"Kill Team" Photos from Afghanistan

Looks like we might have another Abu Ghraib on our hands...

Der Spiegel has just published some of the 4,000 pictures and videos it gathered from a US Stryker unit deployed in Afghanistan last year.

This wasn't any old unit, though. It was a unit that had 70-some charges filed against 12 of its members last fall, including the premeditated murder of three Afghani civilians, the gathering of body parts as trophies, and the beating of at least one member of their unit to keep them quiet about the crimes.

So now we have photos showing US servicemen grinning over dead Afghanis like they were the first 12-point buck of the season in a country where US-caused civilian deaths have long been major issue with both the government and the public. I'm not sure the ad wizards of Madison Avenue could produce a better recruiting campaign than what these psychopaths in uniform did.

Is it bad that one of my first thoughts is that some of those soldiers must be young enough to have posted dumbass photos of themselves underage drinking on Facebook before they went to fight in Afghanistan?

Not to shift the blame (at all), but how come commanders still let soldiers bring cameras with them into theaters of operation? You'd think no real good could come from it.

O wow, the same thing that's happened in every war in history is happening in this one? That's weird.

I don't even know what say.

Horrifying

This makes me sick to my stomach.

MaverickDago wrote:

O wow, the same thing that's happened in every war in history is happening in this one? That's weird.

And that makes it OK because...?

Parallax Abstraction wrote:
MaverickDago wrote:

O wow, the same thing that's happened in every war in history is happening in this one? That's weird.

And that makes it OK because...?

He didn't say it was ok, just not unexpected. At least in today's (US) military we prosecute those that violate law. You can't expect to train 100s of thousands of people to kill other people, and then make them do it, and everyone come out of it with all their marbles still in the bag.

Shoal07 wrote:
Parallax Abstraction wrote:
MaverickDago wrote:

O wow, the same thing that's happened in every war in history is happening in this one? That's weird.

And that makes it OK because...?

He didn't say it was ok, just not unexpected. At least in today's (US) military we prosecute those that violate law. You can't expect to train 100s of thousands of people to kill other people, and then make them do it, and everyone come out of it with all their marbles still in the bag.

You are correct, though I think we have a responsibility to disarm soldiers who have lost their marbles. Otherwise, they're hurting the mission.

And that makes it OK because...?

It's not, but you'd have to be willful ignorant to think this wasn't happening. In WW2 American Marines frequently put the heads of dead Japanese soldier on their tanks. It's what humans do. We train these men to hurt, to kill, to hate the enemy, then expect that no one will snap, or not even snap, just take it that extra step we no longer find acceptable? Prosecute these men, throw them in jail, but at the end of the day, know that it was inevitable.

MaverickDago wrote:
And that makes it OK because...?

It's not, but you'd have to be willful ignorant to think this wasn't happening. In WW2 American Marines frequently put the heads of dead Japanese soldier on their tanks. It's what humans do. We train these men to hurt, to kill, to hate the enemy, then expect that no one will snap, or not even snap, just take it that extra step we no longer find acceptable? Prosecute these men, throw them in jail, but at the end of the day, know that it was inevitable.

Sad but true. Unfortunately, the American society imagines that any man or woman that puts on a uniform is some sort of bastion of deity-like awesome pure goodness that is fulfilling the will of some god. I've met enough d**ks/bad people in the military to know that this is not true. There are actual gangsters that are affiliated with street gangs (e.g. latin kings, MS-13, etc) in the military too for anyone surprised at this.

MaverickDago wrote:
And that makes it OK because...?

It's not, but you'd have to be willful ignorant to think this wasn't happening. In WW2 American Marines frequently put the heads of dead Japanese soldier on their tanks. It's what humans do. We train these men to hurt, to kill, to hate the enemy, then expect that no one will snap, or not even snap, just take it that extra step we no longer find acceptable? Prosecute these men, throw them in jail, but at the end of the day, know that it was inevitable.

No one's being willfully ignorant. We've seen this sh*t before in Iraq and I'm sure that for every Haditha and Wikileaks helicopter gunship video we know about there's likely dozens of incidents that will never see the light of day.

