation—it is egregious behaviour and unacceptable for a member of the military.”  Similarly, the Marines said that “[t]he actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps. This matter will be fully investigated.”

There is, however, at least one person who doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about: Pamela Geller, the racist right-wing blogger who runs the hate site Atlas Shrugs.  Here is what she had to say in response to a CAIR press release criticizing the desecration (I won’t link to Geller’s blog, because she does not deserve the extra traffic):

CAIR has whipped itself up into an Islamic frenzy because  a video surfaced that appears to show US Marines combat gear urinating on several dead jihadis.

Here’s the thing. Hamas liars, CAIR, say jihad and pure Islam is “fringe,” “extremist.” So why do they CAIR about disrespecting the Taliban? According to CAIR lies, Taliban and jihadists do not represent Islam, they have “hijacked Islam”; so why would CAIR care about “respect”? CAIR calls these Marines immoral, but considers honor killings, clitorectomies, forced marriage, child marriage, polygamy, subjugation of women, slaughter of non-Muslims, Jew hatred moral?

Would anyone have CAIRed if Marines urinated on dead Nazi soldiers during WWII? (Anyone besides CAIR and nazis, that is).

I love these Marines. Perhaps this is the infidel interpretation of the Islamic ritual of washing and preparing the body for burial.

I don’t know about the Nazis, but I do know how the military responded during World War II to the desecration of dead Japanese soldiers — the subject of a 1992 essay in the Pacific Historical Review by the excellent historian James Weingartner.  Here are some snippets:

The percentage of U.S. troops who engaged in the collection of Japanese body parts cannot be ascertained, but it is clear that the practice was not uncommon. U.S. Marines on their way to Guadalcanal relished the prospect of making necklaces of Japanese gold teeth and “pickling” Japanese ears as keepsakes. An American officer told Charles Lindbergh in 1944 that he had seen Japanese bodies with ears and noses cut off…  “It is the same story everywhere I go,” Lindbergh concluded.” A Marine Corps veteran of the fierce fighting on Peleliu recorded in his memoirs the horrific scene of another Marine extracting gold teeth from the jaw of a wounded but still struggling Japanese, a task which he had attempted to facili- tate by slashing his victim’s cheeks from ear to ear and kneeling on his chin.


General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, was sufficiently disturbed by these accounts to radio General Douglas MacArthur in October 1943 about his “concern over current reports of atrocities committed by American soldiers.” This was followed in January 1944 by a directive from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to all theater commanders calling upon them to adopt measures to prevent the preparation of skulls and “similar items” as war trophies, and to prevent members of the armed forces and others from removing from the theater skulls and other objects which might be represented as Japanese body parts.


Assistant Chief of Staff, the army’s judge advocate general, Major General Myron C. Cramer, asserted that “such atrocious and brutal policies” were not only “repugnant to the sensibilities of all civilized peoples,” but were violations of the laws of war as well. He recommended that a directive be addressed to each commander of an overseas theater of operations, task force, or port of embarkation, pointing out that the maltreatment of enemy war dead was a blatant violation of the 1929 Geneva Convention on the sick and wounded… In addition to flouting treaty law, practices such as those publicized in Life contravened the customary, unwritten rules of land warfare and carried with them liability to trial and the possibility of the death penalty. Commanders, therefore, were to undertake all steps necessary “to prevent such illegal and brutal acts,” and to prohibit the movement of parts of enemy dead for the nefarious purposes under discussion. A week later, the navy’s judge advocate general expressed himself in similar terms while adding the caveat that the atrocious conduct of which some U.S. servicemen were guilty could lead to retaliation by the Japanese which would be justified under international law.

Pamela Geller is as ignorant as she is disgusting.

9 Responses

  1. As a former military prosecutor and British army officer I was disturbed by these images but not totally unsurprised.  I recall ten years after the Falklands War ended accounts emerged of Argentine prisoners of war being shot and their bodies mutilated by British soldiers. The regiment that was the subject of these allegations was the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment.  The 3rd Battalion had fought with extraordinary courage during the Falklands campaign losing a very large part of their fighting strength in securing victory for British forces in the South Atlantic.  Paratroopers are trained to kill and put the fear of G-d into the enemy.  I have seen them being trained.  Like the US Marine Corps they are an elite unit that often sees the worst of the fighting.  The investigations of the Parachute Regiment in the early nineties did not lead to prosecutions.

