Two German soldiers suspended over skull photos

27th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

27 October 2006By Mike Swanson, dpa

27 October 2006
By Mike Swanson, dpa

Berlin (dpa) - Fresh revelations about German soldiers desecrating human skulls in Afghanistan have rocked the nation at a time when the military is eyeing a greater international role.

Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung was quick to act Friday when he announced that two soldiers who appeared in macabre photographs had been suspended from duty as investigations continued into four men who had since left the army.

The pictures were published in the mass-circulation Bild newspaper on Wednesday. Among them was one of a soldier exposing his genitals while holding a skull in his right hand.

More photographs were shown by the RTL television channel on Thursday evening, among them one of a soldier kissing a skull balanced on his biceps.

The incidents occurred in 2003 and 2004 when the soldiers were serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that aims to stabilize Afghanistan.

Bild said it had dozens more photographs of soldiers defiling human remains, including one of troops staging a mock execution of a skeleton.

The scandal has caused outrage in Germany, where some newspaper commentators have referred to it as the country's Abu Ghraib - a reference to the notorious Baghdad prison where US guards were seen abusing inmates in photographs that went around the world.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the German soldiers' "inexcusable behaviour damages the image of the army and our country."

"It's unbelievable that such a thing should happen," said Germany's most senior officer, Inspector General Wolfgang Schniederhan, denying that it was widespread in the army.

Berhard Gertz, chairman of the German Army Association, which looks after soldiers' interests, said: "Such behaviour is capable of turning the entire Muslim and Arab world against us."

So far reaction from the Muslim world has been muted. In Afghanistan, the foreign ministry condemned the incidents as an affront to Islamic values and called for those involved to be punished.

The soldiers pictured in one of the incidents come from an elite mountain infantry unit based in Bavaria, which specializes in combat in harsh conditions, including desert warfare.

Apart from facing dismissal from the army, the soldiers could also find themselves being charged with "disturbing the peace of the dead," an offence which carries up to three years in prison.

One of the soldiers involved spoke for the first time in an interview in Bild on Friday. He said the soldiers found the bones during a patrol near a pit outside Kabul.

"It was where the Afghans dug up the clay they needed to make bricks," the unidentified soldier said. "All these bones came out in the process. It was not a cemetery, not a place of worship."

Armed forces psychologist Bernd Voelkel said the soldiers wanted to appear "cool" by posing with the human remains in order to distract from their own fear of death.

The scandal follows an announcement in parliament last week that an inquiry is being set up to look into claims by a German resident of Turkish descent that he was abused by German soldiers in 2002 while being held at a US prison in Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, parliament approved an extension of German deployment in Afghanistan where it has around 2,800 soldiers serving with the 30,000-strong ISAF.

Legislators also endorsed a government white paper that envisages a wider role for the German military in international peacekeeping operations and taking on security tasks at home.

The Austrian newspaper Salzburger Nachrichten called the action of soldiers in Afghanistan stupid. "But one has to view the skull of a dead person in relation to crimes against humanity that are perpetrated against the living," it said.


Subject: German news

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