Afghan civilians slaughtered for sport



US Soldiers pose with their victims’ bodies

As reported by the U.K. Guardian’s Jon Boone:

The face of Jeremy Morlock, a young US soldier, grins at the camera, his hand holding up the head of the dead and bloodied youth he and his colleagues have just killed in an act military prosecutors say was premeditated murder.

Moments before the picture was taken in January last year, the unsuspecting victim had been waved over by a group of US soldiers who had driven to his village in Kandahar province in one of their armoured Stryker tanks.

According to testimony collected by Der Spiegel magazine the boy had, as a matter of routine, lifted up his shirt to reveal that he was not hiding a suicide bomb vest.

That was the moment Morlock, according to a pre-arranged plan, threw a grenade at the boy that exploded while other members of the rogue group who called themselves the “kill team” opened fire.

They would later tell military investigators that the boy, a farmer’s son, had threatened them with the grenade.

The pictures include a similar photograph of a different soldier posing with the same victim and a photograph of two other civilians killed by the unit.

There was no sign on Monday of the anticipated public outrage. But withAfghanistan on holiday for the Persian new year celebrations, and media outlets initially unable to get hold of the images, anger may yet build.

The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, recently confided to officials that he feared it might trigger the same kind of scandal as that at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, where images of prisoners being abused by US soldiers sparked anti-American protests.

For weeks the US government has been working to pre-empt any outrage, with top officials, including the US vice president Joe Biden, in talks with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

Despite being a setback in the propaganda war between the western coalition and its insurgent enemies, Nato will be relieved that for the time being only a tiny sample of a total collection of roughly 4,000 images and video clips have found their way into the public domain.

The publication of the photos will also mark the ultimate disgrace of the group of young US soldiers, who are currently facing military justice for killing innocent civilians for sport and mutilating their bodies by cutting off fingers and ripping out teeth to keep as trophies.

Morlock has turned on his former colleagues, agreeing to testify against them in return for a reduced jail sentence. Some of the activities of the group are already public, with 12 men currently on trial in Seattle for their role in the killing of three civilians. Morlock has told investigators that Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs was the ringleader. In videotaped evidence, he has said Gibbs would pick out a possible target with a comment such as: “You guys wanna wax this guy or what?”

Gibbs, if found guilty, could receive a life sentence.

Hans-Ulrich Stoldt, a spokesman for Der Spiegel, said the magazine had other, more graphic photos.

“We published three but not others, and we even pixilated those we did print so that the victims could not be identified,” Stoldt said. “We needed to document [the accusations] in some form, and were as restrained as possible.”


Voter discontent is a trend

What this article doesn’t touch on is the fact that there patterns and tendencies to American voters. Some of the big indicators that this current wave of voter discontent is part of a larger trend is the overall condition of the economy and the unpopular “war” against terror. Many presidents, such as Taft (R), Carter (D), and van Buren (D), were widely unpopular as a result of major events that took place while they were in office. As a result, voters turned against them and they lost support quickly.

This is how it goes in 2010 at the ballot box: old orders are upended, political lions become roadkill, chosen successors get left behind and the outsider, riding a wave of discontent, becomes the new front-runner.

In quick succession Tuesday night, the jittery inhabitants of Washington’s marble halls found three more reasons to worry about their staying power. Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, the Senate’s patron saint of resilience, was turned out in a Democratic primary in favor of an unwanted rival, Representative Joe Sestak, who had neither major union support nor White House support. In Arkansas, Senator Blanche Lincoln, a model of southern Democratic moderation, was forced into a primary runoff by a self-styled outsider, Bill Halter, challenging from her left. And in Kentucky, the Washington establishment’s chosen Republican Senate candidate, Trey Grayson, fell to the son of a libertarian outlier who carried the flag of another party. “I have a message, a message from the Tea Party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words: We’ve come to take our government back,” declared Rand Paul, son of Representative and former presidential candidate Ron Paul, upon winning by a double-digit margin. (See 10 races that have Democrats worried for 2010.)

In all three races, voters rejected the instructions of their own party’s leadership, as they have repeatedly this year in states as varied as Utah and Florida. Indeed, even before the polls closed, that leadership had mostly gone into hiding. President Obama traveled Tuesday to Youngstown, Ohio, just miles from the Pennsylvania border, where his chosen candidate, Specter, was struggling to get voters to the polls in the rain. But Obama, who once promised his “full support” of Specter, made no mention of the primary, choosing instead to tour an 85-ton electric arc furnace. “It’s just nice to get out of Washington,” Obama said. Vice President Joe Biden, a decades-long colleague of Specter who had also promised “full support” and rarely misses an opportunity to stump in his native Pennsylvania, spent his day in Iowa. (Read “The Price of Opportunism: Arlen Specter’s Tough Fight.”)

On Capitol Hill, Republican leaders also hid from the elephant in the room. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who had handpicked Grayson for his home state, made no mention of the election when he met with reporters in the Capitol. “Obviously the biggest item around the Hill this week is the oil spill in Louisiana,” McConnell said instead.

With less than six months to go before the midterm elections on Nov. 2, all signs are pointing to a tidal wave. Electoral railbirds, steeped in historical stats, point to the many bad signs for Democrats. In polls, Republicans and conservatives demonstrate much more enthusiasm than Democrats and liberals. The President’s approval rating is below 50%, and more registered voters say they expect to vote for Republicans than Democrats for Congress. “This is as favorable an election for Republicans, as hostile for Democrats, as any in recent memory,” says Mark Blumenthal, the editor of (See 10 races that have Republicans worried for 2010.)

But Republicans have their own worries. In addition to anemic fundraising, the Grand Old Party faces a simmering insurrection in its ranks. Apart from the defeat in Kentucky, Utah Senator Bob Bennett, a moderate fixture of the Washington establishment since 1992, lost his bid for re-election two weeks ago, after his state party’s convention delegates revolted over his vote to bail out banks and work with Democrats on health care reform. In Florida, the once popular Republican Governor, Charlie Christ, recently abandoned his party to launch an independent bid after a more conservative challenger threatened to deny him a shot for the state’s open Senate seat.

This anti-incumbent mood pervades both parties, leaving open the possibility that the same wave that brought Obama into office in 2008 will undo his governing majorities in 2010. The one bright spot for Obama was a special election Tuesday night in Pennsylvania’s 12th district, where Democrats held on to a seat in a conservative district previously held by John Murtha, the big spending defense appropriator who died earlier this year. The seat was won by Mark Critz, a pro-life, pro-gun former Murtha staffer who opposes health care reform and overcame significant Republican spending. The victory demonstrated that Democrats still have hope for making Congressional races local, not national, affairs in the fall. (Read “Primary Tuesday: Sending the Bums the Right Message.”)

But this is scant consolation for those incumbents who have become less and less comfortable with each turn at the ballot boxes this year. On Tuesday afternoon, Specter, whose career has survived two bouts with cancer and two party switches, seemed his old fighting self. In an interview on MSNBC, the host suggested that his opponent, Sestak, was more vigorous. “You must be smoking Dutch cleanser,” Specter responded, in typical cantankerous fashion.

Just a few hours later, at a downcast concession speech in Philadelphia, Specter did not have much fire left to show. “It’s been a great privilege to be in the United States Senate,” he said of his 30-year career. “Thank you all.” And with that, he quickly left the stage.

by Michael Scherer, Time Magazine