The real question becomes just how common is this behavior? That question goes to the heart of everything. If it's fairly common then the entire armed services should be damned: from the failure of leadership in that some commanding officer didn't know their troops had gone crazy (or, worse, knew they were crazy but had to send them out in the field anyway); the failure of their training to point out that killing civilians is not only just morally bad, but also bad for all your buddies because it will simply create more insurgents; the failure of recruiting that didn't weed out a future psychopath; all the way up to the failure of our official strategy of counterinsurgency, which should involve soldiers doing everything possible to protect civilians and minimizing civilian casualties.

Can't blame the kids, really. Take any 18 year old and give him a gun and a camera, what do you think he's gonna do. The drug war kids in Mexico do this too.

I guess as you say, maybe moral training would help, but then you'd be training soldiers to think, and I don't believe that's what the military wants...

Honestly if I was going on a war with my buddies, I'd definitely shoot first and ask questions later. Probably wouldn't take pics, but I didn't grow up in a facebook world, who knows...

I remember some of the pictures my grandfather had from his time in the Pacific during WWII. They were in a box, hidden away, but he had them. None of his platoon were posing, but they were certainly pictures of the carnage witnessed (and inflicted).

What I am not certain of with this new revelation is the civilian aspect. While I hope no US soldier would do this, I am less inclined to punish when it is the enemy combatant that is the subject of the pictures. I cannot imagine the mental stress that these kids go through in combat situations.

If the subject of the pictures is civilians -- folks that are caught either in the crossfire or (hopefully) accidentally targeted, then that absolutely crosses a line in my head.

We need to shorten the leash these dogs are on, if counter-insurgency is the aim. Winning hearts and minds presupposes eating neither.

H.P. Lovesauce wrote:

We need to shorten the leash these dogs are on, if counter-insurgency is the aim. Winning hearts and minds presupposes eating neither.

One of the more memorable quotes from Restrepo was "I'll shoot them in the mind and eat their hearts. Problem solved."

sheared wrote:

I remember some of the pictures my grandfather had from his time in the Pacific during WWII. They were in a box, hidden away, but he had them. None of his platoon were posing, but they were certainly pictures of the carnage witnessed (and inflicted).

What I am not certain of with this new revelation is the civilian aspect. While I hope no US soldier would do this, I am less inclined to punish when it is the enemy combatant that is the subject of the pictures. I cannot imagine the mental stress that these kids go through in combat situations.

If the subject of the pictures is civilians -- folks that are caught either in the crossfire or (hopefully) accidentally targeted, then that absolutely crosses a line in my head.

That's my opinion as well. Especially since it is considered "good" to kill them. If there is a moral issue with taking a picture beside them, then I think their should be a moral issue with the killing of enemy combatants. This does raise a good question on the legitimacy of demonizing your enemy.

This does raise a good question on the legitimacy of demonizing your enemy.

What are they supposed to tell them "these are really nice good people you're fighting!" I'm sure that would help with the mental stress they already have. Make no mistake, their job is to kill people and break things. We've tried to force them into this "peace keeping" role, history says that doesn't work, but we keep thinking we'll magically ascended to some higher plane.

MaverickDago wrote:
This does raise a good question on the legitimacy of demonizing your enemy.

What are they supposed to tell them "these are really nice good people you're fighting!" I'm sure that would help with the mental stress they already have. Make no mistake, their job is to kill people and break things. We've tried to force them into this "peace keeping" role, history says that doesn't work, but we keep thinking we'll magically ascended to some higher plane.

I'm not saying we should tell them that. I'm posing the question, why are we calling taking photos beside a dead terrorist wrong and possibly making a legal issue into it, especially if we are telling military personnel it is "good" to kill these people. Morally if it is good to kill them, then why is it wrong to take a picture of it?

I'm not saying if it's right or wrong; I'm just posing an interesting question.

MaverickDago wrote:
This does raise a good question on the legitimacy of demonizing your enemy.

What are they supposed to tell them "these are really nice good people you're fighting!" I'm sure that would help with the mental stress they already have. Make no mistake, their job is to kill people and break things. We've tried to force them into this "peace keeping" role, history says that doesn't work, but we keep thinking we'll magically ascended to some higher plane.

