I stand proudly behind service members. I am a former U.S. Marine and my husband is a Marine, just returned home from Afghanistan, which was his third deployment in support of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I am also a Southold High School alumna who from childhood has known Marine Staff Sgt. Edward Deptola, the local Marine currently awaiting disciplinary action for urinating on the remains of a dead Taliban soldier. He has had a successful Marine Corps career with numerous deployments and, until this episode, could have been considered a hometown hero. One mistake should not define a man, but he needs to take responsibility and be held accountable for his actions.
Marines are held to a higher standard than this, by the Marine Corps, their country and society. Not only is it against the rules of warfare to desecrate human remains, it’s against all morality as well.
I understand being angry at the enemy. It’s expected, frankly, and it’s hard not to be. What I do not, and cannot, understand is urinating on someone’s body, whether they are a “terrorist” or not. Remember, colonial Americans could have been classified as “terrorists” during the American Revolution.
I know the Marine Corps is not supporting the actions of these Marines, and especially this staff sergeant, which is a senior rank for Marines and represents someone who is supposed to be guiding and training upstanding Marines and citizens. The Marine Corps goes by a code of conduct preaching “honor, courage and commitment.” I see none of those in an act like this.
Service members are held to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the laws that govern all branches and ranks of the U.S. armed forces. Article 133 of the UCMJ states that any service member “convicted of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.” Marines, regardless of their rank, officer or enlisted, are held to these standards, and urinating on a dead body is not the action of an officer or a gentleman.
Article 16, second paragraph, of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV provides: “As far as military considerations allow, each party to the conflict shall facilitate the steps taken … to protect [the killed] against … ill-treatment.” Breaking those rules can be classified as either war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Although the enemy may not follow the Geneva Convention, the United States accepts it, and its service members are required to abide by it. While it may be infuriating to see the desecration of American citizens on live television, American troops are expected to rise above emotional reactions and follow the laws and regulations set forth by the UCMJ and the Geneva Convention.
Those Marines, especially a staff sergeant, knew what they were doing was wrong, and they knew what laws, codes of conduct and regulations they were breaking.
I cannot throw my support behind or condone their actions and I can’t even pretend to feel sorry for whatever punishment they receive. This is an embarrassment for the Marine Corps, for our country and for Southold.
For those rallying behind Staff Sgt. Deptola, I respect your decision to stand behind our troops. They are selflessly serving our country and protecting us from the threats of terrorism. I implore you to spend your money, time and effort instead supporting service members and organizations that deserve your support.
A few ideas include sponsoring organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project (woundedwarriorproject.org) or the USO (uso.org), or sending care packages to deployed troops. If you don’t know anyone, you can send items from thecarepackageproject.com.
There are dozens of valuable organizations and thousands of worthy troops who deserve your support.
The author is a 2004 graduate of Southold High School currently living in Jacksonville, N.C.