Albums like the recently released hip-hop project Voices From the Frontline showcase enlisted MCs such as Pyro, Miss Flame and Prophet voicing the frustration and loneliness of life on the war front. But 23-year-old U.S. Marine Corporal Joshua Belile took his recording far beyond simple military musing.
The Marine Corps is investigating whether Belile broke the Uniform Code of Military Justice or the laws of armed conflict by filming a video for his obscenity-laced song "Hadji Girl," in which he sings lighthearted lyrics about killing an Iraqi family.
Because of easy access to computers, miniature video cameras and plug-and-play music-editing software, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have already created one of the biggest archives of songs, movies and digital photos that chronicle the everyday lives of soldiers of any conflict in modern history.
But Muslim-rights groups have complained that the widely circulated four-minute video of Belile performing his song on an acoustic guitar in front of a group of cheering U.S. troops steps over the line of commentary.
The "Hadji Girl" video finds the Marine singing lines such as, "I grabbed her little sister and put her in front of me/ As the bullets began to fly, the blood sprayed from between her eyes/ And then I laughed maniacally ... I blew those little f---ers to eternity ... They should have known they were f---ing with the Marines."
The word "hajji" (which has several spellings) describes a person who has made the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, but U.S. troops in Iraq have also reportedly adopted the term as an insult. In addition to its offensive content, the timing of the video is unfortunate for the Marine Corps, which is in the midst of an investigation into the role of Marines in the deaths of 24 civilians in the Iraqi city of Haditha in November (see "Pentagon Finds Haditha Cover-Up; 'Values' Training Ordered For Troops").
The Marine Corps is also investigating whether Belile — who returned from Iraq in March — broke military law by writing the offensive song and singing it in front of an audience of soldiers. In a statement, the Marine Corps says the video is "clearly inappropriate and contrary to the high standards expected of all Marines. The video is not reflective of the tremendous sacrifices and dedication demonstrated, on a daily basis, by tens of thousands of Marines who have assisted the Iraqi people in gaining their freedom."
Marine spokesperson Major Shawn Haney said the Marine Corps is conducting a preliminary investigation into the incident that is expected to last several days. After that fact-finding probe, the military will decide if a formal investigation is warranted, which could result in disciplinary action.
"Any inappropriate behavior is always looked into," Major Haney said, cautioning that there has not yet been any determination as to whether the video breaks any military rules. "We are Marines 24 hours a day, so our conduct reflects the Marine Corps at all times."
Haney said the video is believed to have been recorded during Belile's deployment in Iraq from August 2005 until March 2006.
Belile, who is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina, is a member of a band called the Sweater Kittenz. He told the Jacksonville, North Carolina, Daily News that the song was "supposed to be funny," with lyrics based on lines from the 2004 satirical war movie "Team America: World Police" by "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
"It's a song that I made up and it was nothing more than something supposed to be funny, based off a catchy line of a movie," Belile said. "I apologize for any feelings that may have been hurt in the Muslim community. This song was written in good humor and not aimed at any party, foreign or domestic."
The military investigation was spurred by a call from Washington, D.C.'s Council on American-Islamic Relations, which asked the Pentagon and Congress to look into the video. The clip first appeared in March on YouTube and was viewed by 50,000 people before being taken down following CAIR's complaint.
"The military has reacted appropriately and the person involved has apologized," said CAIR Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper. "We welcome the apology and are leaving it to the Pentagon to see if disciplinary action is warranted, but our concern is that it creates a negative impression of our nation's military. We're also concerned that it may be symptomatic of a callousness that is developing against Iraqi civilians, which is also not good for the military or for their image in the Muslim world."
Hooper said the "Hadji Girl" video is not the first example of members of the military posting inappropriate material on the Internet. "There have been several incidents in the past, including one in which a soldier sent a picture on the Internet that claimed to mock some Iraqi children," he said.