The Army is apologizing after three photos of soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., posing with the bloodied, partially naked corpse of an Afghan civilian were published by German news organization Der Speigel.
The photos, linked to investigation of the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division at JBLM, shows Cpl. Jeremy Morlock and Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Holmes posing with the corpse.
Der Spiegel identified the body as that of Gul Mudin; both men are charged in his death on Jan. 15, 2010, in Kandahar Province.
The photos have emerged as Afghan president Hamid Karzai readies to transfer responsibility for security from coalition to Afghan forces in several provinces.
The BBC reports that senior officials at NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Kabul said they fear the photos could be more damaging than leaked images of US soldiers abusing prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq which sparked waves of anti-US protests around the world.
It’s unclear how Der Spiegel obtained the photos, which the Army had been trying to keep under wraps, but it reports that it has some 4,000 images and videos taken by the “kill squad.” The news organization has made its article available only to subscribers.
“Today Der Spiegel published photographs depicting actions repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army,” the Army said in a statement released by Col. Thomas Collins. “We apologize for the distress these photos cause.”
UPDATE: U.S. officials are anticipating the photos will trigger a serious political conflict with Afghanistan, Der Spiegel reports. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon have telephoned their Afghan counterparts to discuss the situation. Vice President Joe Biden recently spoke about the case with Karzai.
Although there have been no demonstrations yet, NATO has been preparing for publication of the photographs for months.
“The images have an enormous potential here in Afghanistan,” Speigel Online quoted one NATO general. “Experience shows that it might take a couple of days, but then people’s anger will be vented.”
Because many Afghans have Monday off, the furor already erupting on the Internet is not expected to spill into the streets until tomorrow, a senior Afghan official told Speigel Online, adding the photos are “too outrageous” not to trigger a backlash.