In what will surely ignite further outrage at the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, German media outlet Der Speigel has published grisly photographs of U.S. Army soldiers posing with dead Afghan civilians in a March 20th print magazine article (the photos have since been published online by Gawker: "We got the photos by purchasing Der Spiegel's iPad edition," the site wrote).
The U.S. soldiers in question, from the 5th Stryker Brigade, are currently facing court martial proceedings. CNN reports that officials have charged 12 soldiers with "conspiracy to murder Afghan civilians and cover it up, along with charges they mutilated corpses and kept grisly souvenirs. Five of the soldiers face murder charges, while seven others are charged with participating in a coverup."
The New York Times described the pictures as showing off their victims "in a kind of trophy photo." Der Spiegel blurred the victims faces, but did not "conceal the faces of the soldiers, who look disconcertingly satisfied as they kneel next to an apparently dead Afghan civilian," finds the Times.
The Army has issued an apology for the photos, saying "Der Spiegel published photographs depicting actions repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army. We apologize for the distress these photos cause," the Army statement read (via Fox News). "These court-martial proceedings speak for themselves. The photos appear in stark contrast to the discipline, professionalism and respect that have characterized our soldiers' performance during nearly 10 years of sustained operations."
It isn't clear if the release of the photos, which echoes 2004's Abu-Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, will "reverberate" quite the same way as that Abu-Ghraib did, the Times notes: "The military and diplomats are hoping to mute public anger by emphasizing that the soldiers in the Afghan case are being brought to justice." Bloggers aren't so sure.
The conservative website Hot Air ran with the headline "Obama’s Abu Ghraib." Gawker, which published the images online, noted that prosecutors feared an "an Abu Ghraib-level reaction in the Arab world." At the progressive-leaning blog FireDogLake, David Dayen weighs in with a grim appraisal of the aftershocks of the images:
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.