    I think the point I want to make is this.  During the stress of conflict and in the aftermath acts are often committed by those involved which are deplorable.  And it will happen again in other conflicts.  These US Marines should be condemned for what they did.  Soldiers need to be constantly counselled and supervised to prevent these kinds of acts taking place.  Having commanded soldiers myself – not in combat – I know how tough it is to stop acts of macho stupidity.  In combat I know from talking to military friends it is even harder.

    Ms. Geller undoubtedly has obnoxious views and this terrible act could not have happened at a worse time for the US military in Afghanistan. But we need to understand the context in which it took place and because of that reiterate to junior and senior commanders alike the necessity to tell those under their command, constantly, of their legal obligations during combat and afterwards.  It is not an easy task but it is one that has to be done to stop the repetition of this kind of illegal act.  Not just because it is a crime but also because of the catastrophic loss of moral standing such acts bring with them. 

    Andrew Cayley
    Phnom Penh.   

  2. Response…
    Thank you Andrew for your posting.  Of course, there is no statute of limitations under international law for international crimes, such as the war crimes that you describe, and there is universal jurisdiction in every state which, thereby, provides a competence to prosecute.
    I am worried that the U.S. Marines do NOT receive adequate training in the laws of war, especially when deployed abroad.  After My Lai, we tried to upgrade law of war training in the U.S. Army with films, subject schedules, training of the 2,000 U.S. Army JAG lawyers more adequately, etc.
    I saw an interview of a former U.S. soldier on CNN (very poor reproting by the way) and he said that marines are confused because waterborading “is legal”!  What nonsense!  Who has been training these Marines, for how many hours per year, if ever abroad!
    The U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare (1956) makes clear that any violation of the laws of war by civilian or miltary personel is a war crime (paras. 498-499) and that “Maltreatment of dead bodies” is a war crime (para. 504 (c)).  The UK Ministry of Defence Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict 134, sec. 7.31 (2004) notes that “The dead must be protected against pillage and maltreatment.  The … mutilation of their bodies are war crimes” — also citing Schmidt Trial (1948), etc.  Id. at 426, sec. 16.29 “Among other war crimes traditionally recognized by the customary law of armed conflict are: … a. mutilation or other maltreatment of dead bodies.”

  3. Response…
    sorry readers, I was editing the above when it suddenly posted.
    I was going to change some errors and add that the 2004 UK Manual is not unlike the 1958 UK Manual and that the U.S. now has a duty under international law to either initiate prosecution or extradite.

  4. Response…
    I should add that one U.S. military conviction resulted in a finding of guilt with respect to a charge of “cutting off an ear from the body of an unknown dead Viet Cong soldier, which conduct was of a nature of being discredit upon the Armed Forces of the United States as a violation of the Law of War.”  United States v. Passantino, Hq. 1st Inf. Div., Special Court-Martial Order No. 11, 11 Feb. 1968, addressed at 57 Mil. L. Rev. 99, 118 (1972) and noted in our International Criminal Law casebook (3 ed. 2007) at 305. 

  5. Extradite? No. Our soldiers do not have the option to decline an assignment Into areas of borderline or complete anarchy, terror and lawlessness therefore they should never be stripped of any if the consitutional rights they themselves are entrusted with defending. Soldiers guilty of criminal conduct should be charged and tried accordingly, which should be easy to do in this case, as the whole thing has been captured on video and posted around the world.

  6. What’s the problem, they were dead, right?  It’s not like they disemboweled them while they were alive, or cut their heads off, or dilled holes in their skulls and cut half their jaws off with sawzalls, or packed their bodies with explosives, or burned their bodies and hung them from bridges, or dragged their bodies through the streets…
    Besides, Marines piss gasoline, and were simply preparing the bodies for cremation.  

    Oh, I forget.  The Religion of Peace.

  7. Response…
    Kerry: peace is good!  Your examples of maltreatment of dead bodies may be more horrendous, but that would be relevant with respect to punishment.
    Lis: The U.S. Supreme Court has already recognized that there is no constitutional freedom from extradition, or following a treaty allocating jurisdiciton to a foreign state, with respect to a soldier’s alleged criminal conduct abroad — Wilson v. Girard.

  8. I doubt there’s going to be extradition, prosecution seems quite likely at this point.  Who would we extradite them to, anyway?  Was there an Afghani law broken on the subject?

  9. That is the purpose of a status of forces agreement, Jordan. To protect our service members from an arbitrary justice system. The agreement will differ with respect to country depending on the nature of the justice system there (i wouldnt want to be subjected to the afghani justice system, would you?) and ensures that the constitutional rights of our soldiers are protected.

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