- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan | Afghanistan’s president on Wednesday condemned the actions of a group of U.S. soldiers charged with murder in the deaths of three unarmed Afghans and said they killed for entertainment after having taken drugs.

It was Hamid Karzai’s first public mention of the actions of five soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade who have been charged with murder and conspiracy in the deaths of the three men in southern Afghanistan.

His condemnation came a few days after Rolling Stone magazine published a series of graphic photos showing the soldiers posing next to the dead bodies. The German news magazine Der Spiegel previously had published three of them.

“They killed our youth for entertainment, they killed our elders for entertainment,” Mr. Karzai told thousands of new teachers at a graduation ceremony in the capital Kabul.

The president said the American soldiers used opium and marijuana supplied by their Afghan translators.

“So during the night they smoked marijuana and opium and in the morning they went out to kill local people,” he said, referring to the drugs mentioned in court papers on the case.

Rolling Stone posted 17 photos from a cache of about 150 photos linked to the ongoing war-crimes probe involving the soldiers from an Olympia, Wash.-based platoon.

Two of the photos show soldiers charged in the case - Spc. Jeremy Morlock and Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Holmes - crouching alongside an Afghan youth and lifting the victim’s head by his hair.

Two other photos show the body of the same Afghan youth, Gul Mudin, one of the victims in the case. Mr. Karzai said the boy was 15 years old.

Spc. Morlock, the first of the five to be court-martialed, was sentenced last week to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of murder, as well as conspiracy and other charges. He said the killings were part of a deliberate plan to murder Afghan civilians.

So far, reaction to the photos has been muted in Afghanistan, and Mr. Karzai had earlier said that incidents of Afghan civilian deaths at the hand of U.S. soldiers should be seen as an exceptional case.

“Without a doubt, the Americans are very good people, just like the Afghan people and other peoples of the world. They are not cruel people, they helped us with their own resources to develop our education and health sectors. They are working day and night to help us,” Mr. Karzai also said during the speech Wednesday.

But he added that he wanted Americans to know that U.S. soldiers “killed a 15-year-old boy and an old man in front of their families.”

During his speech, Mr. Karzai for the second time in a week called on the Taliban to avoid attacking schools.

He also praised a recent Taliban statement that banned insurgent attacks on schools or students, but stressed he couldn’t be sure the message reflected the actual views of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.