A reaction worse than to the photos of Abu Ghraib? That's how the impact of the trophy photographs taken by the Joint Base Lewis-McChord "Kill Team" is being described. The German magazineDer Spiegel today published three of what it says are as many as 4,000 pics and vids taken by JBLM Stryker soldiers, five of whom are accused of premeditated murder of Afghanistan civilians last year.
One photo shows Spc. Jeremy Morlock from Alaska grinning as he grasps the head of a corpse by the hair; another photo shows Pfc. Andrew Holmes of Boise posing with the same corpse. The third shows what appears to be the posed bodies of two Afghans.
Der Spiegel says the body in the first two photos is that of Gul Mudin. He's one of at least three Afghans allegedly murdered by the troops in Kandahar Province. The court martial of Morlock, charged with killing Mudin, is scheduled to begin Wednesday, while the four other accused, including alleged ringleader Sgt. Calvin Gibbs of Montana, await similar hearings. Morlock is seeking a plea deal that includes a prison term and parole in return for testifying against his fellow soldiers.
The magazine did not reveal how it obtained copies of the photos, shown in its print edition but not online, and said it is not making copies available to other news organizations.
According toThe Guardian in London, allied commanders in Afghanistan are bracing for "possible riots and public fury" to publication of the photos. Senior Nato officials compare them to the Abu Ghraib prison photos from Iraq which sparked anti-US protests worldwide.
The Army has tried to prevent distribution of the photos for that very reason. At JBLM, courts-martial officials issued a protective order to limit access to the photographs. Attorneys for the accused soldiers were given some copies but not allowed to disseminate them.
According to media reports, military officials are scrambling to determine how the Kill Team photos were leaked to the magazine and to prevent further publications. One U.S.-based government contractor, DynCorp, sent out an email to its clients saying the photos are likely "to incite the local population," noting the "severity of the incidents to be revealed are graphic and extreme."