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The Kill Team Photos

More war crime images the Pentagon doesn’t want you to see

During the first five months of last year, a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan went on a shooting spree, killing at least four unarmed civilians and mutilating several of the corpses. The “kill team” – members of the 5th Stryker Brigade stationed near Kandahar – took scores of photos chronicling their kills and their time in Afghanistan. Even before the war crimes became public, the Pentagon went to extraordinary measures to suppress the photos, launching a massive effort to find every file and pull the pictures out of circulation before they could touch off a scandal on the scale of Abu Ghraib.

The images – more than 150 of which have been obtained by Rolling Stone – portray a front-line culture among U.S. troops in which killing innocent civilians is seen as a cause for celebration. “Most people within the unit disliked the Afghan people,” one of the soldiers told Army investigators. “Everyone would say they’re savages.”

Many of the photos depict explicit images of violent deaths that have yet to be identified by the Pentagon. Among the soldiers, the collection was treated like a war memento. It was passed from man to man on thumb drives and hard drives, the gruesome images of corpses and war atrocities filed alongside clips of TV shows, UFC fights and films such as Iron Man 2. One soldier kept a complete set, which he made available to anyone who asked.

Get the full story: The Kill Team: How U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan Murdered Innocent Civilians

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A sign – handwritten on cardboard fashioned from a discarded box of rations – hangs around the dead men’s necks. It reads: TALIBAN ARE DEAD. According to a source in Bravo Company, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the men were killed by soldiers from another platoon, which has not yet been implicated in the scandal. “Those were some innocent farmers that got killed,” the source says. “Their standard operating procedure after killing dudes was to drag them up to the side of the highway.”

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The collection of photos includes several dozen images of unidentified casualties, including this one of a severed head. In many of the photos it is unclear whether the bodies are civilians or Taliban. It is possible that the unidentified deaths are unrelated to 3rd Platoon, and involved no illegal acts by U.S. soldiers. But taking such photos, let alone sharing them with others, is a clear violation of Army standards.

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An unidentified image of severed legs passed around among the members of Bravo Company. Even if such unidentified bodies were enemy combatants rather than innocent civilians, their inclusion in the collection of photos bespeaks a shocking disregard for human life. “We were operating in such bad places and not being able to do anything about it,” Morlock tells Rolling Stone. “I guess that’s why we started taking things into our own hands.”