Just as US Tomahawk missiles rain down on another Muslim nation, we’re about to give the entire Muslim world another reason to distrust and even hate Americans. A cache of photographs published by Der Spiegel show an Army Stryker “kill team” in Afghanistan posing with dead bodies they recently killed. Many of the members of this team are already under trial for, among other things, the murder of the Afghans in the photos.
Some of the activities of the self-styled “kill team” are already public, with 12 men currently on trial in Seattle for their role in the killing of three civilians.
Five of the soldiers are on trial for pre-meditated murder, after they staged killings to make it look like they were defending themselves from Taliban attacks.
Other charges include the mutilation of corpses, the possession of images of human casualties and drug abuse [...]
An investigation by Der Spiegel has unearthed approximately 4,000 photos and videos taken by the men.
The magazine, which is planning to publish only three images, said that in addition to the crimes the men were on trial for there are “also entire collections of pictures of other victims that some of the defendants were keeping”.
These are not the pictures that President Obama tried to block in 2009, because the incidents from this Army Stryker unit Der Spiegel describes in their story are from 2010. So the change in commanders-in-chief has not occasioned a halt to atrocities and war crimes in Afghanistan. While Der Spiegel may publish only three photographs for now, I wouldn’t be surprised if more became available. But there’s plenty of detail in the article, according to the Guardian account, to cause outrage in Afghanistan and throughout the world as well, in addition to the photos. In one incident, a staff sergeant threw a grenade at an Afghan civilian, killing him, then cut off a finger and took a tooth as trophies.
I cannot find the article as of press time at the Der Spiegel website. But the pictures are available here, here and here. The AP names the soldiers in the photos holding the corpse by the hair, as well as the corpse:
One shows a key defendant, Specialist Jeremy N. Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska, grinning as he lifts a corpse’s head by the hair. Der Spiegel identified the body as that of Gul Mudin, whom Specialist Morlock claims to have killed with Pfc. Andrew H. Holmes in Kandahar Province. Another shows Private Holmes, of Boise, Idaho, lifting the same corpse by the hair.
“Today Der Spiegel published photographs depicting actions repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army,” the Army said in a statement released by Col. Thomas Collins. “We apologize for the distress these photos cause.”
As I said, the men in this Stryker unit have been charged with murder and conspiracy, and not after the publication of these photos, but well before. In fact, the photos were part of evidence being used in those court-martial cases, and were kept by the judge under a protective order until the Der Spiegel publication. That makes this a slightly different situation than Abu Ghraib.
But that difference is fairly subtle given the depictions involved. This brutality adds to the long list of actions that can be used to inflame passions in the Muslim world. It makes any talk by the United States of a humanitarian mission to protect civilians ring extremely hollow. And it is a natural consequence of a long and confusing war, with untold pressures put on soldiers that often manifest in despicable ways.
These activities can no longer be seen as coincidental or the result of a “few bad apples” in the military. They have happened so often, with such regularity, as to be a by-product of a war machine that continues to invade and occupy foreign countries.
UPDATE: It’s strange. I’ve now found a story ABOUT the article in Der Spiegel on the Der Spiegel website, but not the article itself.