Murdered Afghan Trophy Photos on Der Spiegel 28

The United States have killed so many innocent civilians in Afghanistan that nobody will ever know all their stories. There is a line running from genuine accident in the fog of war, to carelessness, through callous disregard of life to deliberate murder. There is a real sense in which it makes no difference to the dead civilian where their killing sits on the line. The six boys under 11 years old killed this month by an aerial attack when out gathering firewood are every bit as dead as the 13 year old boy in one of the trophy photos now released by Der Spiegel.

There is something very vile in the culture of the US military, of which this is but one symptom. I won’t say much, as I feel more grief than anger just at the moment. But I leave you these truths. It is more common for US soldiers to possess such trophy photos, than it is for those trophy photos to be exposed to an international magazine. And it is a great deal more common for US soldiers to murder from the enjoyment of their absolute power of life and death, than it is for them to incriminate themselves by recording the event.

This is but the tip of an iceberg of evil.

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28 thoughts on “Murdered Afghan Trophy Photos on Der Spiegel

  • kathz

    I don't think this is unique to the U.S. Joanne Bourke's book, An Intimate History of Killing, which came out before the Abu Ghraib photos were known, investigates among other matters the reasons why men preserve trophies from killing in war (Wilfred Owen is among those who did so) and why they take photographs of the people they have killed. The reason we have so many photos of atrocities is that the photos were taken – in a number of countries and often as a deliberate record of actions. It's a very uncomfortable subject to address.

  • geomannie

    The posing of the bodies in the pictures is horrific and reminiscent of how hunters pose with their animal kills. Is this how the American soldiers view the Afghans, as beast for slaughter? Would it be possible to go into an American soldiers house and find an Afghan's head mounted on a wall-plaque complete with turban? Why not? If the soldiers can enjoy posing in these pictures who knows what else they are capable of doing?


  • Guest

    The indiscipline of US troops is notorious and it's not accidental or mere dramatic invention that sees it reflected in Hollywood's portrayal of their armed forces, from those "based on real events", such as "Jarhead" or "Saving Private Ryan" right through to "Kelly's Heroes". It is frequently intended to be an endearing expression of the indomitable independent spirit of the average GI but the reality of this trigger happiness is countless "blue on blue" friendly fire incidents and a cavalier disregard for civilians caught up in conflicts.

  • Numeric

    Today an israeli tanker shot 4 members of palestinian family in Gaza, three of them were 14,15, and 17 years old.

  • AX11

    (Cool, there's an OpenID-login! Very handy.) Just wanted to mention that the photos from "Der Spiegel" are to be found here:,1518,…

    – it was not quite clear to me, if they were online or only published in the print version. Oddly enough, they seem to be available only in the english pages, so I -used to read the german "Spiegel" – would never have found them, if had not read about them here. This would also explain why they seem to be mentioned nowhere else in the german speaking net.

  • Ed Davies

    I recommend the book "Generation Kill" by Evan Wright. He was a reporter "embedded" with a US Marine reconn battalion during the invasion of Iraq (and, at times, in the northernmost US vehicle in the country). For me, two of the key themes are:

    1. That many NCOs and junior officers who had seen action before fully understood the consequences of their actions and made genuine efforts to reduce civilian casualties (e.g., ignoring the procedures they'd be ordered to follow in order to attempt to give cars approaching checkpoints better warnings) whereas more desk-bound officers were much less bothered about this sort of thing and, in some cases, ridiculously careless and gungho.

    2. Even soldiers who were bothered by individual unnecessary killing were cheering an artillery attack on a small town, quite oblivious to the likely death and suffering caused to people they couldn't see.

    The title is a reference to a generation brought up on video games and whose skills at killing had been honed by modern training methods.

  • somebody


    Posted by Badger on March 22, 2011, 2:53 pm, in reply to "About this story of US killing squad & posing with the dead Afghan civilians they killed"

    These sort of trophy pictures are commonplace in war. Remember just after the Iraq war, how a photo processing shop revealed some shot by "our boys" just after the invasion? At that time, our population was so brainwashed and was still capable of being shocked by such disgusting things.

    When I was clearing up the family home, years ago, I found some photos my grandfather had brought back from the time when he served (as a farrier) during WW1 on the North West Frontier. These featured him standing beside neat pyramids of severed Afghan heads.

    This is what happens when you fight a war – a shameful degradation of individuals who fight it, and the populations cheering them on.

