Editor's Note: We posted a version of this story online on September 21 and updated it for our 9/28 print and online editions, in which it appeared as Chris Thompson's "City of Warts" column. This is the most up-to-date version.
If you want to see the true face of war, go to the amateur porn Web site NowThatsFuckedUp.com. For almost a year, American soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan have been taking photographs of dead bodies, many of them horribly mutilated or blown to pieces, and sending them to Web site administrator Chris Wilson. In return for permission to post these images, Wilson gives the soldiers free access to his site. American soldiers have been using the pictures of disfigured Iraqi corpses as currency to buy pornography.
At Wilson's Web site, you can see an Arab man's face sliced off and placed in a bowl filled with blood. Another man's head, his face crusted with dried blood and powder burns, lies on a bed of gravel. A man in a leather coat who apparently tried to run a military checkpoint lies slumped in the driver's seat of a car, his head obliterated by gunfire, the flaps of skin from his neck blooming open like rose petals. Six men in beige fatigues, identified as US Marines, laugh and smile for the camera while pointing at a burned, charcoal-black corpse lying at their feet.
The captions that accompany these images, which were apparently written by soldiers who posted them, laugh and gloat over the bodies. The person who posted a picture of a corpse lying in a pool of his own brains and entrails wrote, "What every Iraqi should look like." The photograph of a corpse whose jaw has apparently rotted away, leaving a gaping set of upper teeth, bears the caption "bad day for this dude." One person posted three photographs of corpses lying in the street and titled his collection "DIE HAJI DIE."
This could become an international public-relations catastrophe. The Bush administration claims such sympathy for American war dead that officials banned the media from photographing flag-draped coffins being carried off cargo planes. Government officials and American media pundits have repeatedly denounced the al-Jazeera network for airing grisly footage of Iraqi war casualties and American prisoners of war. The legal fight over whether to release the remaining photographs of atrocities at Abu Ghraib has dragged on for months, with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Meyers arguing that the release of such images will inflame the Muslim world and drive untold numbers to join al-Qaeda. But none of these can compare with the prospect of American troops casually bartering pictures of suffering and death for porn.
"Two years ago, if somebody had said our soldiers would do these things to detainees and take pictures of it, I would have said that's a lie," sighed recently retired General Michael Marchand, who as assistant judge advocate general for the Army was responsible for reforming military training policy in the wake of Abu Ghraib. "What soldiers do, I'm not sure I can guess anymore."
But for Chris Wilson, it's all in a day's work. "It's an unedited look at the war from their point of view," he says of the soldiers who contribute the images. "There's always going to be a slant from the news media. ... And this is a photo that comes straight from their camera to the site. To me, it's just a more real look at what's going on."
Wilson, a 27-year-old Web entrepreneur living in Florida, created the site a year ago, asked fans to contribute pictures of their wives and girlfriends, and posted footage and photographs bearing titles such as "wife working cock" and "ass fucking my wife on the stairs." The site was a big hit with soldiers stationed overseas; about a third of his customers, Wilson estimates, or more than fifty thousand people, work in the military. Wilson says soldiers began e-mailing him, thanking him for keeping up their morale and "bringing a little piece of the States to them." But other soldiers complained that they had problems buying memberships to his service. "They wanted to join the site, the amateur wife and girlfriend site," he says. "But they couldn't, because the addresses associated with their credit cards were Quackistan or something; they were in such a high-risk country that the credit card companies wouldn't approve the purchase."
That was when Wilson hit upon the idea of offering free memberships to soldiers. All they had to do was send a picture of life in Iraq or Afghanistan, and they'd get all the free porn they wanted. All sorts of images began appearing over the transom, but he dedicated a free section of the site to the most "gory" pictures. Asked what he feels upon viewing a new batch, Wilson says: "Personally, I don't look at it one way or another. It's newsworthy, and people can form their own opinions."
One person claiming to be a soldier, who would not reveal his name or unit, defended his decision to post pictures of the dead, which he says he did after returning from a tour of duty. "I had just finished watching the beheading of one of our contractors that was taken hostage over in Iraq," he said via e-mail. "I figured since that was all over the Web, maybe these pictures would make some potential suicide bomber think twice after seeing what happens AFTER you pull the pin.
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