What’s wrong with these pictures?

Germany’s Der Spiegel captions this photo as follows: “This photo shows the corpse of farmer’s son Gul Mudin, killed January 15, 2010, with a member of the ‘Kill Team’ posing behind it. Der SPIEGEL has published three photos from the possessions of the accused, who are alleged to have killed innocent Afghans out of pure lust for murder.”

Here’s another of the photos in question:

This one is captioned: “This photo was taken the same day, this time it’s soldier Jeremy Morlock grinning into the camera.”

Now, bearing in mind that the dead man has a name, and the name is Gul Mudin, tell me if you can see what’s wrong with this Reuters report:

(Reuters) – Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine published photos on Monday of American soldiers posed over the bloodied corpse of an Afghan civilian whose slaying is being prosecuted by the U.S. military as premeditated murder.

Disclosure of the images, among dozens seized as evidence in the prosecutions but kept sealed from public view by the military, prompted the U.S. Army to issue an apology “for the distress these photos cause” and condemning actions depicted in them as “repugnant.”

One photo shows a soldier identified as Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 23, of Wasilla, Alaska, broadly smiling in sunglasses as he crouches beside the bloodied, prone body of a man whose head he is holding up for the camera by the hair.

A second soldier, Private First Class Andrew Holmes, 20, is seen in a separate photo kneeling over the same corpse, also raising the victim’s head by the hair.

As published by Der Spiegel and circulated elsewhere on the Internet, the face of the body has been deliberately blurred in the pictures to render it unidentifiable.

Lawyers for both soldiers confirmed to Reuters that their respective clients are the soldiers who appear in the images. Holmes’ attorney, Daniel Conway, said the body in both photos is that of the unarmed Afghan man both men are accused of slaying on January 15, 2010, with a grenade blast and rifle fire.

Morlock and Holmes are among five Stryker Brigade soldiers facing court-martial at Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, Washington, on charges of premeditated murder stemming from the deaths of three Afghan villagers whose killings were allegedly staged to look like legitimate combat casualties.

According to his lawyers, Morlock has agreed to plead guilty later this week to three counts of murder and other offenses and to testify against his co-defendants.

Under the plea deal, still subject to approval by a military judge, he would receive a 24-year prison sentence, as opposed to the life term he faced if convicted of all charges in a trial.

Holmes has reached no such deal. Defense lawyers insist Holmes is innocent and have sought, so far unsuccessfully, to force the military to unseal a number of photos that they say would help exonerate their client for the single murder with which he is charged.

The murder cases, which grew out of a probe into hashish use by American GIs, stand as the most serious prosecution of alleged atrocities by U.S. military in Afghanistan since the war there began in late 2001.

Photos like those published by Der Spiegel have drawn comparisons with pictures of Iraqi prisoners taken by U.S. military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004.

In its statement, the U.S. Army said the photos depicted “actions 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,” said the statement, issued through the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, adding that actions shown in the photographs were now the subject of court-martial proceedings.

“The photos appear in stark contrast to the discipline, professionalism and respect that have characterized our soldiers’ performance during nearly 10 years of sustained operations (in Afghanistan).”

Geoffrey Nathan, one of Morlock’s civilian attorneys, said publication of the photos would have no impact on the outcome of his client’s case.

“The court will render its verdict based upon the pleadings and agreement among the litigants, and the photos are not in evidence,” he told Reuters in an e-mail.

That was the entire report. Notice anything missing?

That’s right: Gul Mudin is not named.

I’m sure that’s no coincidence. This farmer’s son, Gul Mudin, is not real to them. He’s not a person to Reuters, and by extension, to anyone reading the Reuters report. He’s just a corpse being held by the hair. A half-naked corpse being posed for trophy shots by a bunch of grinning human-hunters. The way the photos were taken, we are meant to see Gul Mudin as his murderers saw him: A thing, not a person.

This all has a bearing on the report, too, and whose viewpoint is reported, and how. Notice the wording:

Disclosure of the images, among dozens seized as evidence in the prosecutions but kept sealed from public view by the military, prompted the U.S. Army to issue an apology “for the distress these photos cause” and condemning actions depicted in them as “repugnant.”

Objection, Yer Honor!