  • Michael.K

    But soldiers do this kind of thing. It's what they are trained for. To kill an enemy that isn't quite human. It's not just the US, but they do seem to have a history of this kind of thing. Back in the nineteenth century the cavalry conducting a campaign of genocide against the "Indians", collected ears, and turned female breasts into tobacoo pouches. Trophies were taken in the war against Japan, and in Vietnam. If one takes brutalised youth and lets them loose on a defenceless population of sub-humans, this kind of thing is bound to happen.

  • Dan J.

    This is quite disturbing. As it noted above, the scene evokes the image of hunters standing over a dead tiger. It also reminds me, without being flippant, of 'the strike team; in the US police series The Shield. This involves a corrupt police squad who, well, kill people in LA whenever they want to in pursuit of what they see as justice and law. Actually, not quite – you have sympathy for the strike team in the drama, whereas there is no room for that here. Nevertheless, there is obviously some reserved role and place for 'the strike team' in US military and police culture.

  • Guest

    Many years ago on "The Late Late Show" I caught an interview with an Irishman who'd served in the American armed forces, (unfortunately I missed the beginning but I presume he must have emigrated to the US and become a US citizen), He recounted an incident he'd witnessed in Vietnam. A bored armoured unit decided to have a shooting contest – the target being a distant long hut. No check was made to establish whether the hut was occupied before opening fire with the heavy weapons on their APCs. Immediately afterwards, ARVN troops ran outside, waving frantically at the Americans to cease fire. Incredibly, despite having realised they were ARVN allies, they kept on firing at the "slopes". causing further casualties. All the American troops involved were flown back to the States that night so that an Army spokesman could solemnly affirm, "After a thorough investigation I can assure our South Vietnamese allies that no American soldiers serving in the field have been involved in any incident of this kind." US troops are encouraged to behave like the heroes in Hollywood films which are supposedly based on the real behaviour of the troops, as if in a series of distorting mirrors, An interesting essay on the topic is, "John Wayne must die."

    P.S. Apologies if accidentally posted more than once as the website was timing out and the usual post confirmation pending moderation message did not appear, Please delete this postscript if the post appears correctly.

  • anno

    Craig, the hatred generated by the atrocities of the British in India, is very much alive amongst the heirs to this brutality. And that goes for all the communities the British raped and killed. I am conscious of it every day in the attitudes of immigrants to me.
    We stink pretty much as the Americans do, to those whose countries we subjugated and stole. Of course there are simultaneously other layers of brotherhood, respect and friendship, because we humans are a sociable and intelligent species.

    We thought this country had learnt a lesson from two rounds with Hitler, not to mistreat our own people and others abroad. But apparently that was a lesson soon forgotten. Look how the Tory trashers are setting about the NHS and universities to finish off what Thatcher and Blair didn't manage to privatise.

    When a black slave got too old to work, they put him in an old barrel with six inch nails pointing inside. By time he got to the bottom of the hill he was mince. So please don't be too squeamish about the Americans.

  • PenRen

    Aren't these the photos taken by the Stryker Brigade unit that is accused of murdering Afghans civilians for fun? Trophy taking is revolting, but that is much worse.

  • Andrew

    In Vietnam, US troops in similar special killer groups took ears of the dead as souveniers. The troops were not held to account by the military then.

    Plus ca change, plus cest la meme chose

  • mark_golding

    This is the 'kill team' that the Guardian reported last year here:

    and most recently as Craig commented here:

    This is what an American friend wrote on 'screen-savers from hell' – I have omitted the links.

    "An artist should keep a human skull on the desk as a constant reminder of death, of the need to — in the words of a currently popular country tune — live like you were dying. A peace activist should keep a photo in his or her wallet of a small Iraqi child torn to pieces — a constant reminder to live like others are dying.

    The trouble is that we find it almost unbearable to look at such images. We believe the war would end if the corporate media showed such images, yet we turn our faces away if they're placed in front of us; even more so, if they happen to be images of torture or of soldiers enjoying humiliating Iraqis or Afghans. Worst of all are the gruesome images that soldiers have created themselves in this new digital age as war trophies.

    If such images were in our wallets, we wouldn't want them to give anyone the impression that we took some sort of sick pleasure in seeing Iraqis or Afghans blown apart. Yet some of those images have come to us over the Internet from U.S. soldiers who evidently found exactly that pleasure in taking and posting them. As hard as we find it to look at the images, we find it a hundred times harder to try to think our way inside the minds that could do such a thing. We're afraid that, once there, we couldn't freely leave.

