Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why The "Kill Team" Photos Are NOT Abu Ghraib Redux

The German news magazine Der Spiegel on Monday published photographs of atrocities carried out last year by members of a US Army unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan. One photo includes an American soldier smiling for the camera as he lifts the head of a dead Afghan civilian like a hunter after bagging his game.
Der Spiegel published three photos, but it and Der Spiegel TV have reportedly obtained 4,000 photographs and videos from a collection belonging to a suspected member of a US army “kill team.”
I suppose I should write about morality. I don't want to write about morality right now because morality is much more an issue of the heart than of the mind and, therefore, relative. Some people abhor the word "relative", but it's the only word at hand for the moment. But I must write about morality today, the day in which I must write about another subject: the "Kill Team."  
"Everyone would share the photographs," one of the defendants, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, told investigators. "They were of every guy we ever killed in Afghanistan."
Comparisons to the Abu Ghraib scandal are in the thousands, but the exploits of the "Kill Team" were slightly different: at Abu Ghraib, people were tortured and humiliated for sport. In Afghanistan, people were killed for sport. At Abu Ghraib, photos were the stuff of souvenirs. In Afghanistan, body parts were souvenirs. There were hundreds of photos at Abu Ghraib. There were thousands of photos in Afghanistan. Most of the men at Abu Ghraib were prisoners of war. Some of the bodies in Afghanistan were civilians. Abu Ghraib was considered an isolated incident. Photos and "souvenirs" were shared and traded throughout a larger segment of the military. 

While American soldiers are increasing their vigilance and preparing for anti-American riots and violence, we really have to think about the causes of this latest black mark on our military: what made these young men so callus to human life? And while their brigade took some very heavy losses, was sheer vengeance the motive?
A total of 12 soldiers have had criminal charges leveled against them. All are from the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. Only five have been accused of murder, but the rest are alleged to have carried out a host of other violent crimes.
There are 76 charges against the 12 ranging from murder to assault. One charge deals with the threats made on the whistle-blower's life. Another charge is leveled against Staff Sgt. Gibbs (Billings, MT) who had in his possession  numerous human bones. 

Morality is, as I've said, relative. While some say it is an absolute, static thing, others compare it to a tree with huge limbs and many branches, but with deep roots in humanity. Is it possible that the people of Afghanistan have been dehumanized (both in their own country and in the U.S.) to the point that they have become objects of sport? Or is it possible that some of our soldiers  themselves have become dehumanized by a war that has little meaning? 

And what of their roots in humanity? Do they have any? Of course they do, but maybe their roots are being fed with poisonous ideologies and they are not well-prepared for alien cultures. Yes, there will be comparisons to Abu Ghraib, but the most horrifying conclusion of these comparisons is that evidence of the "kill team" is worse.

Like war itself, the discovery of torture and humiliation for fun at Abu Ghraib was supposed to deter men from repeating atrocities, but it seems some men never learn.

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