Germany shocked by publication of skull photos

26th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

The reputation of the German army has been damaged by the publication of photographs showing German soldiers apparently desecrating a corpse. David Gordon Smith reports on what some are calling 'Germany's Abu Ghraib.'

Germany has been shocked by a scandal involving German soldiers desecrating a corpse in Afghanistan.

The photos were published in the mass-circulation German newspaper Bild and show German soldiers posing with a skull. One photo showed the skull mounted on a cable cutting device on the bonnet of a jeep, while another showed a soldier holding his exposed penis in one hand and the skull in the other. The incident has been described as "Germany's Abu Ghraib," in a reference to photographs showing US soldiers abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The photos are said to have been taken in 2003 during a patrol in the region of Kabul. The soldiers belong to the German contingent of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The skull is said to have come from a mass grave, but it is not clear if it was taken from an Afghan or Russian corpse.

German politicians have roundly condemned the photos. "Whoever behaves like this does not belong in the Bundeswehr (German armed forces)," German defence minister Franz Josef Jung told the Bundestag lower house of parliament Thursday. Jung said the training of soldiers should be improved to prevent similar cases occurring in the future.

The Bundeswehr are investigating six soldiers who are thought to have been involved with the photos, Jung said. One has already confessed, according to a report by the German radio station Deutschlandfunk. Four of the men are no longer in the German Army, Jung told the German television station ZDF. "We will take the appropriate measures against two others," he said.

Jung and other German politicians have warned that the Bundeswehr's reputation could suffer as a result of the photographs. Chancellor Angela Merkel called the photos "repugnant" and "inexcusable". Nato General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also criticised the incident. The scandal overshadowed a government debate Wednesday on a new white paper on the future of the Bundeswehr.

The chairman of the Deutscher BundeswehrVerband (German Armed Forces Association), Bernhard Gertz, said he feared an increased danger of attacks against German soldiers in Afghanistan. "This incident is exactly the right way to antagonise the whole Arab and Muslim world," he told the television station Phoenix.

The timing of the photos' publication could hardly be worse for the Bundeswehr, which currently has its highest profile since the Second World War and is engaged in peacekeeping operations in Lebanon, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. The Bundeswehr's reputation had already been damaged by recent claims by Murat Kurnaz, a German resident who was held for over four years in the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba, that he was abused by elite German soldiers while he was being held in Afghanistan. Some commentators say that the timing of the publication of the three-year-old photos suggests a political motive.

26 October 2006

Copyright Expatica 2006

Subject: German news, German soldiers, skull photos, Bundeswehr

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