U.S. Soldiers Defile Afghan Remains: Why "Morally Repugnant" Is An Understatement
The photographs obtained by the LA Times—eighteen in total—depict a series of gruesome tableaus of soldiers from the 82nd Airborne's 4th Brigade Combat Team and the mangled remains of Afghan insurgents found in the country's Zabul province. One notable shot shows the body of a suicide bomber hoisted up by his ankles, another shows a severed hand, cut by the two men holding it up to extend its middle finger.
While this might score high on the macabre humor scale in a comedy movie, it is unacceptable coming from an entity dedicated to the protection and service of the American people and into which billions of taxpayer dollars are pumped every year. Furthermore, these remains are no props and Afghanistan is no movie set. This is conflict, and the bodies are real.
The LA Times claimed that it had been given the pictures by a US soldier, “to draw attention to the safety risk of a breakdown in leadership and discipline” among American troops.
Indeed, the soldiers' actions showed a severe lack of discipline, of which the repercussions could have been enormous. Consider what these soldiers should have been doing while they were busy with their photo shoot. Looking for living suicide bombers perhaps? Patrolling the area around a school to keep students safe? Providing much needed backup to another posting of troops? Whatever the case, these men chose to shirk responsibility and abandon their comrades in arms to satisfy a sadist whim.
Their indiscretion also put themselves and their fellow American soldiers at risk. Defilement of the dead is a serious offense, particularly in a culture that reveres its suicide bombers. The photographs had the potential to provoke fatal retaliation, which would have been relatively easy to execute as the combat team screwed around with body parts instead of staying on their guard.
The incident risks backlash not only from insurgent sympathizers, however, but also from the civilian population of Afghanistan and from the international community. Though the photos were originally taken in 2010, it is fitting they be released now after a string of incidents of military misconduct that have our entire nation under scrutiny. These include the surfacing of an internet video allegedly showing Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban insurgents and the charging of Army Sgt. Robert Bales for an Afghan village massacre that took place in March.
With the U.S. already facing heavy criticism for being in the region at all, it is especially important that American military personnel adhere to discipline and the rules of just warfare. The soldiers who posed in those photographs did neither.
What is most unsettling about this entire episode is the sheer disregard of these soldiers for other human beings. Modern warfare makes killing a one-step process, and an elevated level of general conscientiousness is necessary to ensure no death is unjustified. But if American soldiers cannot even bother to respect the dead, if they can turn human remains into objects for their amusement, how can they be expected to respect the living? How can they be trusted with the right to take a life?
The gravity of their position demands that soldiers be held to a high standard. That some of the men who posed in the photographs had seen friends injured or killed in suicide bomber attacks only raises that standard higher. Serious injury and death are only testaments to the seriousness of the situation in Afghanistan. In truth, the actions of the reprobate soldiers disrespected the memories of their friends, by disregarding the principles they lived by and lampooning the cause they died for.
While this incident should not be taken as representative of the entire U.S. military, it is an indicator that something is awry in their midst. Hopefully, the crisis ends with the condemnation and punishment of the perpetrators here—or else we run the risk of backing a monster with no regulation or ethics whatsoever.