By Gene Johnson
SEATTLE -- Those who have seen the photos say they are grisly: soldiers beside bodies, decaying corpses and severed fingers.
Andrew Holmes, Michael Wagnon, Jeremy Morlock and Adam Winfield are the other four Stryker soldiers who face murder charges. (Photograph: Public Domain)
The dozens of photos, described in interviews and in e-mail and military documents, were seized by Army investigators and are crucial to the case against five soldiers accused of killing three Afghan civilians this year.
Troops allegedly shared the photos by e-mail and thumb drive like electronic trading cards. Now 60 to 70 of them are being kept tightly shielded for fear that they could provoke anti-American violence.
"We're in a powder-keg situation here," said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice and a military law professor at Yale University.
Maj. Kathleen Turner, a spokeswoman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Seattle, where the accused soldiers are stationed, acknowledged that the images are "highly sensitive, and that's why that protective order was put in place."
At least some of the photos pertain to those killings. Others may have been of insurgents killed in battle, and some may have been taken as part of a military effort to document those killed, according to lawyers involved in the case.
Among the most gruesome allegations is that some of the soldiers kept fingers from Afghans they killed as war trophies.
The troops are also accused of passing around photos of the dead and of the fingers.
Four members of the unit -- two of whom are also charged in the killings -- have been accused of wrongfully possessing images of human casualties, and another is charged with trying to impede an investigation by having someone erase incriminating evidence from a hard drive.
"Everyone would share the photographs," one of the defendants, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, told investigators. "They were of every guy we ever killed in Afghanistan."
After the first slaying, one service member sent an e-mail to his father warning that more bloodshed was on the way. The father told The Associated Press that he pleaded for help from the military but that authorities took no action. A spokesman said Friday that the Army is investigating.
In a chilling videotaped interview with investigators, Morlock talked about hurling a grenade at a civilian as a sergeant discussed the need to "wax this guy."