Pentagon tried to prevent publication of Afghanistan corpse abuse photos

The Los Angeles Times this week published photographs of US soldiers in Afghanistan posing with the mangled bodies of Afghan men believed to be suicide bombers.

Government officials were quick to condemn the behavior. But today, news that the Pentagon sought to prevent the publication of these images, in a dispute that stretched on for weeks with LA Times editors.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today said, “The reason for that is those kinds of photos are used by the enemy to incite violence, and lives have been lost as the result of the publication of similar photos.”

Only 2 of of the images were published. 16 more were received by the war correspondent who wrote the piece; the paper will not release them.

“They are just awful,” he said, calling the two that were published “the least gruesome.”

Photo: A soldier from the Army’s 82nd Airborne with a dead insurgent’s hand on his shoulder. (Los Angeles Times / April 18, 2012)


  1. A well-sanitized war is likely an endless war.  A clear motivation to end a war is to be reminded what horrific things they are all the time and not just when something ugly escapes those who would avert our gaze for us.

    1. We don’t just need the photos as a reminder, we often need them to convince our own people that these things are being done at all. Relatively few Americans would have believed, much less acknowledged, all the horrors that went down at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay if it weren’t for the photographic evidence that leaked out.

  2. so let me get this straight. Panetta said that this type of behavior incites violence and that was his reasoning for wanting to keep the pictures from the public? why did it occur in the first place?

    1. You can’t think about it as real life anymore.  It’s a reality show and we need careful editing to keep the ratings up.

    2. His words are designed to sound like logic, but they represent insanity. That’s what makes my former Congressional Representative a dick, possibly evil, and definitely someone who should feel bad. Thanks, Leon.

    3. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today said, “The reason why we should condemn this kind of behaviour and take disciplinary action now and in the future, dishonorably discharging the involved soldiers is that these incidents are used by the enemy to incite violence and radicalize regular people. Many lives have been and will be lost as the result of the thoughtless, impious actions undertaken by few.”
      Thar, I fixed it.

  3. The enemy gets mad because of the photos?

    No. The enemy gets mad because we abuse corpses.

    Want to make sure photos like this don’t get published? Make DAMN sure your soldiers do nothing like this.

    1. “The enemy gets mad because we abuse corpses.”

      Actually, I think they’re probably mad because we’re making so many corpses — and because so many of them are civilians.

      1. Well, sure. But I think it’s both. I mean… you’re right. We stop *killing* them, we can’t abuse their corpses, which would mean there would be no photos.

  4. It’s not the publication of the photos that incites violence — it’s the behaviour the photos demonstrate.

    1. Exactly. My daughter is 11 and even *she* is emotionally mature enough to understand the difference of getting in trouble because you were caught and getting in trouble because you did something wrong.

  5. Meh.  War is Hell.  This has been happening (sans digital photography) for centuries.  It is not uncommon to dehumanize the enemy after a battle.  I’m sure these types of images have been used for patriotic propaganda in the past.

    1. Exactly. I wish that more Americans were horrified by the fact that our military is killing so many thousands of people, rather than by our military abusing the bodies after they’re dead.

  6. I have no problem with the govt. wanting to suppress these images. Their primary concern has to be with the welfare of the troops currently serving over there. Why invite more hostility? The ideal way to address the issue would be privately, with sanctions (or therapy) quietly invoked against all involved.

    Yes, the behavior is extremely wrong,  yes, the “public has a right to know” and all that, but it’s like throwing gasoline onto an already unstable situation. It’s just not helping anything at all – in fact it puts troops at further risk.

    1. The ideal way to address the issue would be privately, with sanctions (or therapy) quietly invoked against all involved.

      But they don’t do anything about it. They don’t do anything about any atrocities that we commit. Let them publish the pictures and then hand the soldiers over to the Afghan government.

      1.  But THEN you get into the complicated issue of an American citizen being prosecuted in a foreign court, which raises all sorts of diplomatic issues as has been exemplified through various prior cases. Not to mention whatever the U.S. military’s position regarding soldiers in that matter might be, of which I have no idea.

