Two Marines Charged in Taliban Desecration

Executive officer, sniper team leader included in latest charges of urinating on enemy corpses.

Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta described a video purporting to show four U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses as "utterly despicable."

Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta described a video showing U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses as "utterly despicable."

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Two more Marines–a sniper team leader and a company executive officer–have been charged in connection with a 2011 incident in which a group of Marines documented themselves urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, according to documents obtained by U.S. News.

Marine Capt. James V. Clement and Sgt. Robert W. Richards have been charged with a series of violations in connection with the July 2011 incident, including indiscriminate weapons fire for Richards, and lying to a U.S. Navy investigator for Clement.

Two other Marines pleaded guilty to charges related to desecrating the Taliban fighters' bodies in recent weeks. Staff Sgt. Joseph W. Chamblin was sentenced to 30 days in the brig, a $2,000 fine, and demotion, among other punishments. Staff Sgt. Edward Deptola was also demoted.

A video of the incident shows a group of Marines in the Musa Qala District of Afghanistan's Hellmand province, standing over the corpses and urinating on them. One said, "Have a great day, buddy."

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Article 32 hearings for these newest charges will begin at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina within the next four months.

Clement, an infantry officer commissioned in 2007, was executive officer of Kilo Company in the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment at the time of the incident. He is charged with failing to properly supervise junior Marines, as well as failing to stop and report misconduct. He also faces charges of dereliction of duty, violation of a lawful general order, and conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.

He completed only one tour of duty in Afghanistan, earning the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, as well as the Combat Action ribbon.

Clement is currently assigned to The Basic School, a fundamental Marine Corps course all officers must complete, based in Quantico, Va.

Richards is a veteran of Afghanistan with four tours since enlisting in 2007. He became a sniper team leader in 2009, and has received the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the Purple Heart, and the Combat Action Ribbon. He was also assigned to the 3/2 at the time.

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He is charged with taking improper photographs and video of human casualties, and failure to supervise Marines and report misconduct, among other charges.

Richards is scheduled for discharge from the Marine Corps in February 2015.

The military conducts Article 32 hearings under the Uniform Code of Military Justice as a "pre-trial investigation" to garner more information about potential violations. Court officials may then refer the case to a General Court-Martial for the most serious misconduct violations.

Both Marines have hired outside counsel to supplement their military-issued lawyers.

Richards' attorney denies the Marine’s actions were technical offenses and says it is obvious the government does not understand what actually happened.

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"For anything that Sgt. Roberts did good or bad, there was ample reason," says Guy Womack, an attorney with the Houston-based law firm Womack & Associates. "In combat, and under the stress of the moment, Marines may do things that look bizarre."

"When you think about it, killing other men on a very regular basis may seem bizarre in itself," he says.

Womack, a former military judge and Marine infantry officer who retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel, would not say if Richards denies participating in the incident.

"I’ve had the honor of meeting four Medal of Honor winners, eight or nine Navy Cross winners, and I can tell you Rob Richards is one of the most impressive Marines I've ever met," he says. Richards' innovation as a scout sniper saved "many American lives and his fellow Marines," Womack adds.

Clement's attorney, John Dowd of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, issued the following statement:

"While Capt. Clement volunteered to and did provide communication support to protect Marine sniper team 4 on the July 27 mission deep into enemy territory with supporting arms, the undisputed evidence shows that Capt. Clement had no part in the desecration of the enemy bodies by the snipers, and was unaware of it until January 2012.

Update (2/8/13): Attorneys representing Richards and Clement responded to requests for comment.