What prompted the photography of dead Afghan insurgents in 2010 -- and the subsequent leak to the Los Angeles Times two years later -- is far more complex than military discipline gone awry or soldiers blowing off steam, say some U.S. military veterans.
Yahoo! News asked veterans of different conflicts and branches to weigh in. Some wrote that they had seen eerily similar situations during their tours. Here's a sampling of their thoughts.
Don't mete out big hammer punishment for little hammer crime: "We take pictures to chronicle important events in our lives. Soldiers in Afghanistan are no different. Sure, it is common knowledge that the military branches have policies prohibiting this type of conduct. And, certainly military members should be punished for violating those policies.
"In my combined 28 years (1980 to 2008) as a Marine Corps legal serviceman and later an Air Force senior master sergeant/first sergeant, I was involved in prosecuting dozens of military members who had transgressed the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) in various ways. Never did we punish someone with the maximum punishment available.
"We always considered factors of mitigation. In other words: What were the conditions like and what would drive a troop to violate a policy, regulation or law?" -- Tony Barnes, U.S. Marines and Air Force veteran
A veteran's musings on the Afghan photo leak: If you have never served in uniform, here's the big thing you need to know about service members: They are, essentially, like you. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are held to a higher disciplinary standard than the average citizen, but they are regular people, with regular hopes, dreams, faults, and emotions. Some of them, however, have killed people. The taking of a human life, even in the service of one's country, is bound to have an unpredictable effect on one's psyche. So, unless you've been there, you cannot judge a person who has been required to do such an awful thing." -- ODell Isaac II, U.S. Navy veteran
Soldiers in Afghan photo scandal need help -- not courts martial: "I am a former combat medic in the U.S. Army. I served in many places from 1984 to 1989, and I have seen many bodies in my time as a combat medic. We never took pictures unless ordered to do so.
"Many of the men who took photos with the corpses have lost friends to suicide bombers. It does not make what they did right, yet I can understand why they did it. Their friends had been killed by suicide bombers and because the accidental killing of the suicide bombers with their own bombs is ironic, you can almost understand the smiles on the soldiers' faces." -- Vincent Cannady, U.S. Army veteran
Photos of Afghan abuse are valid (if unfortunate) news: "All military members attend training on their responsibilities, and we all know that actions like this will be swiftly punished. The soldiers in the photos certainly have seen the similar ones from the prison at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, where soldiers were leering at the camera. They knew that they were violating strong directions from their leadership.
"Where were their senior sergeants and commissioned officers who are immediately above them? It is easy to find current examples of how responsible senior sergeants recognize leadership and work to pass it on. Why were these actions not identified and punished right after they occurred?" -- Charles Phillips, U.S. Navy veteran
For this airman, Afghanistan atrocities reminiscent of Vietnam: "On 9/11, I was a senior airman in the Air Force. Two weeks later, I was on a C-5 cargo aircraft headed to the Middle East. At that time, the war in Afghanistan was about retaliation for an attack on U.S. soil that sent the country into a frenzy of fear and anger. The objective was to send a message directly to the Taliban that our country was off limits.
"Now, more than 10 years later, the current objective is far from the original one. Instead of a mission focused on a specific event, it is one of containment and prevention. Instead of entrusting the Afghan government with the objective of suppressing the Taliban and preventing further atrocities within their country, the United States is now involved in policing the terrorist group." -- Teri Heisler, U.S. Air Force veteran
Afghan photos resulted from lack of clearly-defined objectives: "I'm not here to debate the decision whether to make these actions public. I'd rather focus on what may motivate a highly disciplined and trained warrior to exercise such poor judgment. In my view, it is not the high-stress environment or lack of maturity that some would argue. My belief is that it is disenchantment with the mission or military objective.
"Could you imagine the troops storming the beach of Normandy stopping to pose for a photo? How about the elite Seal Teams that are often engaging high-value targets striking a hero pose?
"I'm actually surprised there has not been more disobedience given the 10-plus years of war and fighting in Afghanistan." -- Mitch Biggs, U.S. Air Force veteran
An Air Force veteran's take on the Afghan photo leak: "While this conduct cannot be objectively defended, and at the very least exhibits a failure in professionalism, I cannot place all the blame on those soldiers who chose to participate in this unfortunate activity. I served in the U.S. Air Force from 1995 to 2004 as a staff sergeant working in the intelligence field, and I was exposed to a number of graphic images and accounts that would not have been suitable for public consumption. I say that not only because the graphic nature of those events would have offended most people, but because a lack of detailed and historical knowledge concerning the events themselves would likely have led to misrepresentation and misunderstanding if leaked to the public." -- Christopher A. Brown, U.S. Air Force veteran
- Military & Defense
- Politics & Government