Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld this week called the unfolding investigation into a Stryker “kill team” a “much worse” crime than the allegations of detainee abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison that took place on his watch.
Rumsfeld’s no longer in the chain of command, but his comments show that the “kill team” is getting much attention from the public since Der Spiegel and Rolling Stone published photos of two Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers posing with an Afghan civilian they allegedly murdered.
Here are his remarks to The Washington Times regarding the casualty photos.
TWT: What are your thoughts on the latest kill team photos out of Afghanistan?
DONALD RUMSFELD: If they’re the ones that I’m thinking of it’s where some… there are some allegations that some soldiers killed some people. You know, I feel such a responsibility as an American that when people are in our custody, we treat them properly. It is always heartbreaking when we see that there are allegations and photographs or suggestions that people have mismanaged that process. And of course the courts will decide in this case. But it is interesting, in the case of Abhu Ghraib, that it was such an important press event and nobody was killed. And in this case, it looks like there are allegations that some people were actually killed.
TWT: How does this stack up against the Abu Ghraib photos, for example?
RUMSFELD: The situation, of course, is much worse if someone dies, but it’s a sad thing. It’s unfortunate. The overwhelming majority of men and women in uniform are professional. They handle themselves well. They treat people properly in our custody. And no question but that they are punished in the event that the courts and the military commissions under the uniform code of military justice decide that they’ve done something wrong. They get punished.
Rusmfeld isn’t alone in arguing that the murder allegations are more serious than images of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib or even the gory photos Rolling Stone and Der Spiegel published. Some soldiers in the platoon at the center of the investigation are facing criminal charges because they shared images of casualties with other soldiers, violating an order to use those photos only for military purposes. The Army sought to keep them under wraps by seizing them from soldiers before they left Afghanistan and then keeping them at Lewis-McChord’s Criminal Investigative Division. The two magazines obtained them from sources.
Photos of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib sparked outrage among Iraqis, pushing some over the edge into view the U.S. as an occupier instead of as the force that toppled a dictator. So far, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s rebuke of the “kill team” yesterday was his first public comment on the charges even though he’s known of the Army’s investigation into alleged murders of civilians since last May.
The Army is prosecuting five soldiers in the the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division on charges of murdering civilians last year during patrols from Forward Operating Base Ramrod. One of them, Spc. Jeremy Morlock, last week pled guilty to killing three Afghans and agreed to testify against comrades.