This isn't an incident of a questionable shooting, of a civilian getting confused with an insurgent during a firefight and getting shot.

This is idiots who previously joked about how easy it would be to kill civilians going on to throw grenades at people they knew were civilians and shooting the survivors. That's not being a hoo-rah solider, that's being a f*cking psychopath.

The last ten years should have taught you that the military's job is very much more than breaking things and killing people. For example, Iraq was about six weeks of breaking thing and eight years and counting of trying to put it all back together. A key part of that is not purposefully killing the people your supposed to be there to help.

I think I understand where Maverick is coming from, but I do think America's armed forces are well-funded enough and have enough organization pride to allow the American people to hold them to higher standards. I think, generally speaking, the US military does an OK job preventing the sort of rape-and-pillage mentality endemic to occupying armies, but obviously, it can do better.

Grubber788 wrote:

I think I understand where Maverick is coming from, but I do think America's armed forces are well-funded enough and have enough organization pride to allow the American people to hold them to higher standards. I think, generally speaking, the US military does an OK job preventing the sort of rape-and-pillage mentality endemic to occupying armies, but obviously, it can do better.

Everything/Everyone "can always do better". But I agree.

OG_slinger wrote:

The last ten years should have taught you that the military's job is very much more than breaking things and killing people. For example, Iraq was about six weeks of breaking thing and eight years and counting of trying to put it all back together. A key part of that is not purposefully killing the people your supposed to be there to help.

But, it's not. It's OUR failure to ignore history and keep repeating it. Military's are NOT good police forces, even our own, who we try really hard to train and put in that role. We keep ignoring that every time we do it we have signifigant problems. If we want to keep doing this (which, it appears, we do) then we need to develop a real international police type force that goes in after the soldiers and does what we're trying to make trained killers do - police the people and keep the peace. Cops are called "peace keepers" - Soldiers are not. Even "military police" are "soldier's first".

MaverickDago wrote:

Make no mistake, their job is to kill people and break things. We've tried to force them into this "peace keeping" role, history says that doesn't work, but we keep thinking we'll magically ascended to some higher plane.

QFT

Mex wrote:

I guess as you say, maybe moral training would help, but then you'd be training soldiers to think, and I don't believe that's what the military wants...

US Soldiers actually are thinking soldiers, some of the most "thinking soldiers" in the world. The amount of training and trust to make decisions put into an Enlisted US soldier or Officer is baffeling to other countries like China and Russia. They also receive regular training on rules of war and ethical conduct. Still, some people go overboard, it's a consequence of being f'n killers. It's also a consequence of being shot/grenaded/mortered on a daily basis. It fractures the mind. You see it when incoming comes into the camp and there's certain soldiers that don't dive for cover anymore. They've been there long enough to develop a disassociation with life. Thinking things like: they could dive for cover, and the morter could come into the foxhole and kill them anyway, so why waste the effort? These aren't thoughts normal people deal with everyday.

No one can understand what it is like unless you've been through it. I'm not saying that to justify anything, but you're trying to put someone in a box that fits YOUR world, and they left your world and the box a Looooong time ago. These people should be redeployed home and sent to an institution for help, not imprisioned. Society broke them, Society should fix them, not punish them. The blame is on us, WE should own the blame, as much as you don't like it, it's YOUR military which is a tool of YOUR country. When it's soldiers make mistakes, WE should feel the shame, and WE should help them and the people they hurt. Throwing them in prision is the easy way out, and a shrugging off of our responsibility.

Shoal07 wrote:

Society broke them, Society should fix them, not punish them.

I believe this should be true of all 'damaged' people. Not just soldiers. But I agree.
EDIT:
With the caveat that I don't believe everyone can be helped. Some people are beyond help. Some start that way, some are pushed and pushed until there's no way back to normal.

I generally agree with rehabilitation approach . If the US military didn't filter out soldiers who don't have the moral standards to serve in it then the US military they should take the blame for it. The person who usually get burnt in those situations is the commanding officer in charge. 4000 photograph shows a pattern and it's unusual for the military not to investigate and punish people who took part in these behavior.

