U.S. Army officials are looking into allegations that soldiers have been trading gruesome digital pictures of war victims in Iraq and Afghanistan for access to an amateur pornography Web site, but officials said yesterday that there is insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges.
The allegations surfaced last week, when the East Bay Express, a weekly newspaper in the San Francisco Bay area, published a story about graphic photographs that appeared on one section of the Web site. The photographs, which show the bodies of several people killed in shootings, explosions, or fires, include crude captions, some of which mock the dead.
Pentagon and Army officials yesterday issued strong statements condemning the taking and posting of such photographs, but said there is little evidence to authenticate them and few ways to pursue a criminal investigation. While some of the photos appear to show U.S. soldiers in uniform near mutilated bodies, it is unclear where or when the pictures were taken.
The Web site's creator said yesterday that about 30,000 members of the military are registered on his site, several thousand of whom have sent him photographs or comments from their official military Web addresses. Many of the photographs depict life in Iraq, while only a few are extremely graphic, he said.
"It's an uncensored view of the war, from their perspective," said Chris Wilson, 27, of Florida, who began accepting the photographs from soldiers overseas as payment for access to pornography on his Web site. "It's a place where the soldiers can express themselves without being filtered by the Bush administration," he added.
Those who submit photos of war casualties could be breaking military rules against "unbecoming" conduct and also could be in violation of government regulations regarding use of the Internet. Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have access to the Internet, largely at Internet cafes, and many have digital cameras.
Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman, said investigators have been examining the photos for clues to their origin, adding that commanders in the field are emphasizing that taking and posting such photos is unacceptable.
"If accurate, these are gruesome depictions of deceased people in Iraq, and that violates the standards of our values, training and procedures that we ask military personnel to observe and obey," Boyce said. "It is very difficult to establish they are in fact being submitted by soldiers, where they were taken, who they were taken by, and the circumstances surrounding them."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has decried the photographs and called for a Pentagon investigation. An official said the images could inflame insurgents and give other nations the mistaken impression that many Americans are gloating over casualties of the Iraq war.
"What we're most concerned about is the safety of our own soldiers," said Arsalan Iftikhar, CAIR's legal director. "It only tarnishes our image even further and serves as fodder for the insurgents and terrorists."
Wilson, who said he supports the soldiers and the war, said users must search out the corpse photos, which are not displayed prominently on the site.