Monday, March 21st, 2011

Why Do People Take Snapshots of Themselves Holding Decapitated Heads?

Last year, the Army undertook a war crimes probe, with, as evidence, some 4000 photos and videos from Afghanistan. Which sound in some cases really bad, and in some cases, in extremely poor taste: posing next to dead bodies alone seems like a gross way to pass the time. Apparently people really get into this: "Soldiers have told investigators that such photos of dead bodies were passed around like trading cards on thumb drives and other digital storage devices." 12 soldiers in all have been charged, most of them for lesser crimes; five were charged regarding "premeditated murder." Now Der Spiegel has just published three of the photographs, but apparently has access to a large number of them. And now, what will happen? "Commanders in Afghanistan are bracing themselves for possible riots and public fury triggered by the publication of 'trophy' photographs of US soldiers posing with the dead bodies of defenceless Afghan civilians they killed." The first court martial will result in a guilty plea to murder—and evidence against the others involved.

27 Comments / Post A Comment

Jim Demintia (#1,815)

We are just sooo close to victory in Afghanistan right now…

Louis Fyne (#2,066)

Thank God, I've been looking for and excuse to break out my Mission Accomplished flightsuit.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

The soldiers are trained to kill. Posing with corpses is, while distasteful, a natural progression of war.

It is not a humanizing experience.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Exactly the kind of intelligent remark that is leading our friends on the far right to conclude that we need to kill this country's schools stat.

Hirham (#1,709)

Soldiers are also trained to obey orders, and trained to *not kill* civilians at random. That part of the training doesn't seem to have come to the fore here.

These soldiers are fighting an irregular armed force who don't wear uniforms – in the heat of battle, when folks are shooting at them, it can be hard to tell friendlies from hostiles.

flossy (#1,402)

Freedumb ain't free, you Afghani bitches!

flossy (#1,402)

[sobs quietly]

jfruh (#713)

Sorry, this is just my way of distancing myself from the horror but … can a head be decapitated? Don't you decapitate a person?

And, to answer the actual serious question posed: do you really think that you can create an institution whose existence is dedicated to the use of violence against human beings and not either attract or create some truly sick people? I mean, how do you live with yourself, killing people all day, and not become a monster? Militaries throughout history have created elaborate codes of honor in order to keep the killing and associated behaviors within some kind of socially acceptable boundaries, and these codes actually work really well, for the most part, but you'll never be able to eliminate it entirely.

Louis Fyne (#2,066)

I'm gussing the overlap of hunters and military folk is quite high, Hunters like to pose with their kill. Seems like a rather natural (expected?) corollary. In a world of professionalized soldiers the incidence of events like this would naturally rise.

Obviously (obviously!) this does not reflect soldiers as a whole, but the poopulation to which this is not just reprehensible, but just completely incomprehensible (i.e. me) is a population to which opting to become a soldier is largely incomprehensible.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Ooh, pedantic but true! A body would be decapitated, but a head would just be severed.

NominaStultorum (#1,638)

Murder, decorporated.

Miles Klee (#3,657)

'Disembodied' would do the trick.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Actually, that would be a ghost head.

zidaane (#373)

Ghost Head sounds like a band from New Jersey.

To be fair, I don't think they actually kill all day.

hockeymom (#143)

Why am I not surprised he's from Wasilla.

jfruh (#713)

I note with some distaste that the NYTimes headline on this story is "Photos Stoke Tension Over Afghan Civilian Deaths", rather than, say, "US Soldiers Posed in Photos With Severed Heads of Afghan Civilians". If the paper of record thinks that possible backlash against war crimes is a bigger story than actual war crimes, then why should the individual soldiers feel differenty?

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

I'm sorry, did something change in the last twenty years making it possible to think the Times is on any other side than Team Mammon?

MaryHaines (#3,666)

"Americans wondered how their young soldiers could be drawn into such a provocation."

Diane47 (#2,911)

IMO, MaryHaines wins the thread.

I really don't see what's so horrible here. America is at war with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, a war that's gone on for almost 10 years now (these soldiers were in elementary school when the war began)

In the context of that war against irregular forces who do not wear uniforms, these solders shot a guy, and, showing the gallows humor common among soldiers in combat, they took some pics of themselves with the body.

It's WAR folks, and support it or oppose it, in WAR this is what soldiers do.

Americans need to quit being so God damned squeamish about seeing how the real world works!

jfruh (#713)

Right, except these guys have been charged with felony murder by the military, an organization that I assume is not particularly interested in filing such charges unless there's good reason to (though guilty until proven innocent, etc.). It's the story behind the "shot a guy" that's important!

Also! Would you consider such a "It's a war, get over" attitude towards the desecration of American war dead?

katnotcat (#10,431)

"It's WAR folks, and support it or oppose it, in WAR this is what soldiers do."

Gee, I wonder why we haven't been able to win over the hearts and minds of more civilians in Afghanistan.

Even if we are at WAR with the Taliban, repeatedly "accidentally" killing civilians (and there have been quite a few large, public, large scale "accidents" recently), desecrating their bodies and snapping some photos for the ol' Facebook isn't the best strategy for a WAR that has been intensely complicated by local ideological and material support of the enemy.
Soldiers using Afghans as props for their "gallows humor" doesn't really help the U.S. military with its "We're not invading, we're helping!" stance.
I guess we could slice off civilians' heads until there's no one left to support the Taliban, but it's pretty damn embarassing to keep calling it "Operation Enduring Freedom" in that case, don't you think?

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

"I really don't see what's so horrible [about posing for trophy photos with the severed bodyparts of the recently deceased]."

Get help.

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