    We know, of course, that the parents of a murdered child will never be free of the horror, that the soldiers who did it will never forget, and that the people those soldiers live with when they come back home will not be unaffected. To properly address claims that some wars are good wars and that the worst deeds of war are performed by "bad apples," we have to have a clear picture of what war is, including the worst of it. If we leave out an understanding of the worst of war, all of our thinking must be distorted.

    Therefore, look at this picture.

    Did you look? Those are children who, as likely as not, were running and playing in the months before our government launched a war on the basis of lies. I don't know how those particular children died, but most of the deaths in this war, like all modern wars, are civilian ones, many the result of bombing. This is what "collateral damage" looks like.

    Now look at this image.

    These are mild images. I'm going very easy on you. This child is alive, but wounded –quite probably wounded psychologically as well. Does the woman holding this child look grateful and liberated? Does she look like she will have an easy time forgiving the people who did this? Why do I write "the people who did this"? Why can't I be honest and write "us"? The United States government launched this war, making us responsible for everything that happens in it.

    This image is far more powerful than Edvard Munch's "The Scream."

    I don't know what happened, but I know that this is a picture of unbearable rage. I've looked at many images like this one in which, even if I have no way of learning the details, war is presented far more powerfully than could be done in words.

    Here's someone with enough years ahead of him to forget and forgive.

    But think how hard it will be for him to do so. Then think how easily we will forgive ourselves for not having done more to prevent this war or end it sooner. Who will have the easier time, and should it be that way?

    There are stories in our media now about U.S. troops killing civilians — men, women, and children in cold blood. Sometimes these killings are described as motivated by revenge for Iraqi hostility and ingratitude. But who told our soldiers that the Iraqis would be grateful for being invaded, shock-and-awed, and occupied? Who spread that lie? Not the Iraqis.

    And who told our soldiers that it was acceptable to kill the "hadji" (the term they appropriated in a racist way for Iraqis)? Who taught our young men and women to place bags over Iraqi heads?

    These people have faces. The bags take away the stories those faces might tell.


  • mark_golding

    To defend the United States, our soldiers have been sent by the Bush/Obama administrations to "handle" people who never threatened us and who live in a nation that never threatened us by

    pinning them to the ground;

    holding guns to their heads;

    parading them naked;

    leaving them handcuffed in the dirt, creating scenes that concentration camp guards from Nazi Germany would have flinched at far less than the rest of us;

    surely the "hadjis" are not human if we can treat them this way, if their limbs can be found lying about in the street like fruit off a tree;

    if piles of their corpses present logistical rather than legal problems

    But to say that our soldiers, or some of our soldiers anyway, do not see the Iraqis as humans is not to suggest that they see them simply as objects. Rather, they surely see them as enemies, as "evildoers," as "insurgents," as "terrorists." Such creatures are almost by definition, beyond sympathy, entirely alien, and not just to be randomly harmed, but abused.

    Here is a U.S. soldier posing with two Iraqi boys. They are all giving a thumbs-up signal, and one of the boys is holding a sign he is surely incapable of understanding that says: "Lcpl Boudreaux killed my dad then he knocked up my sister!" With some images from this war, we cannot know if, or to what extent, they were posed. This one, however, is clearly a performance and we are the audience. We are supposed to laugh.

    And, in a sense, the sign in this photo is certainly true. At least some U.S. soldiers have evidently become so accustomed to killing and torturing that it dominates their thinking. What dominates your thinking, what concerns you, often comes out in humor. It is quite likely that the soldier in this photo has not murdered or raped anyone, but perhaps he has seen such things done by others. Given the nature of our war in Iraq, though, it is entirely possible that he has committed such acts.

    Think about the images from Abu Ghraib. Here's one to remind you, one you may not have seen before.

    The question we should ask ourselves is not just why our soldiers tortured this man, but why someone took a photo of it. How had such acts become behavior to take pride in, to record as keepsakes? And are a few bad apples really capable of creating such conditions?

    A photograph presupposes an audience, someone to enjoy or appreciate it. Here's an image of a young female prisoner in Abu Ghraib raising her shirt as she was certainly forced to do.

