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The One Thing Ducky Regrets The Most In His NCIS Career

NCIS is one of the longest-running TV dramas in history, with the season premiere on Nov. 17, 2020, marking the beginning of the 18th season. Along with its two spinoffs, NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: New Orleans, the NCIS universe has cranked out 655 hours of television and counting. Impressive stuff.

While most episodes rely on a "case of the week," NCIS has also devoted considerable screen time to fleshing out the characters on the team. As members of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, many of the team members have military backgrounds, and some of them saw active duty. Unfortunately, some of them were forced to do things they're not proud of. 

Even the seemingly mild-mannered and eccentric medical examiner, Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) has a few skeletons in his closet (and not just when he takes his work home with him). Fans most likely recognize him as the bow tie-wearing M.E. who has actual conversations with the corpses he autopsies. But an incident from his past serving in the British military in Afghanistan had a big role in shaping his personality.

That time Ducky was charged with a war crime

In the 16th episode of season six, "Broken Bird," it's revealed that Ducky, who hails from Scotland, served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, which took him to Afghanistan in 1980. While working in a refugee camp, Ducky met a Polish interrogator working for the CIA named Marcin Jerek, who was nicknamed "Mr. Pain." Ducky discovered that Jerek had been torturing prisoners. When Jerek would send them to Ducky for care, he would euthanize them with a morphine injection. Finally, Jerek tortured a man he knew to be innocent, Javid, specifically to break Ducky's compassion for the refugees. Ducky euthanized Javid and regretted it ever since.

Years later, when the episode took place, Javid's sister attacked Ducky and accused him of violating the Geneva Convention. The Afghan government learned of the incident and planned to investigate Ducky. Then Ducky tracked down Jerek and confronted him, and Jerek finally confessed to his crimes. But Ducky's role in the tragedy still haunted him for years.