War Criminals

[Trigger warning for murder; violent imagery.]

Earlier today, Der Spiegel published images [trigger warning for graphic violence] of US military personnel posing with Afghan civilians they killed, basically treating the bodies as though they were hunting trophies. These are the same soldiers about whom I wrote last year in "When You Have a War, There Will Be War Crimes." There was, at that time, virtually no national discussion or outrage about fact that twelve soldiers were facing serious charges, five of them murder charges, "in what military authorities believe was a conspiracy to murder Afghan civilians and cover it up, along with charges they used hashish, mutilated corpses and kept grisly souvenirs."

Now, according to the Guardian, "Commanders in Afghanistan are bracing themselves for possible riots and public fury triggered by the publication of 'trophy' photographs of US soldiers posing with the dead bodies of defenceless Afghan civilians they killed."
Senior officials at Nato's International Security Assistance Force in Kabul have compared the pictures published by the German news weekly Der Spiegel to the images of US soldiers abusing prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq which sparked waves of anti-US protests around the world.

They fear that the pictures could be even more damaging as they show the aftermath of the deliberate murders of Afghan civilians by a rogue US Stryker tank unit that operated in the southern province of Kandahar last year.

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.
As David Dayen points out, this incident differs from Abu Ghraib in that "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. ... 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."

Bush started this war, but Obama doubled down on it. He owns this war now as much as Bush does, and we need more than some trite murmured deflection about bad apples. This ain't about bad apples. This is about an unwinnable war being fought with outdated strategies by soldiers given impossible directives during extended tours in dreadful conditions with insufficient resources and no end in sight, many of whom are only in the military because of relaxed standards on former disqualifiers like white supremacy.

We can keep shrugging at that institutional mayhem and pretending like this shit doesn't happen in a void, or we can get our shit together and start holding ourselves accountable as a nation, on which the president needs to lead the way.

But probably won't.


UPDATE: "We apologize for the distress these photos cause."—Colonel Thomas Collins in a statement on behalf of the United States Army. Missing the Fucking Point Award.

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