“The Kill Team” Photos: The Potential Fallout and the Brutal Reality of War
Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group
Five American soldiers are facing murder charges for their roles in the deaths of three civilians in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province last year. The men are accused of deliberately killing unarmed civilians and then faking combat situations in order to make the murders look like acts of self-defense.
The revelation that American soldiers had plotted the cold-blooded murder of unarmed Afghans was shocking on its own, but Der Spiegel’s recent release of three photographs (warning: graphic) of the accused soldiers posing with the bodies of dead Afghans threatens to ignite the already volatile relationship between the U.S. and Afghan governments over civilian casualties. U.S. officials have been scrambling to limit the public relations damage while preparing for the possibility of massive protests in Afghanistan. One of the accused, Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, is on the record admitting to three counts of murder and will plead guilty in a court martial hearing this week.
On Tuesday, ASG director Matt Hoh appeared on RT’s Alyona Show to discuss the potential fallout from the publication of the photographs. When asked whether such damning evidence of crimes committed by U.S. troops in Afghanistan should be released by the media, Hoh offered this sobering analysis: “…this documents war. And people have to understand what war is like.”
Perhaps even more sobering is this piece in the New Yorker by Seymour Hersh, reminding us that there is a tragic historical precedent for atrocities like the murder of unarmed civilians and the taking of “trophy photos” in Afghanistan. A precedent that stretches from Abu Ghraib to My Lai and before:
“In long unsuccessful wars, in which the enemy – the people trying to kill you – do not wear uniforms and are seldom seen, soldiers can lose their bearings, moral and otherwise. The consequences of that lost bearing can be hideous. This is part of the toll wars take on the young people we send to fight them for us. The G.I.s in Afghanistan were responsible for their actions, of course. But it must be said that, in some cases, surely, as in Vietnam, the soldiers can also be victims.”
However, the most damning revelation to come out of the publication of these horrific photographs may be the relative quiet of Afghanistan’s streets. While a NATO official told Der Spiegel that “…it might take a couple of days, but then people’s anger will be vented,” and others noted that the Nowruz (Persian New Year) holiday on Monday could have kept people from marching, so far there are no reports of major protests.
If the quiet continues, or if only small demonstrations are held, it may mean that photographs of American soldiers posing with the bodies of murdered civilians is not news to the people the United States has pledged to protect. And whether that is a matter of the Afghan public’s perception of the occupation or its reality, it would be more damning of the United States’ ongoing involvement in the war than any photograph.