Most remember the indelible trophy photo of the "American Taliban," John Walker Lindh--one of the most prominent prisoners of the Afghanistan war--naked, blindfolded and trussed, with "shithead" scrawled across the blindfold, and bound to a board with duct tape. That was our first glimpse of American-sponsored torture and we didn't even flinch.
The latest trophy photos to emerge, obtained by the L.A. Times, show smiling soldiers posing with Afghan corpses, including two soldiers holding up a corpse's hand and extending his middle finger, and the mangled body of a suicide bomber hoisted by his ankles.
These are not on-off incidents, but point to a larger problem of the utter dehumanization of the "other"--desecration of the dead, killing innocent Afghan civilians for sport, burning the Koran, and gunning down children and journalists as if playing the video game "Call of Duty". This is not just a "P.R. setback for the U.S. military." It's a setback for evolving standards of modern morality.
This results from the normalization of torture, the legitimization of non-combat killing, the metastatic dehumanization of the "other" (whether the government calls them "radicals," "collateral damage," etc.), and the industrialization of death (we do drone assassinations remotely)--things absolutely forbidden by the law of civilized nations.
Here are some recent highlights:
2001: Trophy photo of "Detainee 001," John Walker Lindh (the "American Taliban"), circulates worldwide.
2002: CIA operatives subject Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Sashiri to severe interrogation and videotape the acts.
2004:"60 Minutes II" aired photos of naked prisoners stacked in a pyramid, a female soldier leading around a nude captive by a dog leash, inmates with women's underwear over their heads, a hooded prisoner with electrodes attached to his fingers and a staged photo of a dead corpse hooked to an iv.
2007: Video made of U.S. Army Apache helicopter in Baghdad repeatedly opening fire on a group of men that included a Reuters photographer and his driver -- and then on a van that stopped to rescue one of the wounded men (released in 2010 by WikiLeaks.)
2010: Members of an Army combat brigade photographed themselves with corpses of Afghan civilians who were gunned down. Published by Rolling Stone magazine and Der Spiegel.
2012: A video posted on the Internet depicts 4 Marines laughing as they urinated on corpses.
And now, the L.A. Times publishes 18 photos from 2010 that show troops posing with Afghan corpses.
These are not the acts of rogue soldiers. They are not in, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the acts of
a few bad apples.And they are not, in Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's words,
immature reactions to battlefield stress . . . "I know younge people somethimes caught up in the moment make some very foolish decisions."Enough of the rationalizations. I do not think our honorable military is filled with sadists. But I do believe that these acts reflect the normalization of torture and reflect an institutional culture right up the chain of command.
A soldier--and, yes, I'm calling him a whistleblower--released the recent batch of photos to draw attention to the safety risk of a breakdown in leadership and discipline. It's not a stretch to say that he will be retaliated against and punished for doing so.