Rep. Duncan Hunter likely won't face charges after claiming he took photos with enemy corpses downrange

Analysis

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared onMilitary.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Rep. Duncan Hunter's claim that he posed for a photo with a dead enemy combatant while serving as a Marine Corps officer will probably not expose him to any charges under military or federal criminal law, three military law specialists said Tuesday.

Hunter, a California Republican, left the Marine Corps Reserve in 2017 as a major.

"What he's done is all kinds of stupid, but a criminal act? I think not," said Gary Solis, a former Marine Judge Advocate General and now an adjunct professor of military law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

"For criminal wrongdoing, you've got to have more" than just posing for a photo with a corpse, such as degrading the body, Solis said. "In this case, [Hunter's] assertion of having done so is not necessarily a crime."


"I don't think he's subject to the [Uniform Code of Military Justice]," agreed Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale University and served on then-Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's defense team.

Fidell said it is his opinion that "the conduct [Hunter] has admitted to does not come under" the War Crimes Act, a federal criminal statute, although the behavior described "severely compromised his standing as a commissioned officer."

Geoffrey Corn, a professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, took a similar view on Hunter's statement, made last Saturday at a town hall meeting, that he took the photo with a dead enemy combatant while serving as a field artillery officer.

Hunter made the statement to show support for Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, who is facing a general court-martial on numerous charges, including that he allegedly stabbed to death a wounded and captured enemy combatant in Iraq in 2017. One of the counts against Gallagher alleges that he took a photo of himself with the corpse.

At the town hall, Hunter referenced the Gallagher photo, saying, "A lot of us have done the exact same thing," according to reports by the Times of San Diego and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

"Eddie [Gallagher] did one bad thing that I'm guilty of too -- taking a picture of the body and saying something stupid," he said.

Hunter, who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, said he had taken a photo "just like that when I was overseas," referring to the alleged Gallagher photo. He did not specify whether his photo was taken in Iraq or Afghanistan, but added that he did not text or post the image.

In commenting on Hunter's statement, Corn said in an email that the War Crimes Act "provides for federal criminal jurisdiction over certain war crimes but, in my opinion, while this [Hunter's photo] may have breached the customary obligation to treat the dead respectfully, I don't think it could be charged as a war crime under this statute for a number of somewhat complicated legal impediments."

A Marine Corps spokesman, Maj. Brian Block, said the service is aware of Hunter's remarks but offered no information on whether there would be a preliminary inquiry.

Hunter's California office did not immediately respond to phone calls or emails asking for comment. The lawmaker is already under federal criminal indictment on a range of fraud charges for allegedly diverting campaign funding for personal use, such as vacations in Italy. He faces a court hearing in July and possible trial in the fall.

The reactions to Hunter's remarks — if they can be judged by postings to his Twitter account — were mostly negative.

"Randomly admitting to war crimes while under indictment for stealing campaign funds. That's a great look my guy," said one. Another said, "Thank you for your service."

According to the Defense Department's Law of War Manual, "The respectful treatment of the dead is one of the oldest rules in the law of war. Enemy military dead must be protected from disrespectful or degrading acts."

It adds, "Posing with bodies for photographs or leaving a 'calling card' on a body are also inconsistent with the respectful treatment of the dead."

This article originally appeared on Military.com

More articles from Military.com:

SEE ALSO: Reenlisting Next To An Enemy Corpse Isn't A War Crime, Navy Judge Rules

WATCH NEXT: Inside SWCC

(Courtesy of Jackie Melendrez)

Editor's Note: The following story highlights a veteran at Iron Mountain. Committed to including talented members of the military community in its workplace, Iron Mountain is a client of Hirepurpose, a Task & Purpose sister company. Learn more here.

Jackie Melendrez couldn't be prouder of her husband, her sons, and the fact that she works for the trucking company Iron Mountain. This regional router has been a Mountaineer since 2017, and says the support she receives as a military spouse and mother is unparalleled.

Read More Show Less
Photo: U.S. Army

Master Sgt. Larry Hawks, a retired engineer sergeant who served with 3rd Special Forces Group, is being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on Friday for "valorous actions" in Afghanistan in 2005.

Read More Show Less

The Iranians just blasted one of the US military's most sophisticated and expensive drones out of the sky as tensions in the Strait of Hormuz reach the boiling point.

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Lawrence Hurley)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A 40-foot-tall (12 meters) cross-shaped war memorial standing on public land in Maryland does not constitute government endorsement of religion, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in a decision that leaves unanswered questions about the boundaries of the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state.

The justices were divided on many of the legal issues but the vote was 7-2 to overturn a lower court ruling that had declared the so-called Peace Cross in Bladensburg unconstitutional in a legal challenge mounted by the American Humanist Association, a group that advocates for secular governance. The concrete cross was erected in 1925 as a memorial to troops killed in World War One.

The ruling made it clear that a long-standing monument in the shape of a Christian cross on public land was permissible but the justices were divided over whether other types of religious displays and symbols on government property would be allowed. Those issues are likely to come before the court in future cases.

Read More Show Less
(Associated Press/Facebook)

A relative of the man who opened fire outside downtown Dallas' federal building this week warned the FBI in 2016 that he shouldn't be allowed to buy a gun because he was depressed and suicidal, his mother said Thursday.

Brian Clyde's half-brother called the FBI about his concerns, their mother Nubia Brede Solis said. Clyde was in the Army at the time.

On Monday, Clyde opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle at the Earle Cabell Federal Building. He was fatally shot by federal law enforcement. No one else was seriously injured. His family believes Clyde wanted to be killed.

Read More Show Less