When it comes to war, is the “trophy” impulse just too strong to override? Photos released today by the Los Angeles Times, provided by an anonymous soldier, show graphic images of American soldiers posing with the body parts of an Afghan corpse, adding to a steady trickle of other examples of this behavior, including a recent video of American troops urinating on dead Afghans and the 2004 photos of prisoners being abused and tortured at Abu Ghraib. But something about this behavior arguably goes even further back – from heads placed on stakes outside villages to Japanese skulls that World War II soldiers sent home to their sweethearts as souvenirs. The Geneva Conventions of 1929 explicitly forbid the mutilation and despoilment of any enemy dead.
Has the practice been curbed? Has it been amplified? Is it just a part of war culture, a sort of darker than normal “gallows humor,” that will never be fully stamped out? Have social media and digital photography created more potential for this behavior than ever before?
Jeff Addicott, law professor, director, Center for Terrorism Law, St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas
Gary “G.I.” Wilson, retired Marine colonel