CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan was in "poor taste" but it wasn't desecration, the lawyer for a U.S. Marine said Tuesday.
Sgt. Robert W. Richards and three other Marines were videotaped relieving themselves on the corpses during a July 2011 mission in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province. The video shows four Marines in full combat gear urinating on the bodies of three Afghans. One Marine looks down at the bodies and says, "Have a good day, buddy."
The video surfaced on YouTube in January 2012, around the same time that U.S. troops were involved in other incidents that infuriated many Afghans. Troops faced controversies over burning Muslim holy books and posing for photos with insurgents' bloodied remains, and one soldier was accused of the massacre of 16 Afghan villagers.
Richards is charged with multiple counts of dereliction of duty, violating orders and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. The charges outlined at Tuesday's hearing will determine if there's evidence to proceed to a court-martial.
Prosecutors allege that besides taking improper photos and video images, Richards failed to properly supervise fellow Marines who indiscriminately fired their weapons.
Their operation into a Taliban safe haven was designed to pursue bomb-making experts believed responsible for killing a corporal whose leg was later found hanging from a tree, said Sgt. Joseph W. Chamblin, one of the Marines caught urinating on camera and one of the mission's planners.
Another Marine in the video who pleaded guilty, Sgt. Edward W. Deptola, said he, Richards and others urinated on the enemy fighters out of anger.
"Killing them wasn't enough," Deptola said, "because of what they had done to us, done to us in the past 10 years and what all terrorists have done to us in the past 30 years."
Military prosecutors said urinating on the corpses and videotaping it amounted to desecrating their bodies, a claim Richard's civilian lawyer denied. Richards and the other Marines did nothing to mutilate the bodies and were merely relieving the tension of their dangerous mission, said defense lawyer Guy Womack.
"It was black humor," Womack said. "It was in poor taste. We're not saying it was OK, but it was not desecration."
The videos captured by hand-held and helmet-mounted cameras were intended to be used by military intelligence to find clues about local conditions, said Lt. Col. Christopher Dixon, Richards' battalion commander.
But what the videos showed surprised Dixon. He testified that he had expected to see a full-blown firefight between Taliban fighters and the unit of nearly 20 Marines. Instead, Dixon said the images capture Marines shooting with rifles, machine guns and even a rocket launcher, but there was no returning enemy fire.
The shooting seemed excessive under rules of engagement that required Marines to kill only those Afghans who showed hostile intentions, Dixon said.
Chamblin said he was never shot at during the six-hour engagement.
Womack said Richards was nearly killed in March 2010 by an IED in Afghanistan that nearly blew off his foot and sent shrapnel into his throat.
While recovering in Florida with his wife, Richards shot up a hotel room after imagining Taliban were approaching. A month-long psychiatric hospital stay followed the hotel episode. Richards spent most of his time between deployments in U.S. hospitals. Then he transferred to Dixon's command because a fellow sniper persuaded him he was badly needed, Womack said.
"Sgt. Richards is the kind of Marine we all wish we could be, but secretly doubt we could be," Womack said.
Deptola and Chamblin have pleaded guilty and had their rank reduced to sergeant. The fourth Marine in the case, Capt. James V. Clement, faces charges that include conduct unbecoming an officer for failing to properly supervise junior Marines and making false statements to investigators. Three other Marines pleaded guilty without trials and were punished by reduced rank, lost pay and reprimand letters.
-- Associated Press writer Emery Dalesio contributed.