The world is reacting in horror after German news outlet Der Spiegel published graphic photographs of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan posing over the bodies of innocent Afghan civilians who they killed.
The U.S. Army immediately condemned the photographs, which it said:
... depict[s] actions repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army .... We apologize for the distress these photos cause.
Some of the shocking activities of the "kill team" have already been public knowledge -- namely, that they cut "trophies" from the bodies of the people they killed -- and 12 soldiers are on trial for their alleged role in the deaths of three civilians. But the lengthy German magazine article contains new details about the brutal behavior of the men; moreover, Der Spiegel claims to have 4,000 photographs and videos taken by the group.
Which begs the question once again: How could these U.S. soldiers commit such inhuman atrocities?
If you're having flashbacks to when U.S. soldiers abused prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq, you wouldn't be alone. The similarities between the two situations are a large part of why people are so horrified (and why officials are so afraid of possible riots and public fury in Afghanistan). But while it's tempting in our anger to move seamlessly from condemning the soldiers involved in the horrific incident to condemning the American military and its involvement in Afghanistan in general, that would be getting ahead of ourselves.
I know that war isn't pretty, and atrocities like these occur on all sides. But I try to tell myself that these situations are isolated incidents -- not widespread policy -- occurring because a tiny, rogue group of people, for whatever reason, got way too out of control.
If you think about it, tens of thousands of troops are in Afghanistan right now. Yet, allegedly only a few -- 12 to be exact -- were involved in this particular incident. And, it was a brave peer who informed military investigators about the killings in the first place. I've got to hope that our military as a whole operates with dignity, honor, and respect, and in the meantime these few bad apples will be brought to swift justice. (But maybe that's just me safe and naive at home trying to think my way out of a terrible situation.)
What was your reaction to the war crimes photos from Afghanistan? What do you think: Isolated incident or widespread problem of American soldiers abusing innocent civilians?
Image via Maryland National Guard/Flickr