You should take into account I tried to avoid reading much about this story other than the headlines. I try as much as I can to avoid unpleasant pictures and sensationalistic journalism. I believe I'm entitled to read the facts without experiencing the horror.

This is where I go far right:

So let me get this straight. We spend years training soldiers to kill, we send them to a war zone to do just that and then get upset when they do? I'll admit that taking photos of your kills is pretty disturbing and I don't condone anything illegal but it's easy to judge while you're surfing the internet on your laptop from the comfort of your couch.

I'm not the one out patrolling the hills, nor have I watched my friends shot or blown to hell. Frankly, as long as they're not doing anything illegal I'd like my military to be borderline psychopaths. I want our enemies to think "HOLY f*ck, they're sending Marines, those f*cking guys are crazy and they're going to hunt us like dogs".

Our desire to sanitize "WAR" and make it something palatable is truly astounding to me.

Bear wrote:

This is where I go far right:

So let me get this straight. We spend years training soldiers to kill, we send them to a war zone to do just that and then get upset when they do? I'll admit that taking photos of your kills is pretty disturbing but it's easy to judge while you're surfing the internet on your laptop from the comfort of your couch.

I'm not the one out patrolling the hills, nor have I watched my friends shot or blown to hell. I'm not so sure that I'd be doing anything different if I was there. Frankly, as long as they're not doing anything illegal I'd like my military to be borderline psychopaths. I want our enemies to think "HOLY f*ck, they're sending Marines, those f*cking guys are crazy and they're going to hunt us like dogs".

Where do you think the term "Devil Dogs" for the Marines came from?

I am pretty right wing on these issues too. The purpose of a military is to kill, condemning them because they took a photo of what they were supposed to do is pretty silly in my book.

Bear wrote:

This is where I go far right:

So let me get this straight. We spend years training soldiers to kill, we send them to a war zone to do just that and then get upset when they do? I'll admit that taking photos of your kills is pretty disturbing but it's easy to judge while you're surfing the internet on your laptop from the comfort of your couch.

I'm not the one out patrolling the hills, nor have I watched my friends shot or blown to hell. I'm not so sure that I'd be doing anything different if I was there. Frankly, as long as they're not doing anything illegal I'd like my military to be borderline psychopaths. I want our enemies to think "HOLY f*ck, they're sending Marines, those f*cking guys are crazy and they're going to hunt us like dogs".

This would make more sense if we were fighting a symmetrical war against a clear and present enemy. But Afghanistan has always been presented as a psy-ops war, more than a hot war. Being rabid dogs defeats the stated 'hearts and minds' purpose of the invasion.

Bear wrote:

This is where I go far right:

So let me get this straight. We spend years training soldiers to kill, we send them to a war zone to do just that and then get upset when they do? I'll admit that taking photos of your kills is pretty disturbing but it's easy to judge while you're surfing the internet on your laptop from the comfort of your couch.

I'm not the one out patrolling the hills, nor have I watched my friends shot or blown to hell. I'm not so sure that I'd be doing anything different if I was there. Frankly, as long as they're not doing anything illegal I'd like my military to be borderline psychopaths. I want our enemies to think "HOLY f*ck, they're sending Marines, those f*cking guys are crazy and they're going to hunt us like dogs".

Right, but if they're civilians, we're not exactly doing much to spread a positive image of ourselves abroad. There are couple of reasons why the US spends billions on turning the military into a faceless, surgical force.

One, marines or any other soldiers can't be trusted to be policeman. If we were fighting Nazis again, sure, let 'em go wild. We don't live in that world any more, and our military requires finesse or else we'll be seeing soldiers drinking blood from the skulls of our enemies. I don't see religious fanatics and loyal tribesman being cowed by that.

Two, the US public doesn't have the stomach for this kind of nonsense. We're supposed to be spreading freedom and democracy, not Pax Americana via the tip of a spear.

Three, it will inflame passions in the Muslim world again. Hell, it will inflame passions throughout the rest of the world too. Every time this happens, the U.S. loses credibility. This war isn't about winning battles or that hoo-rah bullsh*t. It's about winning a war with ideas, money and stability. The generals and officers understand this; they need to keep a tighter leash on their soldiers.

