Wednesday’s release by the Los Angeles Times of photos showing U.S. soldiers posing with what the newspaper says were insurgents’ bodies in Afghanistan has launched the latest in a string of recent investigations into U.S. military members’ conduct in that country.
A U.S. soldier provided the photos to the Times, saying that the photos reveal a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised troops’ safety, and that he hoped that the photos’ publication would stop those shortcomings, the Times reported. Times Editor Davan Maharaj said the paper decided that "publishing a small but representative selection of the photos would fulfill our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan."
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force has blasted the photos, saying they represent "a serious error in judgment by several soldiers who have acted out of ignorance and unfamiliarity with U.S. Army values."
The Pentagon is investigating the photos, which allegedly were taken in 2010.
"An investigation that could lead to disciplinary measures is under way," Pentagon spokesman George Little said. "Anyone found responsible for this inhuman conduct will be held accountable in accordance with our military justice system."
The photos are just the latest of several high-profile U.S. military incidents in Afghanistan prompting U.S. investigation this year. Among the others:
March: Soldier accused of killing 17 civilians in two villages
On March 11, a U.S. solider left an Army outpost in Kandahar province’s Panjwai district, walked into two nearby villages and killed 17 Afghan civilians, U.S. authorities allege.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is charged with 17 counts of murder with premeditation, for which he could face the death penalty. He also faces six counts of attempted murder and two counts of assault and is being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after being flown from Afghanistan a few days after the killings.
U.S. officials haven’t publicly suggested any motive in the slayings. An Afghan general charged with leading Afghanistan’s investigation into the killings told reporter Yalda Hakim of Australia’s SBS network that villagers have alleged that Bales was upset over an injury to a U.S. colleague. In response to these suggestions, a U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN last month that a soldier at Bales' base had lost a leg in an explosion three or four days earlier, but that there was no reason to believe Bales had been present at the scene of that blast.
The U.S. government in March paid more than $800,000 to the families of the victims, Afghan officials said - $50,000 for each of the dead, and $10,000 for each of six wounded.
Bales' attorney, John Henry Browne, has accused U.S. military prosecutors of blocking access to information in the case, including witnesses.
February: Qurans burned at Bagram Air Base
Afghanistan erupted in violent protests in February after U.S. troops burned religious materials - including Qurans - that had been removed from the detainee library at the Bagram Air Base's prison.
U.S. officials have said the destruction of religious materials was inadvertent, and that books had been removed from the library because there were writings in them from detainees that officials believed were potentially extremist messages.
But days of protests and attacks in the country followed, leaving dozens of people dead - including at least four U.S. soldiers - and hundreds of others wounded.
U.S. President Barack Obama apologized for the incident in a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The Taliban Islamist militia rejected the apology and called on Afghans to take revenge "until the doers of such inhumane actions are prosecuted and punished."
This month, an International Security Assistance Force official said that investigations by U.S. and Afghan authorities were finished, and that it wasn't yet clear what actions Gen. John Allen, the ISAF commander, would take. Possible decisions include taking no action; recommending criminal charges; and issuing written reprimands, the official said, according to CNN's Barbara Starr.
January: Video shows U.S. Marines urinating on bodies
In January, a video surfaced on YouTube showing U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of slain Afghans.
In the 39-second video, one of the men says, "Have a great day, buddy." A voice asks, "You got it on the video?" to which another voice responds, "Yeah." Another jokes, "Golden, like a shower."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on the U.S. government to investigate and hand down the harshest punishment possible. The Marine Corps at the time said it was investigating the actions, and news reports in February indicated Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who called the video "utterly deplorable," was briefed on the findings.
In a radio message posted to jihadist websites in March, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri used the incident to call on Afghans to rise up against Western troops.
"This act represents their values," al-Zawahiri said,"and this is their view toward other people in general and the Muslims in particular, and this is their way of treating us."