a drop in the bucket of 4,000 images
(click to see enlarged photos at Der Speigel)
In 2010, there operated in the southern province of Kandahar, Afghanistan, a US Stryker tank unit that called itself a “Kill Team”. Twelve members of that team are now currently on trail in Seattle for their role in the killing of three civilians. In one incident in May 2010, when the team arrested a mullah who was merely standing by the road, they took him into a ditch and ordered him to kneel down. The group’s leader, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, threw a grenade at the mullah, ordered his men to shoot him, and then cut off the mullah’s fingers and a tooth. Then, he reported to his superiors that the team had no choice but to shoot the mullah because he threatened them with a grenade.
Now, Gibbs and his men are being charged for this incident, and other crimes, which included drug abuse, and possession of images of human casualties (I didn’t know that was a crime). The U.S. military had tried hard to prevent these images reaching into the public domain, but Der Speigel had obtained nearly 4000 photos and videos taken by the men; last Sunday, it has decided to publish three, editorializing that since there are collections of pictures which pointed to other heinous crimes committed, in addition to the crimes these men were on trial for, it would only be fair for a news outlet to draw attention to them.
I agree. While publishing all 4000 images will be repugnant and unnecessary, reproducing a small number of photos is informational. Like shocking images from Vietnam, these photos will spur the conversation on all too real human casualties of wars we fight, collaterals we often forget. I believe the perpetrators of these acts are merely rogue agents and bad apples, but sometimes it is healthy to examine, like in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, whether the systemic failures of the barrel prompted these apples to go bad.
One of the nice things about writing for a blog, as opposed to writing for a newspaper, is that I don’t really have to care much about censors. (But, I have decided to link them because they are too brutal to be depicted on my homepage). But I don’t deny that these photos won’t have any consequences; they do — in Afghanistan and elsewhere.