    Someone expects us to enjoy that as pornography. Instead, it offers a glimpse of a world of unfathomable humiliation and abuse, the very same world that produced the image above of the bleeding man.

    If you go to this collection of image galleries and scroll down to the very bottom, you will see a couple of folders labeled "War Trophy Photos." I must leave it to your judgment whether you want to see them or not. I trust you to want to see them for the right reasons. These are images of corpses and body parts mutilated and displayed, in close-up, laid out on a platter for cannibals. These are images that no one should find it easy to view, not even surgeons. But they are part of the true story of what this war is about and what all wars are about.

    Many of these images were sent by American soldiers to a website that marketed pornography. Presumably, these were viewed as war pornography. Presumably, they were created by people who have come to love war. And I don't mean people who avoid going to wars and then send other people's children to fight and die or be turned into people who could do this. I don't think Dick Cheney and George Bush flip through these photos in the evening, but I think they have a duty to do so until they can't stand it anymore and bring our troops home."

    Courtesy David Swanson – a dear friend and sponsor.

    What kind of screen-savers are we really creating for posterity?

    • Guest

      "…creating scenes that concentration camp guards from Nazi Germany would have flinched at…." I suppose SOME might have flinched, considering that the gas chambers were devised for the "humanitarian" purpose of making mass murder less traumatic for the perpetrators, but I think it probably better to steer clear of such hyperbole. I do understand the anger and revulsion that such images provoke in anyone with a heart and that lead to such statements though. The problem with prolonged or repeated exposure is its desensitising effect, It's bizarre that cinematic violence, (which reaches an extreme in so-called torture porn), is considered less offensive and worthy of censorship than normal sexual behaviour, particularly in the prudish USA. Army psychologists took a long look at their training procedures after WW2, having discovered that only a 15-20% minority of soldiers, (at least when confronted by another human being rather than a faceless tank, an aeroplane, or a city far below), would deliberately aim to kill. That's actually a rather encouraging statistic regarding basic human nature. Of course the psychologists immediately got to work designing training programs to increase that percentage, deliberately building on and exploiting the personal bonds within small units and emphasising the "us and them" mentality – protect your buddies by killing those inhuman krauts, japs, gooks, slopes, hadjis etc.

  • aksa
    One very first picture you can see face of the lunatics, after that you can see pictures of the death which "liberators" have brought – massively.

    "This is but the tip of an iceberg of evil."
    Correct, there is culture of violence, it is systemic one. When you do not see violence, you see trivialism and ingrained lie. The concept of the truth is alien and unknown, let alone justice and moral. The words and sentences have lost its meaning just like in Orwellian society. It is "homo homini lupus" society.

    Paradoxically, IMF utmost neocolonial organization made the chart by which they measure "advanced" countries. The US is last, note number of prisoners per 100.000.

    It is interesting that some commentators here justifying the killing as a something normal, "that is what soldiers do" and the like, and I think that is when trivialism from shopping malls and stupidification by TV's became nihilism. No wonder that the "products" of such societies have no emotional intelligence, or any intelligence for that matter. I watched the other day Standard Operating Procedure movie where I saw all wickedness and wickedness of US military when that girl from photos said "what can I do, it was just business as usual".

    What about justice. Dream on. The sociopaths and murderers will be: dishonorably discharged, they had license to kill.

  • Frazer

    So we all have no problem with the Taliban et al cutting peoples heads off and posting on You Tube then ???

    • anno

      So we none of us have a duty to stop to think whether it's a good idea to be drawn into the war which the Taliban wants to fight with us. Which the enemies within our free societies , the usurious Zionist bankers, want us to fight so that we become steeped in the outrages being discussed here. it is just as courageous to refuse to be drawn into a fight, as to follow blindly and patriotically the nutters who are in charge of us like Bush and Cameron and Blair. Do you not see that in fighting these wars, the societies we value have been put in jeopardy? The West has zero moral authority. Do you not see that the writing is more than on the wall. The vacuum created by all this jingoist heroism of yours will definitely be filled by the rule of Shariah law. The people of Yemen and Libya cried out for the British to come and help their problems after the youth had drawn the ire of their leaders by their protests. And the British are stupid enough to think this is moral authority.
      It is a manipulative trap to involve us in a struggle, not with the tyrants of the last thirty years, but the future tyrants of Islamic fundamentalism. Like the guy who asks you for a couple of quid for the bus home… on his rounds of the good-hearted citizens.

