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Kill Team: Rolling Stone, Der Spiegel Photos Only Beginning Of Story

Aaron Liu |
March 28, 2011 | 7:10 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter


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With a warning card in all caps promising “EXTREMELY GRAPHIC AND DISTURBING IMAGES," Rolling Stone’s March 27 release of 17 “Kill Team” photos - along with two videos and a comprehensive report written by Mark Boal documenting the team’s actions - effectively supplements already published information that indicts a company of U.S. soldiers with the murder and mutilation of innocent civilians for sport in Afghanistan.

Reinforcing the claims of a previous article published by Der Spiegel on March 21, the Rolling Stone report provides a damning account of the group’s exploits:

  • Posing with dead bodies;
  • Planting weapons to frame civilians as enemy combatants;
  • Cutting off the fingers of deceased victims and keeping the dismembered body parts as trophies;
  • And talks of chucking sweets out of a vehicle to lure unsuspecting children to their deaths are amongst the many disturbing allegations brought up by the comprehensive article. 

Yet while the photos published by both Rolling Stone and Der Spiegel have led to the Pentagon apologizing on separate occasions, the photos available to the public are only a scarce few amongst many snapshots taken by team - members of the 5th Stryker Brigade whose harrowing run lasted from January to May 2010.

Both publications have been relatively conservative with regard to publishing the full extent of the Kill Team’s recorded endeavors. Der Spiegel, which released three photos, reportedly uncovered over 4,000 photos and videos in their investigation of the group. 

“Spiegel published just three photos out of the numerous images and videos it has seen,” the German publication stated in a caption.

Rolling Stone asserted that they have obtained “more than 150” images snapped by the soldiers, far more than the original 17 images published on Sunday. 

They claim members of the Kill Team passed the photos along to other soldiers long before the press learned of the atrocities.  

“Among the soldiers, the collection was treated like a war memento,” Rolling Stone wrote in their report. “It was passed from man to man on thumb drives and hard drives, the gruesome images of corpses and war atrocities filed alongside clips of TV shows, UFC fights and films such as Iron Man 2.”

Yet the killings in Afghanistan do not pertain solely to the “Kill Team” members of the 5th Stryker Brigade, who have been under heavy scrutiny by the military officials since May 2010. Both Der Spiegel and Rolling Stone have published photos found in the team’s possession that document crimes committed by other troops as well. 

In particular, one photo released by both publications shows two dead Afghans tied to a mile marker, with a sign hung around their necks that reads “Taliban are dead” in Arabic. In his report, Boal said that the Pentagon feels they have little recourse in terms of identifying the men and dealing with the case.

But Boal questions the Pentagon’s position that the case is helpless:

...Such statements suggest that the Pentagon isn't following every lead. A Stryker vehicle in the photos, for example, bears identifying marks that are clearly visible in the image. And according to a source in Bravo Company, who spoke to Rolling Stone on the condition of anonymity, the two unarmed men in the photos were killed by soldiers from another platoon, which has not yet been implicated in the scandal.

"Those were some innocent farmers that got killed," the source says. "Their standard operating procedure after killing dudes was to drag them up to the side of the highway."

Atrocities in Afghanistan have been a story in the making. While Der Spiegel and Rolling Stone have only recently created a buzz regarding the actions of the “Kill Team,” the press has reported on the team’s questionable endeavors since mid-to-late 2010. 

Reach reporter Aaron Liu here.

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