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War photos investigated

Josh White Washington Post

WASHINGTON – 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 Wednesday 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 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 issued strong statements Wednesday 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, Chris Wilson, said Wednesday 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 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 Wilson, 27, of Florida, who began accepting the photographs from soldiers overseas as payment for access to pornography on his site. “It’s a place where the soldiers can express themselves without being filtered by the Bush administration.”

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.

Army spokesman Paul Boyce 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.

The Web site, which has an obscenity in its name and Web address, says it is primarily a site for “amateur” pornography. 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.

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