The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel has published two photographs depicting U.S. Army soldiers posing next to the corpse of an Afghan civilian moments after he was killed in an incident the Army has classified as a murder.
The photos are among several hundred the US Army has sought to keep under wraps as it prosecutes five members of the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, for the alleged murders of three unarmed Afghan civilians last year. The photographs published by Der Spiegel were among those covered by a judicial protective order issued by a military judge, prohibiting their public release.
The photos were published in the print edition of the magazine scheduled for distribution Monday. An advance copy was made available to subscribers in an e-mail over the weekend.
According to the magazine, the photos show soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, posing separately next to the corpse of Gul Mudin, an unarmed Afghan civilian killed by their unit on Jan. 15, 2010.
One photo depicts Spec. Jeremy N. Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska, smiling and crouching next to the bloodied corpse. The other depicts Pfc. Andrew H. Holmes of Boise, Idaho, squatting next to the same body.
In a statement released Sunday, the Army called the actions depicted in the photos “repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army.”
“We apologize for the distress these photos cause,” the Army statement said. “The actions portrayed in these photographs remain under investigation and are now the subject of ongoing U.S. court-martial proceedings, in which the accused are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”
Morlock and Holmes have both been charged with murder in Mudin’s death. According to charging documents filed by Army criminal investigators, Mudin began walking toward the soldiers in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province. As the Afghan approached, Morlock threw a grenade on the ground, according to the documents, to create the illusion that the soldiers were under attack.
Holmes saw the grenade and fired his weapon at Mudin, according to charging documents. The grenade exploded, prompting other soldiers to open fire on the villager as well, killing him.
In statements to investigators, the soldiers involved have given conflicting details. In one statement that his attorney has subsequently tried to suppress, Morlock said that another soldier, Staff Sgt. Calvin R. Gibbs, had given him the grenade and that others were also aware of the ruse beforehand. But Holmes and his attorney said he was in the dark and opened fire only because Morlock ordered him to do so.
Morlock has pleaded guilty to three charges of murder and is scheduled to be sentenced at a court-martial Wednesday.
Geoffrey Nathan, one of Morlock’s civilian defense attorneys, said the photographs published by Der Spiegel would not affect the outcome of his case. He said that the photographs do not have a time or date stamp and that the identity of the corpse and the setting were unverifiable, calling it “mere speculation.”
But Daniel Conway, a civilian attorney for Holmes, confirmed the authenticity of the photo depicting his client, who he said “was ordered to be in the picture” by superiors in his platoon.
Conway said the photograph could help to clear Holmes of murder because Mudin’s wounds appear to have been caused exclusively by a grenade blast. Holmes is accused of shooting the Afghan man. Conway criticized the Army for trying to keep the photographs under wraps.
“The Army is spending most of their time investigating the photos rather than the murder,” he said.
In its statement, the Army noted that, in addition to the murder charges, it was also investigating whether members of the unit mistreated Afghan corpses. Some soldiers already have been charged with harboring body parts of alleged victims.
“When allegations of wrongdoing by soldiers surface, to include the inappropriate treatment of the dead, they are fully investigated,” the Army statement said. “Soldiers who commit offenses will be held fully accountable.”
A third photograph published by Der Spiegel allegedly depicts two dead, handcuffed Afghan civilians. No soldiers are included in the photo, and the magazine did not say when it was taken or how it was related to the Stryker unit.