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Sunday, April 3, 2011

the kill team photos scandal

If you didn't see the photos posted by Rolling Stone Magazine (here) it's probably because stories from Afghanistan have long stopped being of any interest to you. I don't blame you. This war has been going for so long, it doesn't feel like a war. It's just one unending same ol' same ol' story.

I can't ignore stories from Afghanistan because two very decent Afghan men sit in my office. We don't talk much about the war. But we do talk about Afghanistan. So I learn all kinds of things I didn't know about this country. For example, Afghanistan's national sport is Buzkashi. I will not explain the rules of the game here, but let's say that if you are an animal rights person, this sport would leave you seriously upset. In short, Afghanistan is not for wimps.

Anyway, I read about the recent photos coming out of Afghanistan but I didn't bother to look for them. I mean, why get all worked up about this lost cause we call Afghanistan? But the other day I heard my office mates talk about the photos. One of them said he was not going to let his wife see them. The other said they were worse than the photos from Abu Ghraib. Their conversation got me curious. So I looked over the shoulder of one of the men as he clicked on each photo. 18 photos. 15 photos more than the three first posted by Der Spiegel on March 21. Some of those photos were seriously gruesome. They were photos taken by American soldiers fighting an asymmetric war: Men in uniform fighting against a hodgepodge of insurgents, Taliban, civilian collaborators, tribal chiefs, and all kinds of bounty seekers. Jihad, I learned from a colleague, was a highly profitable business.

Interestingly, what came to my mind as I was looking at these photos was not indignation. All I could think was, "Wow, these guys need some serious psychiatric help." Not a life spent in prison, like what Jeremy Morlock from Wasilla, Alaska got in return for a plea bargain in which he agreed to testify against his co-conspirators; the guys who planned with him to kill civilians for the sake of killing. (If Wasilla rings a bell, it's because this is where Sarah Palin comes from).

Where I live, I see many guys like Jeremy Morlock. Many of them join the military to escape boredom, to get a shot at a better education, to have a future other than the unpromising one awaiting in the town they grew up in. Many of them had no exposure to the world outside their small town. They only know the video games they like to play, the music they like to listen to, the macho blockbusters that play in the local movie theaters, the junk they eat in the fast food restaurants. If you say "Istanbul" to them, they wouldn't even know it is a name of a city.

And then they learn to kill and are sent to a country they didn't know existed until shortly before they got their orders to pack.

What I am trying to say is that someone of a higher rank should have noticed that these guys went off the deep end before they shot the Afghan civilians, before they posed - smiling next to mutilated bodies; whether these bodies belonged to civilians or not. No one smiles at a bloody severed head because it's funny. One does not have to be a trained psychologist to know that laughing at horror is a type of coping mechanism one develops in order to survive the horror.

Some of these 20-something-year-old guys should not have been sent to Afghanistan. I am sure some higher ups knew that they were sending unfit men to war long before all this mess materialized. They took a big chance when they decided to send these guys to war. They should now take responsibility for their mistake and not bury these guys in prison to hide their own bad judgment.


  1. Great article on a touchy (& disgusting) subject. It took me quite a while to finish reading this after clicking on the first link (rolling stone link). Thank you for sharing.

  2. "Wow, these guys need some serious psychiatric help."
    Amazing, I clicked on the photo before I read the rest of your article and that was the first thing that came to my mind.
    They are all macho now, but, 10-20 years from now when they will wake up in the middle of the night screaming from nightmares, they will not be so macho. So sad, no end in sight.