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Staff Sgt. Edward Deptola will be reduced in rank for his role with a video in which Marines are seen urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. Deptola pleaded guilty at his court-martial Jan. 16. (via YouTube)
Staff Sgt. Edward W. Deptola, right, walks Jan. 16 with his defense attorney, Maj. Tracey Holtshirley, to a preliminary hearing at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Deptola pleaded guilty in a court-martial Jan. 16 to urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters and posing for photos with their corpses in one of a string of embarrassing episodes for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. (John Althouse / The Jacksonville Daily News via AP)
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CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Two additional Marines could face court-martial in connection with the now-infamous video showing U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan urinating on dead insurgents, according to trial testimony here Wednesday. Witnesses said the clip that surfaced online last year was but one of 12 investigators discovered that portray Marines behaving inappropriately.
The revelation came during court-martial proceedings for Staff Sgt. Edward Deptola, an infantry platoon sergeant with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines. As part of a pre-trial agreement made with the prosecution, he will be reduced one rank — to sergeant — for his role in the incident, which cast an embarrassing light on the Marine Corps and prompted its top general to conduct a service-wide briefing on ethics.
Deptola pleaded guilty to failing to supervise and lead Marines, wrongfully desecrating corpses, posing with casualties in photos and to firing an enemy's machine gun. He acknowledged in court that his actions were harmful to the Corps' notion of good order and disciple.
"My junior Marines seeing me do this act … will then do the same thing and spread that around the Marine Corps," Deptola told the judge. He also acknowledged the video's impact on public perception of the Marine Corps.
"The public has a high opinion of the Marine Corps — that [we] don't act like cowboys," he added. "And that's exactly what this was."
At Deptola's sentencing, the judge recommended he be busted down to the lowest enlisted rank, private, and spend six months in jail before being thrown out of the Corps with a bad-conduct discharge. However, under military law, defendants receive the lesser punishment when plea deals are made.
The judge, Lt. Col. Nicole Hudspeth, told Deptola that he walked into the courtroom with such exceptional legal protection that none of her punishments could be carried, except for reduction in rank.
Maj. Tracey Holtshirley, Deptola's defense council, acknowledged the immaturity on display in the video, but said Deptola's nearly 10-year military career shouldn't hinge on one bad decision.
As part of Deptola's pretrial agreement, he agreed to be a "cooperating witness" against two other Marines if their cases go to court-martial. It's not immediately clear who the other Marines are, or whether they're assigned to Deptola's scout sniper unit.
Hudspeth, the judge, was presented with a 20-minute DVD containing all 12 videos filmed the day of the urination video.
This case emerged Jan. 10, 2012, when the 39-second video surfaced online. It was filmed during a counterinsurgency operation near Sandala in Afghanistan's Helmand province on July 27, 2011.
The day the video was made, the scout sniper platoon saw significant action, Deptola testified. The three corpses seen in the video were among 11 confirmed kills. The Marines suspected the men they urinated on were responsible for planting an improvised explosive that killed one their friends, he said.
The initial investigation was led by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and there was an internal command investigation of the battalion as well. The Marine Corps launched a follow-up investigation last June based on "information that came to light" during the initial investigation of the battalion.
Deptola is the fifth Marine to face punishment in the incident.
Last month, Staff Sgt. Joseph Chamblin, a scout sniper and infantry unit leader, accepted a plea deal that resulted with him being demoted to sergeant. He also was ordered to pay a $500 fine.
In August, three other Marines received nonjudicial punishment for their role in the incident. NJP is considered an administrative matter, so names and details have not been made public.