        Is it possible they’ve taken actions against the perpetrators that simply haven’t been broadcast by the media?

        1. Is it possible they’ve taken actions against the perpetrators that simply haven’t been broadcast by the media?

          You can look up the perps from all kinds of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan and it’s been mostly hand-slaps with no punishment for higher-ups. Every US (or any other country’s) soldier who commits a war crime is effectively recruiting for al-Qaida and should be treated like we teat any other terrorist.

          1.  I’m not sure I agree. I don’t think things are quite as simple as “do a bad thing, WAR CRIMINAL!”. Let’s face it, troops face some significant mental health challenges most of us aren’t ever exposed to.

            I’d like to read an honest psychological analysis of all involved. I expect It’d be relevatory.

            Some thought needs to be put into what spurs soldiers to behave in this manner, clearly. I’d argue that should be the focus, rather than penalization. I’m also not sure the higher-ups are to blame. The whole affair reeks to me of a mental wellness breakdown, which may be challenging to detect.

        2. But THEN you get into the complicated issue of an American citizen being prosecuted in a foreign court, which raises all sorts of diplomatic issues as has been exemplified through various prior cases.

          Off hand I can think of three of four US citizens who were prosecuted in my country (Australia) without any damage to our relationship with the US. Overall there must be hundreds.

          1. The US seems to have negotiated a unilateral extradition treaty with most of the world. Oh, and anybody with a US passport in Iraq or Afghanistan has diplomatic immunity no matter what they do. At the same time, Texas has cheerfully executed foreign nationals.

        3.  Don’t want to be prosecuted in a foreign court? Then don’t go abroad, or if you must, don’t commit crimes while you’re there.

    2. I have no problem with the pentagon trying to suppress these.

      I have a huge problem with their apparent 88% success rate. 

        1. Thanks for asking, I probably wasn’t clear.

          I think it is appropriate for the pentagon to try to suppress images taken by soldiers, overseas, in the performance of their duties. Not that I like it.

          I think it is a failure of journalism that 18 were leaked, and only 2 were released.

          What exactly are they over they protecting?

    3. “I have no problem with the govt. wanting to suppress these images. Their primary concern has to be with the welfare of the troops currently serving over there.”

      Nonsense. If the powers-that-be actually cared about the well-being of the troops, we wouldn’t be involved in this bloody imperialistic cluster-fuck in the first place. This is all about P.R. for the military industrial complex — wouldn’t want to get cold feet as we’re ramping up for war with Iran, would we?

      1.  Oh, now. You must know it’s not that simple. :P And I’m 99% sure NO ONE wants war with Iran. You seem to be approaching the issue from the standpoint that multiple people in power are keen on war as an effective solution for any given issue. I simply don’t find that realistic. War may be an option but I expect 99% of the time that’s vastly undesirable.

        1. I bet Dick Cheney would love to see an invasion of Iran before he dies. He’d probably get his first orgasm in 40 years.

        2. I’m 99% sure NO ONE wants war with Iran.

          Sure, except for a few extremists—like that guy who came within a stone’s throw of winning the Presidency in 2008. Remember “bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran?”

          Almost no one openly admits they “want” war. Even Bush said he didn’t “want” to go to war in Iraq. And yet they continue to happen! Funny, that.

          1. if you have a financial stake in the game, and you are a total sociopath, then you DO want war. think dick cheney’s former employer getting billions of dollars worth of contracts in the middle east. if it waddles and quacks like a war profiteer, is it really paranoid to call it a war profiteer?

      2.  I agree with Talia, I think America at the moment is very war weary. These small rebellious acts we are seeing now are just the tip of the iceberg that is the simmering discontent in the military.

