The photographs shocked the world and led to fears of revenge attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan. Now, almost two weeks after the pictures of US soldiers posing with the dead bodies of Afghans were published in SPIEGEL, Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly commented on the "Kill Team" for the first time.
Karzai told an audience of new teachers at a graduation ceremony in the capital city of Kabul on Wednesday that he had been "shocked and hurt" by the photographs. He said he was talking about the incidents now because the world has to "finally wake up."
The Afghan leader said he had read about the story in a "German magazine," an apparent reference to SPIEGEL. "They killed our youth for entertainment," he said.
Karzai also referred to drug consumption by the soldiers, which is mentioned in court documents relating to the case. "During the night they smoked marijuana and opium and in the morning they went out to kill local people," the Afghan president said.
The group of five soldiers is accused of killing innocent civilians out of pure bloodlust. The unit was part of the 5th Stryker Brigade, which saw heavy fighting around Kandahar, including at the Forward Operating Base Ramrod. The soldiers allegedly carried out the crimes between January and May 2010 by using guns and grenades to make it appear they were under attack in order to justify killing civilians.
Following the publication of the photographs in the March 21 issue of SPIEGEL, Rolling Stone magazine has also published additional images and videos of the Kill Team.
Last week, a military judge in a court martial proceeding sentenced Jeremy Morlock, a 22-year-old army specialist, to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to murdering innocent civilians in Afghanistan. He was the first soldier to be held responsible for the crimes. In addition to the five soldiers accused of murder, seven others have been accused of lesser crimes including desecrating dead bodies and obstructing the investigation.
The US Army issued a statement last week apologizing for the crimes depicted in the images, describing them as "repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army."
Fears of a New Abu Ghraib
There had been fears that the photographs would attract the sort of global condemnation that followed the Abu Ghraib torture scandal six years ago. The US government was so concerned about the possible reaction that Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Karzai personally to prepare him for the publication of the images in SPIEGEL.
So far, however, the international reaction to the publication of the "Kill Team" photos has been muted. But that could change following Karzai's condemnation of the events, which is likely to increase the case's visibility in Afghanistan.
In his speech Wednesday, the Afghan president appeared to be taking those concerns into account, at least to a certain extent. He stressed that the crimes committed by the "Kill Team" were an exception. "Without a doubt the Americans are very good people, just like the Afghan people and other peoples of the world," he said. "They are working day and night to help us."
Editor's note: SPIEGEL INTERNATIONAL will publish the full feature on the "Kill Team," by reporters John Goetz and Marc Hujer, which appeared in the March 21, 2011 issue of SPIEGEL, on Thursday in English.