The pictures, published by the Los Angeles Times, are horrifying in their banal regard to the destruction of human life.
The 82nd Airborne Division soldiers arrived at the police station in Afghanistan's Zabol province in February 2010. They inspected the body parts. Then the mission turned macabre: The paratroopers posed for photos next to Afghan police, grinning while some held — and others squatted beside — the corpse's severed legs.
A few months later, the same platoon was dispatched to investigate the remains of three insurgents who Afghan police said had accidentally blown themselves up. After obtaining a few fingerprints, they posed next to the remains, again grinning and mugging for photographs.
Two soldiers posed holding a dead man's hand with the middle finger raised. A soldier leaned over the bearded corpse while clutching the man's hand. Someone placed an unofficial platoon patch reading "Zombie Hunter" next to other remains and took a picture.
It's just the latest in a series of events that give good reason to question what we hope to accomplish by staying there. In January, there was a video of troop members urinating on an Afghan corpse; in February, Korans were burned, setting off massive amounts of retaliation and violence; and in March, SSgt Robert Bales allegedly went off base twice for a shooting spree that resulted in 17 dead Afghans. Perhaps wary of continuing retaliations, the White House and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta tried to keep the Los Angeles Times from publishing the pictures, and when that failed, criticized them for the decision, while calling for a full investigation. But hey, that's better than the House Armed Service Committee chair Buck McKeon, who wasn't even aware that these pictures existed.
But, while the WH and Pentagon purpose may be to prevent further outbreaks of violence and more unnecessary deaths, the White House is simply wrong in trying to prevent us from seeing what's being done in our name in Afghanistan.
To put it bluntly, war is hell. We have now been in Afghanistan for over ten years. These men and women have been on multiple tours of duty. Imagine the psychological damage of not knowing if you'll live to see tomorrow because of an IED, a suicide bomber or a "green on blue" attack day after day for years on end. And with little more objective than "winning" (please, someone explain what that means. I've waited for ten years for an answer), our service members trudge through this hell knowing full well that most of us stateside have no idea what they're going through.
That's why I think these photos need to be seen, in their full horror. Americans, look at what we're doing. Ask yourself why we're doing it. And then the question must come: What good are we doing?
My answer is not much. And more Americans need to see that, to come to that conclusion. We need the clamor to get out of Afghanistan to grow so deafening it's impossible to ignore. We need to see these horrors up close, because no one is ignoring them outside of this country.
By the way, Howie Klein mentioned to Blue America candidate Dr. Lee Rogers, who is vying for McKeon's seat in Congress, how little awareness or sensitivity to the plight of our service members abroad McKeon appears to have. Rogers responded:
Over a decade of war and multiple deployments have desensitized some of our troops to the human costs of this war. We've asked more of our volunteer forces now than at any time in history. It's time for us to ask them for one more thing, come home. The costs are no longer worth the sacrifices. We've toppled the Taliban government, we killed Osama bin Laden. Let's declare victory and come home before the anti-American sentiment causes any more deaths.
We need more honest representation in Congress, members willing to be honest about Afghanistan, like Dr. Rogers. We can't have the ridiculously inane bumpersticker mentality about supporting the troops without being aware of how much toil and stress and violence we are putting them through.
We need to stop sanitizing the hell that is war so that we can demand that it end.