The most disgusting story

I have done for years is in G2 today. One snag I hadn’t foreseen — the copy was delayed by an hour when it got caught in the company’s spam filter. UPDATE What I originally filed is below the fold now.

Nowthat’ is the most horror-filled web site I have ever seen; and if you are reading this at breakfast, or anywhere near a child, you should stop right now. It is a site for trophy pictures, originally a place where men could trade pornographic pictures of women they knew. But in wartime the definition of trophy changes, so when you look at the forum now you are likely to see something like this:

A burnt and crumpled Arab face rests in a blue kitchen bowl. It doesn’t look as if the back of the head is there, but it’s impossible to be sure because everything behind the eyes is hidden in a pool of blood and everything below the jaw is missing. Underneath the picture are two discreet text ads for “Free amateur teen pictures” and “Mother and Daughter fuck omfg! Not Incest They are whores lol!”

There are several hundred such pictures on the site, all apparently submitted by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The deal offered by the site’s owner, Chris Wilson, is that serving soldiers get free access if they can prove they are abroad. He did this from a patriotic impulse: the sexual images on the site normally cost $10 for three months, and it was difficult for soldiers to make credit card payments from Afghanistan. So he decided to accept evidence of life abroad instead. This doesn’t have to be a picture of a mutilated corpse, but those will do nicely.

The program has been extremely successful. The site now has over 160,000 members.

The scandal at Abu Ghraib showed that modern armies are full of people with digital cameras who will document everything they see, no matter how shaming it might be in the outside world. Some of these pictures are far worse than anything that came out of the prison but they show the same tangle of lust for flesh, for power, and for killing. There is a thread that is a sort of competition: “Name that body part”; and each picture of death or destruction is followed by an ad urging you to look at healthy women’s body parts.

There’s some dispute about whether all of the pictures are real but it seems beyond doubt that most of the posters claiming to be soldiers actually are, not least because the American Army tries to stop its soldiers accessing the site and posting captions like this: “Iraqi driver tryed to run a check-point … this is an Iraqi driver and passenger that tried to run a checkpoint during the first part of OIF. [Operation Iraqi Freedom] The bad thing about shooting them is that we have to clean it up. The car was shot at with 5.56 and 7.62 mm rounds, The 7.62 did his head” — but the viewer must take on trust that the head existed.

The soldier, signing himself “vagetarian”, who posted that comments: “These are things that we have to do. Some of us dont like it but it must be done to protect ourselfs and our way of life. These are here just to show the fact that we dont take anything lightly.”

News of the site has been circulating outside the Army for about a month, since Helena Cobban, a Quaker blogger and journalist, found a reference to it in an Italian report. “It underlines the deeply exploitative nature of most sexual pornography”, she says.

Chris Wilson, the owner of the site, is proud of displaying the photographs. He popped up himself in the discussions on Cobban’s blog to say ” I think everyone should see them. This is a side of the war that is shown from the soldiers THEMSELVES. Where else can you go see that?”

He is proud of free expression as a mark of civilisation (though, for legal reasons, the site is hosted in the Netherlands, and not Florida where he lives. At the head of each column of pictures of mutilated Iraqis and Afghans, or naked American soldiers masturbating, is an uplifting paragraph denouncing censorship, which starts: “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship.”

“It is”, says Cobban, “Like finding Mistah Kurtz, sitting in the middle of the black jungle, surrounded by heads on stakes.”

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8 Responses to The most disgusting story

  1. Rafe says:

    I read about that site in “The Nation” (and had seen the URL before, perhaps referencing some semi-pornographic pictures of female soldiers overseas), but have not had the heart to look at it myself. The descriptions I’ve read are more than vivid enough for me.

  2. Guardian galley slave says:

    If it’s any consolation, we corrected it for later print editions. Guess the wrong version made it through to the website, though. Damn.

  3. acb says:

    Thanks, GGS. Out here in the wilds of North Essex, we tend to get pretty early editions. It was very strange watching my mother read the story. She made no comment at all, though.

  4. Guardian galley slave says:

    It’s fixed on the website too now.

  5. quinn says:

    After you explain about the most horrifying site you’ve ever seen, you say “so when you look at the forum now you are likely to see something such as this:”

    and then, for me, there was an ad for m&ms.

    i had a moment of thinking “oh! dead people! not small chocolate candies after all.”

  6. acb says:

    where on earth where you reading it, Quinn?

  7. SRW says:,3604,1579651,00.html

    Ordinary free, non-ad-free Grauniad website that we mere mortals get. For me just now it was an ad for Sky+

  8. acb says:

    ah. Right. I think there is a case here for putting an extended body on the original post.

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