KrazyTacoFO wrote:

I'm not so sure our wars are about spreading freedom and democracy. I would say it's more about putting some controls on anti-american movements (whether that's Al-Qaeda terrorists, Vietnamese Communists or Central American psuedo-democracies) and attempting to spread our influence. I'm not against this necessarily but I think the fact that we have been supporting and propping up Pro-American dictatorships for decades shows we go after national interests instead of actually fighting to spread democracy (as 99% of all nations do).

You're right, and believe me, I'm a strong proponent of Realpolitik too, but my point is that American citizens don't generally have the stomach for that sort of realist mindset. We can fight wars for very practical reasons, but unless we do what we do in the name of something greater, than I think the American public gains little in the way of satisfaction.

Grubber788 wrote:
Bear wrote:

This is where I go far right:

So let me get this straight. We spend years training soldiers to kill, we send them to a war zone to do just that and then get upset when they do? I'll admit that taking photos of your kills is pretty disturbing but it's easy to judge while you're surfing the internet on your laptop from the comfort of your couch.

I'm not the one out patrolling the hills, nor have I watched my friends shot or blown to hell. I'm not so sure that I'd be doing anything different if I was there. Frankly, as long as they're not doing anything illegal I'd like my military to be borderline psychopaths. I want our enemies to think "HOLY f*ck, they're sending Marines, those f*cking guys are crazy and they're going to hunt us like dogs".

Right, but if they're civilians, we're not exactly doing much to spread a positive image of ourselves abroad. There are couple of reasons why the US spends billions on turning the military into a faceless, surgical force.

One, marines or any other soldiers can't be trusted to be policeman. If we were fighting Nazis again, sure, let 'em go wild. We don't live in that world any more, and our military requires finesse or else we'll be seeing soldiers drinking blood from the skulls of our enemies. I don't see religious fanatics and loyal tribesman being cowed by that.

Two, the US public doesn't have the stomach for this kind of nonsense. We're supposed to be spreading freedom and democracy, not Pax Americana via the tip of a spear.

Three, it will inflame passions in the Muslim world again. Hell, it will inflame passions throughout the rest of the world too. Every time this happens, the U.S. loses credibility. This war isn't about winning battles or that hoo-rah bullsh*t. It's about winning a war with ideas, money and stability. The generals and officers understand this; they need to keep a tighter leash on their soldiers.

I'm not so sure our wars are about spreading freedom and democracy. I would say it's more about putting some controls on anti-american movements (whether that's Al-Qaeda terrorists, Vietnamese Communists or Central American psuedo-democracies) and attempting to spread our influence. I'm not against this necessarily but I think the fact that we have been supporting and propping up Pro-American dictatorships for decades shows we go after national interests instead of actually fighting to spread democracy (as 99% of all nations do).

Edit: Just because you're an officer doesn't mean you have a Ph.D. or even a decent depth of knowledge of what the Muslim world and specific countries want our military to do. I know plenty of enlisted soldiers with Master's degrees in this and plenty of officers that are dumb as a brick and just know how to kill.

Grubber788 wrote:
KrazyTacoFO wrote:

I'm not so sure our wars are about spreading freedom and democracy. I would say it's more about putting some controls on anti-american movements (whether that's Al-Qaeda terrorists, Vietnamese Communists or Central American psuedo-democracies) and attempting to spread our influence. I'm not against this necessarily but I think the fact that we have been supporting and propping up Pro-American dictatorships for decades shows we go after national interests instead of actually fighting to spread democracy (as 99% of all nations do).

You're right, and believe me, I'm a strong proponent of Realpolitik too, but my point is that American citizens don't generally have the stomach for that sort of realist mindset. We can fight wars for very practical reasons, but unless we do what we do in the name of something greater, than I think the American public gains little in the way of satisfaction.

Very true, unfortunately the vast majority of Americans see our military as some sort of Team America F**k Ya spreader of perfection.

Not much to add other than thanks for this discussion. It's got me thinking about this topic in a different way than I had before.