Conduct Unbecoming

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

Recently Congressman and retired Lt. Col. Allen West decried the public outrage over the reaction to the videos of the Marines allegedly urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban.

Congressman West said "I have sat back and assessed the incident with the video of our Marines urinating on Taliban corpses. I do not recall any self-righteous indignation when our Delta snipers Shugart and Gordon had their bodies dragged through Mogadishu. Neither do I recall media outrage and condemnation of our Blackwater security contractors being killed, their bodies burned, and hung from a bridge in Fallujah. All these over emotional pundits and armchair quarterbacks need to chill. Does anyone remember the two soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division who were beheaded and gutted in Iraq?"
While Congressman West then goes on to say the Marines were wrong, West’s comments stop just short of justifying the Marines purported actions because of what the Taliban have done to our countrymen.

In a CNN interview, former presidential candidate Rick Perry indicated that the Obama Administration overreacted to the incident. He indicated that the Marines were young and young people do stupid things at times. He further indicated that the alleged actions were not criminal.

As a retired Marine Reserve Colonel who has served in harm’s way, who has commanded a unit responsible for civil affairs and psychological operations, and as someone who has served both in Iraq and Afghanistan, I must disagree with my two fellow conservatives.

My disagreement with Congressman West and Governor Perry surrounds the responses of these leaders to conduct that is clearly unacceptable under the Geneva Convention which the United States has approved. The urination incident has the potential to significantly compromise our mission in Afghanistan. It is psychological warfare at its worst!

I would encourage us to dissect the Marine’s actions and what our national response should be.

Ask if the urination of the corpse is acceptable in our culture. Is that the kind of nation that we are?

If the Marines actually committed the offense that appears on the video, then I as a former commander of Marines in the field, agree with Gov. Perry and Congressman West. I do not think that it would be appropriate to destroy the lives of these four Marines with judicial proceedings over this incident based upon what I currently know.

To even remotely suggest that these four Marines should be imprisoned if the investigation and video confirm what was shown publicly would be an overreaction.

Once past the punishment for the offense, the next issue is whether it is reasonable for someone to urinate on the corpse of a fallen soldier or terrorist or human being because of what their side or other enemies have done to us. It is the age old question of whether or not the end justifies the means. Quite simply, desecration of a corpse is a violation of the Geneva Convention to which the United States concurs but, more importantly, we are a better people than that regardless of any Convention.

To be clear, I too am offended by the actions of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. When I was in Iraq I had the misfortune to see the video of the Taliban and Al Qaeda executing an American civilian. I was outraged and morally offended by the conduct of my enemy. Those evil people that committed those atrocities are my enemy but that still would not justify me seeking revenge.

My concern is that two accomplished and respected leaders in our nation have missed an opportunity to lead and set the example of the type of people we are.
It is one thing to suggest a tempered punishment for those who desecrate a body. It is entirely another thing to backhandedly justify the desecration because of the enemy’s conduct. The mere fact that Congressman West mentions the infuriating and morally reprehensible conduct by our enemies to our soldiers is grounds for my concern over his reaction to the Marines’ video. Neither action can be justified nor should be condoned.

In combat and in harm’s way, the soldier and Marine need to know with absolute certainty the commander’s intent and the intent of our government.

A commander’s intent is not negotiable. It is the moral compass we live by. The commander’s intent is what sets us apart from those we seek to defeat.
It is difficult enough for these young Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen to be in harm’s way while at the same time their leaders are providing conflicting guidance as to what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in combat.

Whether we complain about Wall Street, the White House, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or anyone else who does not see it our way, do not use their actions as an opportunity to deviate from our moral compass.

We are a better people than our enemy, that is why we are fighting them, and that is why we will win.

Frank Ryan, CPA specializes in corporate restructuring and lectures on ethics for the state CPA societies. Frank is a retired Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve and served in Iraq and briefly in Afghanistan. He is on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at [email protected]