The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday published 2-year-old photos of American soldiers in Afghanistan smiling while holding body parts of dead suicide bombers. Editor Davan Maharaj justified publication saying the paper has “a particular duty to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan.” The paper worked with the Department of Defense for months regarding which of the 18 photos it had obtained to publish, and the ones printed were the least disturbing.
It is never a good time for this type of behavior to come to light, but it is particularly troubling now, given the tenuous position of the coalition in Afghanistan. It comes on the heels of a video showing Marines urinating on corpses, riots sparked by inadvertent Koran burnings and a shooting rampage by an Army sergeant that left 17 noncombatants dead. Afghan President Hamid Karzai used the revelation to call for accelerating the already breakneck transition of security responsibilities.
The anonymous soldier who leaked the snapshots claimed he wanted to expose “a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops” and help ensure such things “were not repeated.” This is a feeble pretext. Everyone involved in this incident has rotated out of theater by now, and the brigade in which he served is also under new command. If anyone has compromised the safety of the troops, it is the soldier who leaked the photos. In a largely illiterate society like rural Afghanistan, images are more important than the written word. Stripped of their necessary context, the pictures will serve as a ready tool for Taliban propaganda.
“To its credit, the military has not circled the wagons to try to deny or excuse this behavior,” a decorated soldier who has been to Afghanistan told The Washington Times. “But it is worth thinking about that the troops smiling in the pictures are probably grateful that at least these bastards aren’t going to kill them.
“Imagine their mission,” the soldier said. “Go down to the morgue, grab a loose hand, and get a fingerprint. That was what they were told to do. Imagine doing that. To cope with it, there is an amount of dark humor people use. There was some release. They were no more disrespecting body parts than the suicide terrorists who disrespected their own body parts.” The serviceman did not excuse the behavior, noting that “we are trained on the ethical prosecution of war. That includes showing respect to enemy who are hurt and to the dead. We do this in large part to maintain our own humanity. You don’t allow troops to do this stuff.” Of the 2.4 million who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, very few have. This is not news, but it should be.
The Washington Times