US soldiers posing with Afghan corpses, photos


From Associated Press:

Photos show US soldiers posing with Afghan corpses

By GENE JOHNSON

SEATTLE — Those who have seen the photos say they are grisly: soldiers beside newly killed bodies, decaying corpses and severed fingers.

The dozens of photos, described in interviews and in e-mails and military documents obtained by The Associated Press, were seized by Army investigators and are a crucial part of the case against five soldiers accused of killing three Afghan civilians earlier this year.

Troops allegedly shared the photos by e-mail and thumb drive like electronic trading cards. Now 60 to 70 of them are being kept tightly shielded from the public and even defense attorneys because of fears they could wind up in the news media and provoke anti-American violence.

“We’re in a powder-keg situation here,” said Eugene R. Fidell, president of the National Institute for Military Justice and a military law professor at Yale University.

Since the images are not classified, “I think they have to be released if they’re going to be evidence in open court in a criminal prosecution,” he said.

Maj. Kathleen Turner, a spokeswoman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Seattle, where the accused soldiers are stationed, acknowledged that the images were “highly sensitive, and that’s why that protective order was put in place.”

She declined to comment further.

At least some of the photos pertain to those killings. Others may have been of insurgents killed in battle, and some may have been taken as part of a military effort to document those killed, according to lawyers involved in the case.

Among the most gruesome allegations is that some of the soldiers kept fingers from the bodies of Afghans they killed as war trophies. The troops also are accused of passing around photos of the dead and of the fingers.

Four members of the unit — two of whom are also charged in the killings — have been accused of wrongfully possessing images of human casualties, and another is charged with trying to impede an investigation by having someone erase incriminating evidence from a computer hard drive.

“Everyone would share the photographs,” one of the defendants, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, told investigators. “They were of every guy we ever killed in Afghanistan.”

After the first slaying, one service member sent urgent e-mails to his father warning that more bloodshed was on the way. The father told the AP he pleaded for help from the military, but authorities took no action. A spokesman said Friday that the Army was investigating.

The graphic nature of the images recalled famous photos that emerged in 2004 from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Those pictures — showing smiling soldiers posing with naked, tortured or dead detainees, sometimes giving a thumbs-up — stirred outrage against the United States at a critical juncture. The photos were a major embarrassment to the American military in an increasingly unpopular and bloody war.

In a chilling videotaped interview with investigators, Morlock talked about hurling a grenade at a civilian as a sergeant discussed the need to “wax this guy.”

Morlock’s attorney, Michael Waddington, said the photos were not just shared among the defendants or even their platoon. He cited witnesses who told him that many at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Kandahar Province kept such images, including one photograph of someone holding up a decapitated head blown off in an explosion.

That photo had nothing to do with Morlock, he said. It’s not clear whether it’s among the photos seized in the case.

On Sept. 9, Army prosecutors gave a military representative of the defendants, Maj. Benjamin K. Grimes, packets containing more than 1,000 pages of documents in the case. Included were three photographs, each of a different soldier lifting the head of a dead Afghan, according to an e-mail Grimes sent to defense lawyers.

Later that day, before the documents could be shared with the defense lawyers, the prosecutors returned to Grimes’ office and demanded to have the packets back, Grimes wrote, according to a copy of the e-mail first reported by The New York Times.

The prosecutors cited national security interests and a concern that the photos could be released to the media.

Grimes said his staff initially refused to return the photos, but the next day, the Army commander at Lewis-McChord who convened the criminal proceedings, Col. Barry Huggins, ordered them to do so. They complied.

At a preliminary hearing in Morlock’s case Monday, Army officials confirmed that the number of restricted photos is 60 to 70. The investigating officer said he would view the photos in private.

Defense attorneys will also be allowed to see them if they visit the criminal investigations office on base, but they cannot have copies — an arrangement that did not satisfy Grimes. The defendants have been detained and cannot travel to see the photos to assist in their own defense, he noted, and most of the defense lawyers are based out of state.

