Photos of U.S. Troops Posing With Afghan Corpses Don't Tell the Whole Story

afghanistanIt's hard not to be shocked when you see soldiers grinning next to body parts of Afghan bombers in the photos recently leaked to the Los Angeles Times. The obvious, knee-jerk response is to be outraged at those soldiers. How disrespectful! Is this some kind of a joke?

But I think we need to dig deeper than that.

Just like it's the infantry who suffer the worst casualties during combat, it's also the infantry who seem to suffer the worst consequences during a scandal. Blame the lowest on the totem pole -- it's the easy way out. Much harder is for us to ask difficult questions about the conflict in Afghanistan and the leadership there.


I think it's only fair to point out that according to the soldier who sent the photos to the Los Angeles Times, the troops seen posing in these photos had all lost friends to insurgent bombings. One reportedly wears a bracelet with a fallen friend's name on it.

The soldier who leaked the photos said he did so in order to expose "a breakdown in unit discipline that was endangering U.S. troops."

I think by now we're all aware of the pain and trauma troops face in these conflicts. Add to that the unpredictability of insurgent attacks (as opposed to more traditional military engagement) and that just brings another layer of stress.

I'm not saying it's okay to photograph yourself grinning next to a corpse. But I think I understand why the soldiers would do that. They're scared, angry, frustrated, traumatized, and apparently there's no one there to model a more productive response.

Does exposing these photos pose a security risk for the troops in Afghanistan? I think so. Is it worth taking that risk in order to raise the alarm over a breakdown in leadership? I don't know. If the breakdown in leadership puts the troops at an even graver risk than a few provocative photos, maybe so. I can't say because obviously I don't know enough myself. I'm just some civilian who sits safely behind a desk every day. That's precisely why I'm reluctant to pass judgement on the troops in those photos.

Officials have denounced the photos of troops posing with corpses. And they should. But maybe what officials hate the most about these photos is the way they may be exposing their weakness as leaders.

Do you think the anonymous source was right to send these photos to the Los Angeles Times, or should he have kept them secret? How do the photos make you feel?


Image via U.S. Army/Flickr

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