A picture published by Der Spiegel shows Spc. Jeremy Morlock, left, posing next to a dead Afghan. A second photograph shows Pfc. Andrew Holmes with the same corpse. Agence France-Presse – Getty Images
NY Times | Mar 21, 2011
By ALISSA J. RUBIN
KABUL, Afghanistan — The release of explicit photographs of American soldiers apparently engaged in atrocities against Afghan civilians threatens to ignite tensions between the Afghan and American governments and provide fodder for the Taliban’s efforts to persuade Afghans that the foreign troops fighting here are a malevolent force.
NATO officials and Western diplomats here have been steeling themselves for the release, worried that it will further undermine relations with President Hamid Karzai at a sensitive time when there have been several recent episodes of civilian casualties.
Despite an overall decline in civilian casualties caused by NATO forces, the episodes have tarnished the coalition campaign and put Mr. Karzai in the awkward position of having to explain why the country’s allies are killing unarmed children and women.
US apologises for ‘repugnant’ actions of soldiers in Afghanistan
Three photographs, published in the German magazine Der Spiegel, show members of the self-designated “Kill Team” comprising United States Army soldiers who are accused of making a sport of killing innocent Afghans as they show off one of their victims in a kind of trophy photo; one of the photos shows two Afghan civilians who appear to be dead.
Der Spiegel, which published the photographs in its March 20 print edition, blurred the victims’ faces so that their expressions could not be seen. While that makes the photographs somewhat less inflammatory than they might otherwise be, it does not conceal the faces of the soldiers, who look disconcertingly satisfied as they kneel next to an Afghan civilian who appears to be dead.
Five of the soldiers accused of being involved in the killings, who were from the Fifth Stryker Brigade, Second Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, are now facing court-martial proceedings for the deaths of three unarmed Afghan civilians. Seven other members of the unit are accused of lesser crimes.
The men are accused of faking combat situations to justify killing randomly chosen Afghans with grenades and guns. The case came to light after one of the soldiers informed military investigators; he was then beaten severely by other members of the unit for betraying them, according to the charges against the soldiers, and had to be hospitalized.
The killings occurred last year in Maiwand District in Kandahar Province.
The pictures bring to mind those of the torture and humiliation of Iraqis at the hands of American troops at the Abu Ghraib prison, which came to light in spring 2004. There was little reaction on Monday because it was Nowruz, the Persian New Year, and many Afghan families go out for picnics. So even those few with Internet access were less likely to see the pictures.
The Afghan government had no comment about the photos on Monday, nor did the American Embassy, which referred all questions to the military.
The military and diplomats are hoping to mute public anger by emphasizing that the soldiers were being brought to justice. The Army described the actions as “repugnant.”
“The actions portrayed in these photographs remain under investigation and are now the subject of ongoing U.S. court-martial proceedings,” an Army statement said.
“The United States Army is committed to adherence to the law of war and the humane and respectful treatment of combatants, noncombatants and the dead,” it added. “When allegations of wrongdoing by soldiers surface to include the inappropriate treatment of the dead, they are fully investigated. Soldiers who commit offenses will be held accountable as appropriate.”
One of the pictures published by Der Spiegel shows a soldier, Specialist Jeremy N. Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska, posing, a grin on his face, next to a dead Afghan who is mostly undressed, his body streaked with blood, as the soldier is lifting the man’s head as if to show him off like a trophy. Specialist Morlock has been charged with murder.
A second, similar, photograph shows another soldier, Pfc. Andrew H. Holmes of Boise, Idaho, who has also been charged with murder, kneeling next to the same corpse.
A third photograph shows two Afghan civilians who appear to be dead and whose bodies have been arranged leaning against a post.
The photos had been described to reporters by defense lawyers for some of the soldiers, but their release had been prohibited by a military judge. It was not clear how Der Spiegel obtained the images.