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.