Allegations that members of the U.S. Marine Corps. burned two suspected Iraqi insurgent corpses have prompted a formal investigation after 41 photos surfaced, depicting the act. The grisly images were shot in Fallujah in 2004. Controversy regarding service member misconduct in the Middle East has brought much criticism to the military.
Some of the photos, obtained by TMZ, (WARNING: These photos are graphic.) depict brutal and macabre scenarios where two Marines were shown pouring gasoline on the corpses and setting them on fire. There are photos of corpses in full blaze followed by shots of charred remains. More viscerally, there’s a photo of a Marine posing for a shot with a corpse and others of the bodies covered in flies with one being eaten by a dog.
“We are currently are investigating to determine the veracity of the photos, what the circumstances depicted in them are, and if possible, the identities of the service members involved,” said Marine spokesman Capt. Ty Blazer. “The results of that will determine whether we are able to move forward with any investigation into possible wrongdoing.”
The violence in the photos is so gratuitous and morbid that TMZ only released eight of the 41 photos it obtained. Once obtained, the photos were given to the Pentagon, and the Department of Defense has since launched an investigation.
After an initial study of the photos, a Pentagon spokesman said that there is no apparent indication of a war crime, but the photos do indicate some wrongdoing. According to the DOD Director of Press Relations, Col. Steve Warren, said that its a crime to mishandle remains under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
This offense has no statute of limitations, meaning if the soldiers are implicated of any wrongdoing, they can still be tried and convicted even though the event took place 10 years ago and the soldiers are no longer active military. If tried in a military court, the Marines’ fate is murky as the military often under-punishes its service members.
U.S. service members have committed heinous acts of corpse desecration in the past. In January 2013, Staff Sgt. Edward W. Deptola admitted to corpse desecration as he and other servicemen urinated on the dead bodies of three insurgent fighters. Deptola’s faced imprisonment and a bad conduct discharge. His punishment was small, however. He was dropped one rank and the military docked his pay.
One of the most severe cases of military injustice is the case of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson. Wilkerson was tried and convicted of sexual assaulting a female service member. His court martial resulted in a dishonorable discharge, but his commanding officer threw out the case, Wilkerson was absolved of any wrongdoing, and he was reinstated to active status.
Warren said the actions portrayed in the photos do not wholly reflect the military. But the several cases of gross service member misconduct have created a deep resonance with the American people.