“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.

Share this article:
  • Print
  • email
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Blogplay

9 Responses to “The Kill Team” Photos: The Potential Fallout and the Brutal Reality of War

  1. Dancing Bear says:

    “…perception of the occupation…”

    So we are occupying Afghanistan? An occupation, as seen in the early years of Iraq, is when the foreign force actually makes the laws. Afghanistan has a constitution, a national government (albeit suffering from many problems), police, an army… the list of institutions goes on regardless of their level of dysfunction. Referring to a foreign force assisting the recognized government of a nation as an “occupation” is an intentional misrepresentation that reflects the integrity of the “Afghanistan Study Group,” also indicated by the widely held perception of the single “report” published by the group. The work of this group is shoddy at best and using an inflammatory and inaccurate term is only further demonstration of this.

    Even raising the prospect that the perpetrators of these crimes could possibly be thought of as “victims” themselves, as Hersch has done, is beyond ludicrous. They, while young, were grown men. They were given specific training which made them aware of the illegality of these actions and they are responsible for their actions. This does not exculpate their immediate superiors from responsibility for having been aware of these acts earlier. Each of those involved deserved the harshest of punishments. So his point, echoed here, is that the system that produced them… or the strategy which you attack… is so corrupt that it corrupts those who fall under its sway. Thus, another approach must then, certainly for simple decency’s sake, be taken. Perhaps YOUR approach? If Mr. Hoh had spent more than a scant few months in the country, I could believe in his credibility. His resume looks like that of a job-hopper and his time in country a mere instant. That’s your director. If the leadership is that weak, how can the rest of the bunch have that much on the ball? This article reflects what you get when you have such leadership; not much.

  2. A S says:

    Dancing Bear? What kind of name is that. Are you Afghan, do you speak for the people of Afghanistan or a diplomat representing Afghanistan? No. Do not tell one group what is accurate or not. The people of Afghanistan themselves call it an occupation. If you think we will believe in your distortion and propaganda, you are a lost cause. The Karzai government is a puppet dictatorship, it does not represent the interests of the Afghan people but foreigners. Who would want their land and people bombed for almost 10 years now? Not even a child would believe that bombing a people will bring peace. This is history repeating itself, US/NATO has been setting up client-states all across the region.

  3. Wal A says:

    His dance card does appear empty.

  4. Dancing Bear says:

    No, not an Afghan, but a ton of experience in Afghanistan at the local level and national. I’ve worked with more Afghans and more USAID people than Matt Hoh ever did, and likely more State types as well as military (real military, the breathing, thinking kind, not the ones you seem to imagine). I’ve got a deep understanding of counterinsurgency and a good knowledge of stability work — and how they work together (often they don’t, but that’s improving).

    I’ve worked with plenty of Afghans and found most to be honest, hard-working people who want their nation to work and are happy for that opportunity. I’ve got strong friendships with a bunch. I’ve been thanked by many, including farmers in their fields, for being there. Are there those who resented my presence? You bet. But even they were more worried that I would leave them as all the others have… including us, in the past. They were more concerned that their fledgling government would not pull its act together enough to operate without support in the face of a small but very violent insurgency. Working primarily with Afghans can give one more information than anything you can read in the news or pick up in a short time.

    Researchers make studies and take polls to try to quantify what it is to experience working with people. There are a few dedicated people who have had those experiences. These are experiences with not just the friendlies but the enemy, the malign and the innocent. That’s not propaganda or indoctrination, that’s understanding based on education meeting long, difficult experience. Matt Hoh nearly had those experiences. He did poorly and then he quit. I didn’t quit. I’m going back yet again.

    You asked for context.

    I’m not arguing on emotional rhetoric here. I’m not talking about some poll I read or some article somewhere. Or a schoolbook. I know what I’m talking about and the use of the word, “occupation” in the above article is glib and inaccurate. Iraq was an occupation for the first several years. Afghanistan is not an occupation, even though there are significant numbers of foreign forces on their soil. That’s like saying we were “occupied” by France during the Revolutionary War. Glib. Inaccurate. Really, if it has to be explained further than what has already been pointed out, then our disagreement has moved past the ignorant use of a convenient and inflammatory word.

    If that is the case, then emotional rhetoric will not be swayed by any reason or experience. Or it may be that one does, for whatever reason, subscribe to the words of Zabiullah Mujahid (calling from an undisclosed location, as always), which sound remarkably like what A S says above. While I do not believe that the ASG is of much value in the current national discussion, neither do I believe that they are Taliban KoolAid drinkers. I believe that their use of the word was glib, convenient and theatrical. Just another reason that they are not to be taken seriously for policy insight.

    Really, this is a waste of time and I normally wouldn’t even bother with their site. I followed a link and found this tripe. I had extra time, so I panned it. Feeling hasn’t changed a bit. First visit, although I did read their “report” when it came out. Miserable. Such a poor excuse for a paper that some of those who contributed practically apologized. It was such weak sauce it was actually embarrassing to read it. You know that feeling you get when someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about tries to talk about something you DO know about? Yeah, it was like that. Not just unimpressed, but practically offended by its weakness. I came back because I was almost sure they’d never print my comment. That’s one thing they have done that has surprised me.

    Time to move on.

  5. Pingback: Afghanistan: Leaked photos unveil “repugnancies” committed by the US Army · Global Voices

  6. Pingback: Afghanistan: Leaked photos unveil “repugnancies” committed by the US Army – Daringsearch

  7. Pingback: Le Ciel et La Terre | Revue de presse | Afghanistan: Leaked photos unveil “repugnancies” committed by the US Army

  8. Pingback: Afghanistan: Leaked photos unveil “repugnancies” committed by the US Army - Forum

  9. Pingback: Afghanistan: Leaked Photos Unveil “Repugnancies” Committed by US Army @ Current Affairs

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>