Army won't pursue charges in posting of grisly war-zone photos on Web site
Army investigators won’t pursue criminal charges against anyone involved in a Web site that posts sometimes-grisly photos ostensibly submitted by U.S. soldiers in war zones. The site offered soldiers free access to pornographic materials in exchange for the photos.
The site, which normally charges visitors to look at amateur pornography, had drawn the ire of the Pentagon and Muslim advocacy groups, prompting an Army inquiry. But late Wednesday, an Army spokesman said the Criminal Investigation Command did not find enough evidence to pursue felony charges.
“While this may not rise to the level of a felony crime, it’s still serious,” Army spokesman Paul Boyce told The Associated Press.
If investigators could prove soldiers had used government computers to post photos, charges could be pursued.
The site, which charges visitors to look at amateur pornography, has made a special deal directed to soldiers downrange: Send in a photo from Iraq or Afghanistan, get 90 days of access to the site’s racier content.
More than 2,500 posts have been sent to the site’s “Pictures from Iraq and Afghanistan — Gory,” section, which is freely accessible by all visitors to the site.
The photographs are decidedly amateur, and not all soldier-submitted shots are grisly. Some send photos of equipment, of the landscape, of people in U.S. Army uniforms smoking cigarettes.
But others feature a grisly gallery of disconnected, bloody, unidentifiable body parts, soldiers standing casually around a dead body, and other scenes. Some adorned their submissions with titles such as “DIE HAJI DIE,” “dead shopkeeper in Iraq” and “Cooked Iraqi.”
Other posts aim to show the brutality of Iraq’s former regime. One site visitor, “skoalman,” sent in photographs of mass graves.
“I was there when the locals begged us to uncover them to find their relatives and show the rest of the world what was happening to them under peaceful, fun-lovin’ Saddam,” skoalman wrote.
Site administrator Chris Wilson, a 27-year-old from Lakeland, Fla., said approximately 30,000 of the site’s 200,000 members possess .mil or Army Knowledge Online e-mail addresses.
“[Deployed soldiers] were having trouble signing up for the site because the credit card companies would deny their transactions because they were in high-risk countries,” Wilson said in a telephone interview.
“I made a deal with them: If they would send me a picture of their life in Iraq and Afghanistan, I would allow them access to the site. It was something I could do for them. They’re given a place where they can unwind and not be scared that I’m going to censor them or tell their commanding officer.”
Wilson, who described himself as a strong supporter of the First Amendment, said he felt it was important to provide a venue for real, uncensored views from the war. Running the Web site is his main source of income, he said.
“I wanted everybody to see them,” he said. “They’re open for that purpose. I want people to know they can come here and get an uncensored view of the war.”
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable flatly condemned servicemembers’ participation in the Web site.
“Such behavior is unacceptable,” he said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “Certainly from an official standpoint, if an individual is using official equipment or obtained [the photos] in a professional capacity, it’s unacceptable, both from a professional and an official sense.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group, condemned the Web site in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“This disgusting trade in human misery is an insult to all those who have served in our nation’s military,” wrote Arsalan Iftikhar, the agency’s legal director. Iftikhar urged the Pentagon to “investigate this troubling phenomenon and do whatever is necessary to bring it to an end.”
Criticism aside, Wilson said he has no plans to alter the site.
“It’s a real-life look at war,” he said. “It’s the first time in history that I’m aware of that soldiers are able to express themselves instantly and visually for the world.”
“The American public is getting a very filtered view of what’s going on there,” he added. “This is real. It’s available to them if they want to see it.”