    4.  The military’s primary concern is not the welfare of troops. That’s crazy. If you are so concerned about the welfare of soldiers, you do not put them in harms way.
      The primary concern is always the mission.
      So, what is the mission in Afghanistan? Ostensibly it would be to help establish stability, train the government and military, and make sure the new Afghan government can stand once we leave.
      Instead we have installed Karzai therby making sure that very few Afghani will volunteer for military or police duty. They hate him. With that hatred comes the surety that the Afghan government will never be stable. In other words, this is a farce or at the very least an untenable goal.
      Puiblishing pictures in no way puts troops in danger. The Afghani people see this death in person. They see how our troops treat the locals and murder their pets for sport. They are already aware our troops desecrate corpses. They have seen it for 10 years. It’s the U.S. public who is in need of education here. We MUST show the public what we are doing so that we can stop it.
      The military answer of covering this all up has nothing to do with the troops and everything to do with the continuation of a war for little more gain than the profits to be made by the arms manufacturers on both sides.
      It was Afghanistan that eventually broke the Soviet economy. Let’s not make the same…. oh wait… too late.

    5. The ideal way to address the issue would be privately, with sanctions (or therapy) quietly invoked against all involved

      Everything I’ve read indicates that this incident is only being investigated (years after the fact, mind you) BECAUSE the photos were published. The “quietest” investigation is no investigation.

  7. We will teach you how to kill.  We will make you a machine (our machine), sublimating normal human morality to achieve your core purpose: kill who we tell you to.

    But while we exhort you to show no mercy to those enemies of the state, once they are dead: be nice if you could?  Making corpses is perfectly acceptable; but the bodies, the empty shells: Off Limits to you darn Facebooking kids…kay?  

    I don’t blame the soldiers.  I can’t even blame the officers.  It’s war.  And war is hell from what the stories say.  The Big Men at the top say “we are better than this”; but are we really?

    Systemic stupidity in a failed attempt at…what exactly?  Nation building?  Please.

    Get them out.  Bring them home.  We’ve sent a million of our kids overseas since 9/11.

    From the NY Times:

    “An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.”

    When does it end?  


    1. I don’t blame the soldiers. I can’t even blame the officers. It’s war.

      How is that different from the Nuremberg defense? Are US soldiers somehow special that they deserve a forgiveness that we never extended to Japanese or German soldiers?

      1. As long as they’re just following AMERICAN orders it’s more than okay — it’s downright PATRIOTIC.

      2. I assume you are referring to other atrocities and not to desecrating corpses.   I agree with Roger Brumlow in that we seem more outraged by desecration of corpses that the fact we are producing the corpses in the first place. 

        1. The US has strongly pushed to look at every incident as separate and unrelated to every other incident. I think that it’s valuable to look at all of them together. This, although vile, is obviously not as horrible as actually murdering civilians, but it surely has similar root causes.

          Leon Panetta said, “This is not us” as if this were some extraordinary anomaly. But this is very much us. This is who we are: a nation that can commit any crime with impunity.

  8. Just like the police riots against Occupy, and many other cases – No accountability. 

  9. The Pentagon wanting the photos suppressed is arguably a separate issue from any atrocities they may depict.  The idea they’re afraid of provoking retaliation is just a pretext.  After all, the Pentagon fought the publication of photos of flag-draped coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq.  Were they afraid the American people would rise up and retaliate violently?  Fat chance.  This is just what they do.  They will always want the only photos you see during wartime to be the ones they’ve chosen.  If the Pentagon thought they could get away with it, the only photos they’d ever allow newspapers to publish would be pictures of an American flag with an eagle standing in front of it.

  10. I suspect I’ll be fairly unsupported in my views on this, though my comment history here proves I’m no fan of American militarism and the military in general, but I couldn’t give two shits about this incident. Pissing on corpses of fighters your killed? Bad. Torching copies of the Koran? Bad. Storming into civilian houses in the middle of the night and murdering them in cold blood? Very very bad. This? Meh.

    I have an amount of respect for the Taliban who fight “fair” using standard tactics and not by fighting under the cover of civilian clothing/vehicles. Suicide bombers and those who place IEDs deserve no adversarial respect as they are uninterested in reducing civilian casualties and use the trauma caused by fighting in populated areas to their advantage. They should realise this is gonna happen to their remains when they choose to play dirty.