Michael T. Corgan, a Vietnam veteran who teaches international relations at Boston University, said it should be no surprise that, even after Abu Ghraib, some soldiers take gruesome pictures as war souvenirs.

“They’re proof people are as tough as they say they are,” Corgan said. “War is the one lyric experience in their lives — by comparison every else is punching a time clock. They revel in it, and they collect memories of it.”

The deaths of at least seven civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq have been attributed to members of an Army platoon presently facing military pre-trial hearings for murder: here.

Hearings continued this week into atrocities committed on Afghan civilians by US Army soldiers in Kandahar: here.

How to spot a whitewash in Army’s death-squad inquiry: here.

Pakistan: Sixteen people reportedly killed by missiles fired by suspected US drones in North Waziristan: here.

Islamist militants attacked and set fire to at least 20 tankers carrying oil for NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Monday, the third such strike inside Pakistan in as many days, police said: here.

United Nations World Food Programme warned today that Pakistan’s devastating floods have interrupted delivery of food aid to Afghanistan that would have fed about a million people this winter: here.

7 thoughts on “US soldiers posing with Afghan corpses, photos

  1. Fort Hood brass plans action after rash of soldier suicides

    Friday, October 1, 2010 02:52 AM
    By Jeremy Schwartz

    AUSTIN (TEXAS) AMERICAN-STATESMAN

    FORT HOOD, Texas — Last Friday, a 24-year-old accounting specialist who had returned from Iraq in December was found dead from a gunshot wound in Temple, Texas.

    On Saturday, a 29-year-old mechanic who had deployed four times to Iraq and Afghanistan died of a gunshot wound in nearby Copperas Cove.

    That same day, a 39-year-old artilleryman who had deployed twice was found dead at his on-post home.

    Then, on Sunday, Sgt. Michael Timothy Franklin and his wife were found dead of gunshot wounds at their on-post home in an apparent murder-suicide.

    This week, Fort Hood commanders announced that they are conducting an exhaustive review to identify soldiers who are at risk of suicide as the huge Army post reels from a record number of them, including the four last weekend.

    Fort Hood officials also said they will review the post’s registration of privately owned weapons and will visit soldiers living off base in hopes of stemming the alarming rise in suicides.

    Since January, there have been 14 confirmed suicides and six suspected suicides of Fort Hood soldiers. That puts the base on pace to shatter its record for suicides since the Afghanistan war began in 2001. Fort Hood had 14 suicides in 2008 and 11 last year.

    “This is a very frustrating issue,” said Maj. Gen. William F. Grimsley, Fort Hood’s senior commander. “It’s all about leadership.”

    Grimsley said that he ordered post commanders Monday to send him their review of at-risk soldiers by today. Grimsley also ordered visits for all soldiers at the rank of sergeant and below who live off post, saying they could be at risk of falling through the cracks. About 70 percent of Fort Hood soldiers live off post.

    More than 38,000 soldiers are stationed at Fort Hood.

    Fort Hood officials say they have no explanation. Post-suicide reviews have failed to find definitive trends among the soldiers who killed themselves.

    Grimsley said there has been no correlation between the surge in suicides and the Nov. 5 shooting attack at Fort Hood that left 13 dead.

    Instead, suicide-prevention experts at the post say a host of stressors, including family situations, financial problems, substance abuse and multiple deployments, have played roles.

    Fort Hood is not alone. The Army’s suicide rate doubled between 2005 and 2009.

    Sgt. Cassandra St. Amand, 27, called the recent increase in suicides a blow to the soldiers at Fort Hood.

    “It kind of hurts a little bit,” she said Wednesday as she took part in a class to help her unit, which is deploying to Afghanistan, learn the warning signs of suicide.

    “We shouldn’t interfere in their lives, but it’s OK to ask (troubled soldiers) what’s wrong,” she said. “Everybody’s a battle buddy.”

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