      Let's get this straight. The Mubaraks of this world are corrupt and had no legitimacy. But the Mullahs in waiting are capable of greater corruption and less legitimacy. The Zionist bankers would love total chaos to reign in the entire Muslim world.
      And you twerps in your khaki berets are on their side. It's simple. We got rid of the pope running the world and established a protestantism that connected the individual directly with God, bypassing the old corruption of Rome. I am a Muslim and that is as near as possible to my idea of my religion. If you carry on behaving badly, by shitting on people in wars, you hand the moral authority to the popes of the Muslim world who would tyrannise us to conform with their ideas. You.. stupid.. soldiers, not us.. sensible ..civilians.. who objected utterly and completely to these stupid wars.

  • mark_golding

    President Obama recently pronounced: “There is no justification and there can be neither excuse nor forgiveness for the murder of children. I expect a similar condemnation, and I demand a similar condemnation, from the Palestinian Authority.”

    He was of course referring to the **unsolved** murder of three children in Itamar in the West Bank:

    Itamar (near Nablus), is an illegal Jewish-only settlement on stolen Palestinian land in the midst of refugees whom Israel pushed off their ancestral land through massacres and ruthless military actions.

    Spectator columnist Melanie Phillips wrote:

    "The moral depravity of the Arabs is finding a grotesque echo in the moral bankruptcy and worse of the British and American 'liberal' media," wrote Phillips. "Overwhelmingly, the media have either ignored or downplayed the atrocity – or worse, effectively blamed the victims for bringing it on themselves, describing them as 'hard-line settlers' or extremists. "To the New York Times, it's not the Arab massacre of a Jewish family which has jeopardised 'peace prospects' – because the Israelis will quite rightly never trust any agreement with such savages – but instead Israeli policy on building more homes, on land to which it is legally and morally entitled, which is responsible instead for making peace elusive. Twisted, and sick."

    This kneejerk reaction by Ms Phillips, the Israeli authorities and media indicates a serious lack of common sense and democratic values, and is a violation of the human rights of Palestinians. The Israeli authorities have sworn vengeance and in doing so have put aside all pretence of legal due process. At least 300 villagers in Awarta have been arrested so far, Palestinians beaten and their water polluted.

    American news reports continue to provide excruciating details about the atrocity. Given the amount of reportage, it is surprising how much significant information is omitted.

    If it turns out that the murderer or murderers were Israeli, as some previously presumed “terrorists” have turned out to be, or a foreign worker who had previously threatened the family over unpaid wages, as some reports from the area suggest, it is likely that coverage of the incident will quickly vanish from U.S. headlines.

    Itamar was founded and is largely populated by fanatic Jewish extremists, many of whom believe that the killing of non-Jewish infants is religiously permitted, and sometimes mandated, as discussed in a best-selling book “The King’s Torah,” which was written by authors from the area and endorsed by numerous rabbis and religious schools and opposed by most Israelis.

    Melanie Phillips is obviously right wing and barking mad, I remind her that in response to the Itamar attack, on March 13, the Israeli cabinet approved the construction of 500 housing units in the West Bank settlements and settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Ma'ale Adumim, Ariel and Modi'in Illit, areas of the West Bank that Israel intends to keep under any permanent accord with the Palestinians. (Pat on the back for Shabak?)

  • Frazer

    @dreolin …well it seems that we in the west are playing by civilised rules and thet our enemies are taking advantage of this..Q? I have seen people protesting outside embassies in London brandishing placards saying things such as Kill All British Soldiers etc, and they get off with a 20 quid fine. If I were to stand outside the Iranian embassy with a placard saying Kill All Muslims, I would be in jail.
    Soldiers have been taking battlefield photos since the invention of the camera. You aint goint to stop it. I have seen a damned site worse during my time in Iraq. Double standards ?? Absoloutly.

  • Clark

    Frazer, it is a strange set of inversion, is it not? "I have seen people protesting [with] placards saying things such as Kill All British Soldiers etc, and they get off with a 20 quid fine. If I were to stand outside the Iranian embassy with a placard saying Kill All Muslims, I would be in jail." True. And yet far more Muslims are actually killed or injured than Westerners. The West supposedly "plays by civilised rules", and yet we know that the decision making process that causes the "game to be played" is riddled with corruption, and the stated motives do not match the real motives. It would be hard to find a single set of standards to apply.

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