    The other thing worth mentioning is that the Afghan Police in the smaller photograph published by LA Times don’t seem to be too upset at mistreatment of the remains because, as the LA Times article makes clear, the insurgent that the legs belong to intended to blow up a police checkpoint (but failed).

    1.  Perhaps they should be wearing brightly-colored uniforms with white straps crossed in in the middle of their torso, and advance in well-formed lines to fire their muskets in volleys, rather than hiding behind rocks like cowards and sniping? Oh, wait – different war. That’s what the British said about American tactics in the 1770s.

      Apparently laying mine fields and using hugely expensive aircraft to carelessly drop very costly bombs and missiles all over  a foreign country is the responsible thing to do, while walking or driving up much better targeted and smaller bombs to foreign invaders and their quislings in one’s own country is a terrorist tactic.

      1. There are rules to war which dictate acceptable bahviour – most of which I am confident the US Army follows. The UN CCW cover the use of mines or booby traps and Protocol II:

        prohibits the use of non-detectable anti-personnel mines and their transfer; prohibits the use of non-self-destructing and non-self-deactivating mines outside fenced, monitored and marked areas
        ^This covers IEDs

        Protocol III prohibits, in all circumstances, making the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects, the object of attack by any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat or a combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target.
        ^This does too

        I don’t know why you bring up the cost of aircraft and bombs… that is America’s economy’s problem and bears no relation to the (im?)morality of war.

        Your idea of the Taliban attacks being “better targeted” is odd considering they are responsible for far more Afghan civilian deaths than the coalition forces. Additionally I think you’ve been drinking the Taliban بارد المساعدات (that’s Arabic for kool-aid) if you accept their claims that the coalition are ‘foreign invaders’. You’d think if that was the case then the Afghan Army and Government would be fighting them too.

        But that’s cool because you don’t need to think to post stuff on the internet do you? So go nuts.

    2.  Your entire comment is a very literal description of the military’s S.O.P. There is no such thing as fairness in war.

  11. Regardless of government involvement, why would soldiers take photos like this at all? Are they going to show them to their grandkids and their loved ones back home? What the fuck are they thinking?

    1. War is not a nice thing, and to get through it you do strange things. Things that in normal society seem weird. A situation where it’s kill or be killed tends to skew reality in weird ways.
      Like has been pointed out before: de-humanizing the enemy (these were suicide bombers, not innocent bystanders) is a not a new phenomon, it’s a way of dealing with the fact that you need to kill in order to win.

      1. And how do we deal with the fact that making these photographs was a War Crime under the Geneva Convention?
        Or do we only care about treaties when we accuse nations we wanna bomb of violating them??

  12. “US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today said, “The reason for that is those kinds of photos are used by the enemy to incite violence, and lives have been lost as the result of the publication of similar photos.”” Translation: “We’re REALLY pissed off that the paper wouldn’t help us bury this story. Traitors.” Asshole. Sadly, Antinous is right. NO officer, NO senior NCO will be punished for this. and the couple of soldiers at the bottom of the food chain that they DO punish, will get slaps on the wrist. “After all, they were just dead gooks.”

  13.  “It is a violation of Army standards to pose with corpses for photographs outside of officially sanctioned purposes,” said George Wright, an Army spokesman.

    Officially sanctioned purposes? Glad to know there is a way to get posing with corpses officially sanctioned. Like for recruiting or charity drives.

    1. I could imagine a hypothetical reason for doing so… say, an impassive blue-gloved technician holding a ruler for scale during the course of a forensic investigation. In other words the opposite of this kind of thing.

  14. I liked it better before when we could pretend that M-4s shot out lots of tiny little constitutions.

  15. Yet another incident where our Kill Squads have committed blatant war crimes.
    I wonder how many times we DIDN’T hear about this sort of thing.
    Did this squad operate under an SS flag?
    Did they collect any actual body parts too?
    Did they burn the bodies or rape the victims first, like the last incident (blamed on a lone nut despite two rapes and all those homicides and burnings in two villages in under an hour) ??

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