A hawkish U.S. lawmaker is urging Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to resist tailoring a punishment for Marines who allegedly urinated on Taliban corpses just to please Washington's allies in the region.
Senior Pentagon officials have ordered an investigation into what was happening in a minute-long video that surfaced on the Internet last week and quickly went viral and appears to show several Marines urinating on dead Taliban soldiers. The video has drawn disgust from senior officials in Washington and Kabul.
But California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, a leading proponent for military personnel on Capitol Hill, is concerned political and diplomatic factors might seep into the probe and an eventual punishment.
"There is no question that diplomatic and military cooperation is essential to mission success," states the letter, obtained by U.S. News & World Report. "However, in terms of potential punishment, the Marines depicted in the video should not be used for the purpose of making a statement to our partners in the region, especially when the U.S. military has sacrificed son much over  years of combat in Afghanistan."
The lawmaker urged Panetta and other military leaders to "only consider and recommend disciplinary action that is appropriate and fair under the circumstances."
Hunter, himself a Marine combat veteran, acknowledges in the letter that "the actions of the Marines were wrong," adding they should be "disciplined accordingly." But he dubbed them "sons of America," noting "most people will never know what our Marines endure unless they see it or experience it for themselves."
The House Armed Services Committee member said he is concerned about the "potential legal focus of the investigation and [Panetta's] promise that the Marines … will be 'held accountable to the fullest extent,' which could include prison time under military law." The defense secretary made that comment in a statement issued last Thursday.
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai issued his own statement the same day, saying he is "deeply disturbed by a video that shows American soldiers desecrating dead bodies of three Afghans."
"This act by American [Marines] is simply inhuman and condemnable in the strongest possible terms," Karzai said. "We expressly ask the U.S. government to urgently investigate the video and apply the most severe punishment to anyone found guilty in this crime."
In his letter, Hunter sought to portray the Taliban fighters—not the American Marines—as the true bad guys.
"In Afghanistan, our Marines see recurring acts of brutality by the enemy, directed toward them and the Afghan people, and they see their friends wounded and killed," Hunter told Panetta. "We do not know the full extent of the situation of the shared experiences of these Marines."
The lawmaker also noted the Taliban fighters already had been killed by the Marines.
"As unnecessary as these actions were, the most extreme and final outcome for the Taliban fighters had already occurred—they were killed by U.S. Marines," Hunter writes.