It is not the act depicted in the pictures, but the publication of the pictures, that causes “distress”, in actual fact; it was the disclosure, not the murders, that was the real grounds for “distress”. Whose “distress”? That of the US Army, of course. After all, these images tarnish their image as Good Guys to the World. Because as “repugnant” as these actions are, they’re nothing new. They are as old as war itself; the US military was doing the same things in Vietnam, as the Winter Soldier hearings made painfully clear:

So don’t anyone be fooled by the army’s efforts to sweep these pictures under the rug. What happened in them is not anomalous; it is typical. The only thing repugnant here is that they actually came to light, and the public saw what the army tacitly condones and even encourages.

Remember the Abu Ghraib photos? They weren’t supposed to come out either. When they did, it was all dismissed as “bad apples”. But somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon, someone selected those “apples”–precisely because they had those psychopathic “Kill Team” tendencies, which the US Army in fact considers to be not merely acceptable, but highly desirable. They don’t want humanitarians in the Army; humanitarians won’t fight or kill on command. They want nice, obedient boys who won’t question orders–or better still, sick puppies, hillbillies from Wasilla who think of guys like Gul Mudin as just wolves to be shot for sport. This is a sad truth you won’t hear from mainstream sources like Reuters.

The original Winter Soldier testimony was largely suppressed by the mainstream media for the same reason: it’s all about the good-guy, GI Joe image. Any other images would spoil the heroic narrative that we’ve been meant to swallow holus-bolus. Vietnam was supposed to be about Freedom and Democracy™, not senseless indiscriminate killing for the hell of it. Afghanistan, Iraq, and now, Libya–same thing. They always tell us the same lies, and always we believe…until the “repugnant” pictures come out to show us the real story, that is.

As for poor Gul Mudin, notice that not only is he not named, his family, his village, all those who were distressed by his loss are also left out of the story.

What’s wrong with these pictures? I think you know the answer to that one as well as I do.

5 Comments

  1. Jim Hadstate says:

    This is always horrifying no matter how many of these damn thing you live through. I have lived through at least 20 of them and they get worse and worse. And the statistics bear it out. In WWII, the average kill shot was 1 in 10 soldiers actually killing someone with a rife aimed at someone.
    In Viet Nam it was up to 1 in 6 soldiers actually killing someone with a rifle aimed at someone. By the Dubya wars, it was 1 in 1 soldiers actually killing someone with a rifle aimed at someone.
    And how did the do that? You can thank Colin Powell and his peers. After Viet Nam, they began preparing a training program for an all volunteer Armed Forces. On YouTube somewhere is an 8 part series of how they train your nice kid next door into a stone cold killer. They never did get around to how to untrain these stone cold killers, which is probably why domestic violence in the military has gotten s much more lethal. And why so many of these stone cold killers can’t deal with life on the outside when they get out. So they develop serious mental problems that the Pentagon doesn’t want to treat in the VA Programs because that will take money away from their latest gee whiz gizmo that will never work but will get a dozen generals and colonels plush, high paying jobs when they retire.
    And so it goes. Which is why I still hate the Pentagon brass and worship Daniel Ellsberg.

    • Sabina Becker says:

      Yep…me too. And this is why I’m skeptical that anything really good will happen in Libya. Humanitarian missions are not what these guys are trained for. They are trained for wars. Increasingly bloody, hideous, awful wars. Wars where atrocities are just everyday shit. I’m already bracing for the first atrocity stories out of Libya. Any day now…any day now.

  2. Uzza says:

    Stop waiting for the Libyan ones, it’s already happened
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1368750/Libya-war-US-rescue-team-shoot-6-civilians-rushing-greet-downed-F-15-crew.html

    This post is excellent, and thank you for giving us Mr. Mudin’s name.

    The ‘bad apples’ story, however, is merely a distraction that the military wants us to follow. A more accurate and truthful account is Phillip Zimbardo’s “Pickle Barrel” analogy.

    • Sabina Becker says:

      Heh…I figured it was true as soon as I saw the denials that six Libyans were shot. The military can’t tell one Libyan from another, so they’ll always shoot first. They’re lucky none of those guys died, or they might well have been held accountable.

      And yeah, “bad apples” is a bad analogy. The commanders forgot the old truism, namely that a few bad apples can spoil a whole barrel. Chuck Graner corrupted the female soldiers who were at Abu Ghraib with him, influencing them to do the things they did. I doubt any of them would have thought of those things on her own.

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